Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 21:28–32
“I am daringly confident that one day I shall become a great Saint.”
These are the words written by Saint Therese of Lisieux, doctor of the Church, patron saint of Walking with Purpose, whose feast day we celebrate on October 1.
I’m not sure I’ve been daringly confident at all, ever, in my life. Certainly not about being a saint, let alone a great one. And yet, as Christians, we are all called to sainthood, to holiness (Romans 6:19). In fact, we’ve been chosen for it (Ephesians 1:11). The Christian path to holiness is marked by several guideposts or virtues—among them trust, obedience, and humility. Not one of these I’m daringly confident that I possess. While Therese’s “little way” is now synonymous with superior growth in these virtues, she did not start out this way, writing that she “must put up with myself as I am, full of imperfections.”
Same, girl. Same.
This week’s gospel finds Jesus speaking to the chief priests and scribes who believed in a very different path to their version of holiness. These men were daringly confident in themselves and their knowledge and adherence to the law. They were full of imperfections, yet their arrogance and hypocrisy left them blind to the living Son of God who stood directly in front of them and invited them to follow a new way to a life of true holiness.
It is to them in particular that Jesus asks His question: of the two sons in the parable, who has done his father's will to go and work in the vineyard? (Matthew 21:31) The answer is obvious—the first son, who initially said no but later repented, changed his mind, and did what was asked of him. On the other hand, the second son said yes initially but never went.
What Jesus says next to the chief priests is so compelling. He pulls no punches and blatantly compares these men of the law (knowledgeable and held in high esteem within the community) to the second son. He further declares that the sinners—not just any sinners, but the lowest of the low, the prostitutes and tax collectors—will enter the kingdom of heaven before they will.
Had we been there at this moment, I imagine we would have heard a loud, collective gasp swelling from the crowd.
These words that Jesus boldly proclaimed held power and judgment. To these men, they were fighting words, inflammatory and slanderous. “The religious leaders were good at talking righteous talk, but their stubbornly unrepentant hearts showed that repentant sinners would enter the kingdom before them.” To Jesus, these words were intentional, meant to get their attention, expose their motives, convict their hearts, and turn them toward repentance and, ultimately, salvation. He hadn’t much longer—this gospel takes place the week leading up to the Last Supper—and Jesus wanted to save them, too.
It can be easy for us to read this passage and stand right behind Jesus, railing against those hypocritical leaders who were unable or unwilling to believe and trust in our Lord. Hindsight and a couple of millennia make it easy for us to pity them and judge their lukewarm response to the actual Messiah.
But if I’m being honest, if I allow Jesus’ words to sink into my heart, I am reminded of the moments my faith in God’s promises was lukewarm at best: times when my pride and vanity won, when my actions did not match my words. I am convicted of those moments when I belonged on the side of the priests and scribes, times where I held back forgiveness, gave in to gossiping, passed judgment on others, kept God at arm’s length, or was stubborn and unrepentant of my sins.
This was not the only time Jesus specifically warned the religious leaders of what awaited them should they continue on their path. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus explicitly states that, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). In Revelation we read the fate to come for those with lukewarm hearts, “I know that you are neither cold nor hot…So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16).
Yes, that last verse gets me, too. That is the point: to get our attention. Jesus desires our salvation. But we will not get there if we follow the way of the chief priests and scribes.
If, like me, these verses convict you, do not let the ground lie fallow. Instead, let’s allow the seed of conviction to grow in us, leading to the fruit of repentance. It is imperative for our salvation that we not ignore Jesus' words or follow the way of the priests and scribes. Instead, let us turn back to Jesus in obedience and surrender, match our actions with the words we speak, and grow in virtue and a desire for holiness.
What can we do to cure our prideful and self-indulgent behaviors?
How can we heat a lukewarm heart to the boiling point of repentance and zeal?
How do we grow in the virtues that the chief priests and scribes desperately lacked: trust in God (not themselves), humility (recognizing our weakness and need for God), and obedience (surrender to the will of God)?
The answer is simple and little, yet daringly confident.
We follow the “little way” of Saint Therese, marked by graces received from small, daily, intentional sacrifices and “hidden acts of virtue.” She even offers us her own examples of ways to begin: “keeping back an impatient word, checking [our] self-will,” displaying charity by “doing little things for those around [us] without their knowing” or expecting recognition, surrendering the first minutes of our day to the Lord.
Therese was daringly confident that she would become a great saint. And unlike the chief priests and scribes, it was not on her own merits but relying entirely upon “[Jesus] who is Virtue itself…He alone will clothe me with His own merits and make me a Saint.”
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling...
What little action can you take today to turn toward Jesus and grow closer to Him?
Lord, I desire to follow Saint Therese’s little way, to be daringly confident that I will be a saint because of You. In my weaknesses and littleness, allow me to let You be strong. Open my eyes to see that everything is grace. Amen.
 Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux (North Carolina: Saint Benedict Press TAN Books, 2010), 40.
 Ibid, 117.
 David Guzik, “Matthew 21 – The Beginning of Jesus’ Last Week.” Enduring Word Bible Commentary (Accessed September 19, 2023): https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/matthew-21/.
 The Story of a Soul, 95.
 Ibid 83.