ROME, SEPT. 23, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, speaks on how to confront someone in a Christian manner.
* * *
Harlots in the Kingdom
In the parable, the son who says yes and does not obey represents those who knew about God and followed his law, but then in practice, when Christ was to be accepted who was the “end of the Law,” they refused.
The son who said no and then obeyed, represents those who at one time lived outside the Law and the will of God, but later, before Jesus, they repented and accepted the Gospel. The parable of the two sons says that words and promises count little with God if they are not followed by deeds.
When explaining the main content of the parable, however, it is necessary to clarify the strange conclusion that Jesus draws from it: “The tax collectors and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.”
No expression of Christ has been more abused than this one. To the point that at times an evangelical aura has been created around the category of harlots, idealizing them and contrasting them with the so-called judicious, who would all be, indistinctly, hypocritical scribes and Pharisees.
Literature is full of “good” harlots — think of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” or the gentle Sonia of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment!” But there is a terrible misunderstanding. Jesus gives an extreme case, as though saying: “Even harlots — which says everything — will go into the Kingdom of God before you.”
We do not realize, moreover, that by idealizing the category of harlots we also idealize that of the tax collectors, which always accompanies it in the Gospel, namely, the usurers.
It would be tragic if this parable of the Gospel made Christians less conscientious in combating the degrading phenomenon of prostitution. Jesus had too much respect for women to wish to see her reduced to a harlot. If he respected the harlot, it was not because of her lifestyle, but because of her capacity to change and to put her capacity to love at the service of good.
The Gospel does not push to carry out moralistic campaigns against harlots, but neither can we joke about the phenomenon, as if it were nothing at all.
Today, among other things, prostitution exists under a new form which allows women to make more money with fewer risks. This is when a woman gives her body to others through photography or film. What a woman does, or is obliged to do, when she gives herself to pornography, and to certain advertising excesses, is to sell her own body. It is a worse form of prostitution, in a certain sense, than the traditional, because it does not respect people’s freedom and feelings, imposing itself often publicly, without one being able to defend oneself from it.
Such phenomena would arouse in Christ today the same anger he manifested for the hypocrites of his time. It is, in fact, a question of hypocrisy. To pretend that everything is in its place, that it is innocuous, that there is no transgression whatsoever, or danger for anyone, when models, giving themselves even a certain — studied — air of innocence and naiveté, throw their body to the fodder of others’ concupiscence.
But I would betray the spirit of the Gospel if I did not bring out into the light the hope that Christ’s parable offers women who because of the most diverse circumstances (often out of desperation) find themselves on the streets, victims, in the majority of cases, of unscrupulous exploiters.
The Gospel is “gospel,” that is, good news, proclamation of redemption, of hope, also for harlots. More than that, perhaps first of all for them, Jesus wanted it to be this way.
[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]