“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).
Jesus gave a parable last Sunday of the landowner who kept hiring people into his vineyard even at the eleventh hour to teach us that even at the last minute, God is willing to accept us into His Kingdom as long as we repent. Somehow, today’s liturgy continues on this same theme. Like the labourers who were standing idle in the market place all day, we may have spent our entire lives in sin but as the prophet Ezekiel makes us understand today, it is our present, not our past that matters to God. This brings us to our lessons for today.
1. We are not what we say we are, we are what we do.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gave a parable of a man who had two sons and wanted them to work in his vineyard. One said “I will not” but afterwards had a rethink and went but the other answered “I will go sir” but did not go. This parable says a lot about many of us Christians. With our lips, we claim to love God, but our actions contradict our words.
Jesus himself expressed this phenomenon when he noted: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…’” (Mark 7:6-7). This is worth pondering upon, “Could I be worshiping God in vain?” It is not the Church we attend or our frequency in the Church that makes us Christians, it is our actions that count. When I am not in the Church, what does my behaviour say about me?
2. Before taking out the speck in someone’s eye, consider the log in yours.
Jesus made a very touching statement in the conclusion of today’s Gospel passage: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” Those we judge and condemn may eventually get to heaven while we who claim to be holy are shut out.
In another passage, Jesus explains: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
This calls for a deep examination of conscience on our part. In all honesty, am I better than those I condemn? The things I preach against in public, do I do them in secret? I may succeed in deceiving people by my external show of religiosity but as Jesus warns: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3).
3. Every Saint has a past but every sinner has a future.
St. John would say: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17). On different occasions, Jesus clearly stated, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32, Matthew 9:12-13, Mark 2:17). As much as God hates sin, He truly loves sinners and by sinners, we mean those honest enough to admit their faults without pointing fingers.
Too often, like the man who buried his talent, we blame others for our sinfulness. We find it hard to take responsibility, but the moment we are able to admit we are squarely at fault, that sin no longer has dominion over us. God is ever ready to forgive and receive those who admit their faults, those who rethink their evil ways and those who “come to their senses” like the case of the Prodigal Son. As we often say in the Stations of the Cross, “no matter what my past has been, I can begin anew.”
You may have fallen many times but today, God is giving you another chance. “When a wicked man turns away from wickedness … and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life.” (Ezekiel 18:27). Surely, God is ever ready to forgive us. His mercy must never be taken granted. In other words, never assume you still have time. To borrow the words of Isaiah in last Sunday’s first reading, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6). Repent now while you still can.
4. Stop pretending to be a Christian, become one; – have the same mind as Jesus.
The summary of all we have so far said is this: “It is only those who behave like Christ that deserve to be called Christians.” Like the son who said I will go but did not eventually go, we give scandal to the name of Christ when we do not imitate Christ. Luckily, St. Paul in today’s second reading helps us identify very salient attributes that define the life of Christ.
A. Selflessness – “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interest of others.”
B. Humility – “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
C. Obedience – “And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Notice that each of these qualities require sacrifice – letting go of my own interests, my pride and my will – yet, without these three qualities, none of us deserves to be called a Christian.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, help me to come to terms with my sins that I may repent completely and grant that my actions henceforth may positively proclaim faith in you. Help me to be selfless in my dealings with others, humble before all and obedient to your Word. Amen.Bible Study: Ezekiel 18:25-28, Psalm 25, Philippians 2:1-11 and Matthew 21:28-32).