26th. Sunday of Year (A)
(Ezekiel 18:25-28; Philippians 2:1-11; Saint Matthew (21:28-32)
Dear People of God, the Gospel passage you have just heard is closely connected with another saying of Jesus (Matthew 7:21):
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.
Notice the repetition of the word ‘heaven’. That indicates to us that it is no arbitrary decision of God which decides whether or not people enter Kingdom of Heaven; but rather, that where the Father is, there is heaven, and to be in heaven is to be with the Father, one with Him; and consequently, to attain to that ultimate union with Him in heaven, we must necessarily prepare ourselves here on earth by doing His will, conforming ourselves to His likeness, that is, to Jesus, perfect God-become-man, as much as we can in all things:
Jesus said, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
Therefore, to be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven it is not a matter of observing prescribed rules of conduct set before us as a test of our blind obedience and subjection … no, it is a matter of growing in the life and likeness of the Father, as His adoptive children that is, through faith in and loving commitment to Jesus – come from and sent by the Father. To merely obey rules there is little need for personal involvement; at times, one can do it almost automatically. There is no need, that is, to be involved with anyone other than oneself; and at this juncture, those who claim to live a good life and say that they are following their conscience, are so mistaken; because to live, to try to live a heavenly life, a life for heaven, it is absolutely necessary to re-orientate our lives and centre them no longer on ourselves (our own conscience) because the new life – offered us by Jesus via His most Holy Spirit – is a share in God’s life, a sheer, and totally gratuitous gift.
The type of change that has to be brought about in us is well characterized by the prophet Ezekiel who writes:
I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you hearts of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and make you live by My statutes, careful to observe My decrees. (Ezekiel 36:25–27)
The heart of stone which is excellent for the blind observance of impersonal rules and the meticulous execution of mere ritual, is to be replaced with a heart of human flesh and a new, divine, spirit, because all our initiatives are to be divinely ordained.
That fusion of human divine is to be the supreme, all absorbing task of our lives … as true disciples of Jesus.
In Our Lord’s parable today, a man asked both his sons to work in his vineyard; one answered automatically, ‘Yes’ but did not, in fact, go; the other opened himself up, becoming personally involved as he confronted his own personal preferences -- perhaps plans of some standing -- with the immediate wishes of his father, and, needing to give an immediate reply, he answered, ‘I will not’. Notice his honesty, he did not say ‘I cannot’, but ‘I will not’. The resultant situation was wrong, he realized that almost immediately afterwards. However, his process, so to speak, had been right initially: he had confronted his own wishes with those of his father … and although after momentary consideration he had chosen wrongly, nevertheless, the relationship he had with his father had demanded first of all that he spoke truthfully to him and that relationship subsequently showed up the bluntness, the harsh bluntness of his words, and the lack of respect in his attitude to his father; that he could not sustain and immediately, he changed his mind and went. He had taken both himself and his father, and indeed their long-lived-mutual-relationship seriously, and if a man does that with the Gospel message there is real hope, the parable encourages us to think, that he will be likely to say ‘Yes’.
With the other son, however, his automatic words of obedience did not demand that he look into his own heart, nor that he listen seriously to his father, his words were simply a way of ‘keeping the old man quiet’ while he himself could do what he wanted now and perhaps, later on, say a hypocritical ‘Sorry’.
People of God, too many nominal Catholics do the same as that second son: following certain religious practices but living their professed faith on automatic pilot, so to speak, with no sincere mind or human heart behind whatever appears to make them Catholics, seeking only their immediate natural desires and worldly pleasures, while all the time allowing their Catholic and Christian life-blood to drain away until it exists no longer as a force in their lives.
In all our relations with God we need to open up our human hearts first of all to the questioning light of God’s truth and the encouraging warmth of His love: I doubt very much that the ‘automatically speaking' second son truly realized why, what were the heart-felt motives why, he didn’t want to accede to his father’s request, and he certainly didn’t consider the dismissive manner of his response in the light of the respect he owed his father and the future benefits he still expected to receive from his father.
Dear People of God, the Gospel puts questions to us at times, questions that can reveal truth about ourselves in so far as we try sincerely to answer them. For many, however, such questions are too often side-stepped and disregarded. The Gospel tells us that mankind is weighed down by sin of every sort, but today the majority happily pretend to have no awareness of sin in their lives. Jesus died for us -- to save us, His brothers and sisters, from the consequences of our sins -- and most people today only see Him as a foolish man, One Who probably meant well but was pathetically misguided. Again, modern men reject as humanly degrading any idea that God can command their obedience and yet the vast majority are totally subservient to whatever might be the prevailing mantra in their society. On every hand the Gospel challenges are rejected by mockery and a refusal to see what is true: minimal dress only shows the beauty of women, foul language only emphasises manliness, while salaciousness serves to promote nothing worse than human conviviality. Innocence reigns, the Gospel is wrong:
The Lord’s way/judgement is not fair!
Those Gospel questions need to be humbly considered before being answered; we need to commune with them in our hearts of flesh in order to know what they really mean for us, what response they stir up in us; and we must clothe our considered response with human warmth and sincere devotion, the commitment of our personal and individual act of faith. It is a matter of recognizing Jesus as Our God and Saviour and embracing His Gospel in the plenitude of its fullness, as presented to us in Mother Church’s proclamation that is, and casting it like some divine fuel on the embers of our warm human hearts. The resultant flames, divine and human in origin, will blaze for God’s glory and shine -- around and afar -- for the honour of the Name of Jesus.
Our Blessed Lord was, and is, perfect Man. Being perfect God by nature of His being the only-begotten Son, the Word, of God, He became – sent by the Father, and born on earth of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit – man, true man, perfect Man. And we now, becoming divine by His grace and the Gift of His most Holy Spirit, are called also to become, in Him, fully, truly, perfectly human with sin totally uprooted from our lives.
Life is a glorious prospect and adventure, because the ultimate discovery, so to speak, is unique in each one of us, being the intimate fusion and balance of God and man in each one of us, as planned by God in creating us. It is a discovery because it can only be found by being lived with Jesus, by the Holy Spirit living and working in us, for the Father, in the fullness of the Catholic and Christian faith. As St. Paul said in our second reading:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.