Ezekiel 18:25-28 Philippians 2:1-11 Matthew 21:28-32
The second reading of today sets the theme of today’s word of God. We heard that when we are of one mind, having the same love as Christ, there is encouragement in Christ. We find consolation during our tribulations. We share in the Spirit. We have compassion and sympathy for others. Our joy is complete in Christ. It is important that our deeds match our words. Jesus humbled Himself and obeyed His Heavenly Father until the end – even death on the cross and the Father rewarded him by raising him up. It shows that when we are spiritually minded, we are free of selfish ambition or conceit God rewards us. If we live in complete humility, we regard others as better than we are.
Prophet Ezechiel tells us that our starting point matters less that the ultimate destination. If the righteous man sins he will be punished and if the wicked repents he will be rewarded. Logically it applies to the righteous one who has gone astray, now comes back. God loves everyone – but He does not love their sins! God separated Himself from His chosen people during the days of the Old Testament because people broke the covenant through their disobedience, and rejected God and His righteous ways. In the same way, when God separates Himself today from His children who live in disobedience, He is not breaking His New Covenant of grace.
Jesus illustrates this through his story of two sons who are equally bad. One refused to obey but later decided to do what he had been asked to do. He actually did his father’s will. The other readily agreed to do the work but never bothered to keep his promise. This is both a comfort and challenge to us. It is important that our deeds match our words. In this respect both sons fail and hurt the father. If we say no to God and later follow his will, our actions will count and not our words. On the other hand we have to take our words seriously. It is easy to say we love God; but if we don’t put that into action, our words are empty. That is why Jesus says that not all who call Lord will enter kingdom but those who do the Father’s will.
We now go to the question which Jesus asked, namely, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Naturally, we all know that it is the one who obeyed. They all agree that it was the one who at first would not go but later did so. But they were not able to see that they were passing a judgment on themselves. In case there was any doubt, Jesus then clearly spells out the meaning of his story. Tax collectors and prostitutes, perhaps the most despised of all people from the religious leaders’ point of view, the outcasts of the society, were making their way into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and the elders. In their eyes, it was a shocking and dreadfully insulting thing to say. As proof of what he says, Jesus reminds them that they refused to believe John the Baptist, “a pattern of true righteousness”, when he called people to repentance. On the other hand, the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And, even after that, the priests and elders refused to do so. In the eyes of the priests and elders, the idea that tax collectors and prostitutes should enter the kingdom before them was outrageous.
Two messages are given to us from today’s Gospel. On the one hand, we can never be complacent about our relationship with God. God always accepts us where we are. If we are in union with him, things are well; if we have by our own choice become separated from him, he accepts that too. His love and his grace are always available. However he wants us to respond to him and to his love. On the other hand, no matter how far we have strayed from God and Jesus in the Gospel, no matter how depraved we have become, it is never too late to turn back and we have a God who is ready to wait for us. We remember the mercy parables of Jesus. Here is a God who searches awaits finds and rejoices. We have the Jesus of the resurrection. He comes to the disciples who had all run away and his close friend Peter had denied him. But he is there without any reference and back to the preaching of the Kingdom of God. He had his priorities and he lives those priorities.
Is there no punishment for the sinner then? Is there no punishment to the one who refuses to do his duty? We can say that there is indeed. The sinner basically punishes himself. The punishment is built into the very sinfulness. This is what Ezekiel is saying today. “Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust?” It is not altogether uncommon to hear people complain that God is unjust to them.
Today’s Gospel is clearly directed at the religious and civil leaders of the people in Jesus’ time. They spoke much about God and, in particular, how God was to be served by a strict observance of the Law. But it is clear they did not have the spirit that Jesus was communicating through his life and teaching. They could see the spirit of love, compassion, caring and forgiveness of Jesus for the weak and vulnerable. But tax collectors and the prostitutes were not keeping God’s Law. They had said No to his commandments many times. But then they met Jesus and they experienced a radical transformation in their lives. They listened and they responded. The chief priests and the elders are like the second son who say ‘Yes’ and do not listen to Jesus. Our call is then to be faithful to Jesus and say yes to him listening to his word and obeying him. If we were to be filled with that same spirit that Jesus had we would have nothing to fear.