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On the Parable of the Two Sons

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For the parable of the two sons, we have two selections: one from the biblical scholar Jerome and another from St. Fulgentius of Ruspe.

Jerome passes on to us two ways of looking at the parable: the first one is to see it as an allegory of the Jews and the Gentiles; the other is to take it at its value as referring to the sinners and those who think themselves just. Interesting here is the way Jerome employs typology to explain the parable as an allegory about the Jews and the Gentiles. Towards the end of the selection, he makes an observation in textual criticism. It would seem that there were those who had copies of the gospel where the answer of the priests and elders to the question “Which of the two did the father’s will?” was “the last one”, and not as appearing in our modern translations, “the first one.” Here, Jerome follows the insight of Origen that variants of the text opens up to us the rich fare offered by the Holy Spirit and gives a possible interpretation of the variant instead of dismissing it as spurious.

Fulgentius of Ruspe explains why repentance is no longer possible after death. His explanation is based on the idea that man defines himself vis-a-vis God in this life. The classical notion is that a human being is finished “perfected” by the time of death. What he is at that point is what he brings with himself to the life after this one.

On The Two Sons

What do you think of this? A man had two sons and he went to the first, he said to him, “Son go to the vineyard and work there today.” He replied “No, I don’t want to.” But, changing his mind later on, he went. He then went to the second and said the same thing. This one answered, “I go, Lord”, but he did not go. Which of the two sons did the will of the Father? “The first one” they said. And Jesus replied… (Matthew 21:28-31)

These two sons are also mentioned in the parable of Luke: one of them is honest and the other one, dishonest. The prophet Zaccariah also speaks of them with these words: “I took with me two rods, one I called “honesty” and the other I called “whip”, and I pastured the sheep. (Zech. 11:7)”. To the first, which is the people of the Gentiles, it is said, making them know the natural law: “Go and work in my vineyard”, that is, do not do unto others what you wish them not to do to you (Tob 4:16). But he, with a proud tone, responds “I do not want to.” But then with the coming of the Savior, having done penance, he goes to work in the vineyard of the Lord and with his industry cancels the pride in his response. The second son is the Jewish people who responded to Moses: “We will do all that the Lord commands” (Ex. 24:3), but did not go to the vineyard because the son of the owner of the household having been murdered, he believed to have become the heir. There are others however who do not believe that the parable is directed to the Jews and Gentiles but simply to the sinners and the just. But the same Lord, explains with what he adds later.

In truth I tell you, the publicans and prostitutes are going ahead of you into the reign of God (Matthew 21:31).

In fact, those who with their bad conduct have refused to serve God did later accept from John the baptism of repentance. The Pharisees however, who appeared to prefer justice and boasted of having observed the Law of God, in despising the baptism of John, did not respect the precepts of God. For this reason, he says:

Because John came to you in the way of justice and you did not believe him, but the publicans and the prostitutes believed him. And yet, even after you saw these things, you did not change your minds so as to believe in him (Matthew 21:32).

The version according to which to the question of the Lord “Which of the two did the will of the Father?” they answered “the last one” is not found in the ancient codices, where we read the response “the first one”, not “the last one”. Thus the Jews condemn themselves with their own judgment. But if we would like to read “the last”, the meaning would also be equally clear. The Jews understood the truth, but they distorted the matter and did not wish to manifest their secret thoughts. They did so with regards to the baptism of John, even if they knew that he came from heaven, they refused to recognize it.

Jerome, In Matthaeum 21, 29-31

Now is the Time for Conversion

God has assigned the moment to earn eternal life only in this life, during which He desires that there should be fruitful penance. On this account, fruitful penance can only be found here, because here, man, having set aside all malice, can live well, and having changed his desires, can change both his merits, his deeds, with fear of God to accomplish the things that please God. He who has not done this in this life will certainly undergo punishment for his faults in the coming age but will not find indulgence in God’s presence. Since even if there should be the stimulus of penance there, the correction of free will will still be lacking. From this reason in fact his fault will be so blameworthy that there, justice can in no way be desired or loved by him. In fact, his will would be such that it will always have in itself the torture of wickedness and the incapability of having a desire for goodness. Since, just as those who will reign with Christ will not have in themselves any residue of a bad will, so those who will be condemned to the torture of eternal fires with the devil and his angels — as those who will no longer have any refreshment — cannot in any way have good will. And just as there will be those granted the perfection of the grace for eternal glory, so for those who participate in the destiny of the devil, the same malice (that they previously had) will make the punishment grow — they will be thrown out into the outer darkness and they will not be illumined by any interior light of the truth.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, De fide ad Petr. 38

Originally posted 2008-09-01 00:52:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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