Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Ashley McKinlessDecember 15, 2020
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Third Tuesday of Advent

Like most things in 2020, this will be an Advent unlike any other. But each day, you can still take a few minutes to reflect on the coming of our savior at Christmas with short reflections on Scripture, written by the staff of America Media.

Subscribe to The Word in Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favorite podcast player and never miss a reflection. 

A reading from the Gospel of Matthew

“What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’

He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.

The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.

Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.

When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.


“I’m spiritual but not religious.” It is a common refrain at a time when more and more people do not trust the institutions that once gave structure and meaning to our lives. These people are often tired of people saying one thing and doing the opposite. When asked about my own Catholic faith, I have at times quipped that I am “religious but not spiritual.” I say it mostly in jest, but it contains a kernel of truth. I take great comfort in the ritual of the Mass and the concreteness of the Creed. But having an honest conversation with Jesus? Maybe after I finish just one more Netflix episode.

We are, of course, called to be both: spiritual and religious. In the Parable of the Two Sons, the Father tells each son to go work in the vineyard. The first son says he will not go, but changes his mind and obeys his father. The second son says he will go, but then does not follow through. Jesus asks the priests and elders who has done the Father’s will. The first son, they reply.

How often have I said the right thing but failed to turn my heart to Christ? That is what Jesus wants—and what the prostitutes and tax collectors understand.

Then, as he so often does, Jesus flips their (and our) expectations upside down. He compares the first son to the “prostitutes and tax collectors” who do not have the outward trappings of religion but believe John the Baptist, who preaches that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The religious leaders, on the other hand, are like the second son. They say the right things but reject the Baptist’s call for repentance.

How often have I said the right thing but failed to turn my heart to Christ? That is what Jesus wants—and what the prostitutes and tax collectors understand. Jesus does not condone their sinful ways but points toward the inward conversion we all must undergo as followers of Christ. This Advent, we can keep our candles and calendars, as long as we remember what Jesus really wants is our undivided attention.


  • When have I let outward signs of faith serve as a substitute for a relationship with the living Christ?
  • What can I learn from people of other faiths or no faith about what it means to serve the Christ who comes to us in the poor and excluded?

More from America

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

"Five years have passed since I visited this place with my dear brothers Bartholomew and Ieronymos. After all this time, we see that little has changed with regard to the issue of migration."
Pope FrancisDecember 05, 2021
My father shaped my concept of God, and Ignatian prayer brought me closer to my father and Christ.
Pierre ThompsonDecember 05, 2021
A Reflection for the Sunday of the Second Week of Advent
Kerry WeberDecember 05, 2021
A Reflection for the Saturday of the First Week of Advent
Maurice Timothy ReidyDecember 04, 2021