25 September 2011
A young priest was appointed to a certain parish. He spoke to the parishioners about his desire to visit the prison and give some help to the prisoners there. He wondered if the parishioners would like to help also. His ideas were very enthusiastically welcomed. The parish priest much older and very experienced suggested he phrase the question differently. So next time he asked how many people would like to sign up to participate in prison visiting. Only three did so.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. The first son was asked by the father to go and work in his vineyard but he answered no. Later he reconsidered his decision and decided to go. The second son politely said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who then actually did what the father wanted?
Jesus posed that question to the religious leaders of the people of his time. He invited them to answer the question and their reply was that it was the first son who really did what his father wanted done.
At this time Jesus was nearing his death. For three years he had been preaching to the people inviting them to repent and believe the Good News he offered them. He discovered that it was the public sinners like the tax collectors who responded to his invitation. The religious leaders like the Pharisees and scribes, even after perceiving the divine origin of the message of Jesus still opposed it rather than believing it. They had the same attitude towards John the Baptist, knowing that his teaching came from God. As Jesus said to the religious leaders in the gospel today. “Even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” v.32. Religious people and those who claim to be followers of Jesus sometimes are so intent on proving they are right that they fail to hear the voice of reason and the voice of God. We can become so attached to our own wills that we don’t hear or follow the will of God and yet whenever we pray the Our Father we say ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. It is not easy to let go of our own wills. Perhaps it would disturb us a lot to really try and follow God’s will. It might call for some big changes in our lifestyle and ways of relating to God and others.
The parable likens the tax collectors and prostitutes to the son who first said no but later did what his father requested, and the Pharisees and elders to the son who enthusiastically said yes but did not go. One group has no fine words but they have good deeds. The other group has fine words but no corresponding good deeds. They represent two kinds of people and the different ways they try to relate to God. There are those who have no fine words: like those who profess no faith, who do not go to church, who do not pray. But sometimes when there is injustice in the city they will the first to rise up and condemn it. When there are people sleeping rough, out in the cold especially in winter they will be among the first to donate a blanket or even do voluntary part-time work in a shelter for the homeless. Often when there is an appeal to help famine, earthquake or flood victims they will make a contribution. These people have no fine words to say to God or even about God but when they do things such as these, they are doing what God has commanded us all to do.
One can imagine why the Pharisees and Scribes would have been scandalised at the very thought that public sinners would enter the kingdom of God before them. What of us? How would we respond if we were told that pedophiles who repented and are now living a good Christian life and involved in works of charity would get into heaven before people who claim to be Christian. These latter are those who do little beyond going to Church and praying novenas but are not following God’s will for them in their daily lives.
Is there no punishment for the sinner then? 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.
Our self-seeking, our hate, anger, aggression, violence, jealousy, resentments, our greed and avarice… all lead to isolation, loneliness, hostility with others and often to physical and mental stress and breakdowns. Sin, which is a refusal to respond to God loving us, brings its own inevitable punishment. Our sins often leave wounds which take a long time to heal. God does not need to punish us; we do that very well by our own choices.
The Good News is that God loves to welcome sinners who repent. He never gives up on us. He is always calling on us to change if we sinning and hurting others and ourselves. If we are blessed enough to be good Christians let us never take this for granted. Any one of us may fall from grace. God never stops loving or blessing us even then.
“Lord Jesus, help us to put your will for us into practice, not only by praying and going to church on Sundays but in doing whatever you ask of us in our daily lives. Amen.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA