Gospel Matthew 21:28-32

“What is your opinion?”

On the face of it, the meaning of Jesus’s parable here is easy to decipher. The bloke who, despite his earlier statement, thinks better of himself and then goes and does the will of his father is the righteous one. Indeed, it seems that this is what Jesus is getting at in his teaching here – make sure that your words are not empty, saying that you’ll do something and then not following through. Jesus teaches forcefully and repeatedly against hypocrisy.

All this can give rise to the thought that orthopraxis, right action, precedes, as a matter of importance, orthodoxy, right words or belief. In this instance, the righteous man is the one who, despite his incorrect words, in fact does what is asked of him. This then begs the question, are his words of no consequence?

When we look to the example used by Jesus though, we see that those tax collectors and prostitutes had recognised and been convicted by the witness of John the Baptist, whom he called a ‘pattern of true righteousness.’ Their subsequent and sincere attempts to amend their lives followed from a new kind of self-knowledge that had been gifted them in the light of the righteousness of the Baptist.

What we see then is an affirmation of the radical unity between reality and ideas; orthodoxy and orthopraxis – any attempt to establish a dualism between the two is bound to do violence to the Word (logos) who became flesh (cf. Jn 1). Belief is important – right action flows from right belief (cf. Ratzinger).

In what seems an increasingly fragmented world, Jesus calls his followers to seek after a radical unity of truth, goodness and beauty. Divorced from one another these three transcendental properties of being run afoul of one another and damage our own integrity – truth becomes ideology, goodness mere activity, and beauty mere novelty or kitsch.

Point to Ponder

‘For the early Christians, there was no difference between what today is often distinguished as orthodoxy and orthopraxis, as right doctrine and right action…

They were convinced that everything depended on being in the right relationship with God, on knowing what pleases him and what one can do to respond to him in the right way. For this reason, Israel loved the law: from it, they knew God’s will, they knew how to live justly and how to honour God in the right way: by acting in accord with his will, bringing order into the world, opening it to the transcendent.’

Joseph Ratzinger, Eucharist, Community, and Solidarity, 2002.