Introduction. Today’s readings talk about the freedom we have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God. But it also talks about the possibility of change. Through our sinfulness our initial ‘yes’ could become a ‘no’, But then, through God’s grace, an initial ‘no’ could become a ‘yes’. So, if you have made a mistake, if you have sinned against the Lord, have the humility to accept your mistakes and return to the Lord. And, the Lord will graciously forgive you and accept you. On the other hand, if you are stubborn, arrogant and proud, you are beginning the process of spiritual death in your life.
First Reading (Ezekiel 18: 25-28). Each one of us is responsible for our own conduct. The good person who falls away will have to answer for it. The evil person who repents will win pardon, forgiveness and life.
Second Reading (Philippians 2:1-5). Self-seeking and rivalry have no place in the Christian community. Christ came on earth to give us an example of humility which we should imitate.
Gospel (Mathew 21:28-32). In a nutshell, the reading says: Action speak louder than words -Every one of us falls into the categories that are representative of these two sons. These two sons had very different attitudes and their ultimate character is shown by what they do and not necessarily by what they say!
No matter who we are, we possess the freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God and the ability to repent and change the direction of our lives. One way or another we are responsible for our conduct and accountable for our behaviour. The good news is that with the help of God’s grace we can change the direction of our lives for the better. The varying attitudes of the two sons whom we read about in today’s gospel give us cause to think carefully because whether we like it or not, there is a mixture of both personalities in our make-up. We are a grand mix of goodness and evil, willingness and unwillingness, selfishness and generosity.
Very few of us can say that when the Lord called us we were ready and eager to answer, ‘Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will.’ The gospel is telling us that actions speak louder than words. If regular Sunday church-going is not accompanied by upright Christian living, what we profess to believe has no value and amounts to no more than lip service or idle promises which are worthless. We are uttering words but are not changing our hearts. Thinking right and speaking right are only secondary to acting right.
The liturgy points out that there must be a connection between what we say and what we do. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day because they shirked their responsibility and only thought that they wanted to do God’s will. Their promises were empty because they did not keep them and as a result their journey to God was going nowhere. In a ringing denunciation Christ stated that their observance of the law was an outward show and that there was more honesty and a greater readiness to accept the call for repentance among outcasts. ‘I tell you solemnly, tax-collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of heaven before you.’
This is a story for all ages. The trail of broken promises that each of us leaves behind points to the inconsistency between what we promise and what we do. In the early Christian community, the scandal of professed church members who did not fulfil their promises was deeply felt. The lesson the gospel offers us is that we may be saying ‘yes’ to God on Sunday and turning our back on what we profess during the rest of the week. Many of us who say ‘yes’ to the Body of Christ don’t realize that we are saying ‘no’ to the community of Christ when at the church door, an age-old difference between families prevents us from speaking to a neighbour. Newly married couples have no problems saying ‘yes’ on their wedding day but find it increasingly difficult to keep their promise through the ups and downs of life. The test of our allegiance to Christ is in keeping the promises that we have made and accepting his will whatever it may be.
We need to lead a responsible Christian life, saying “yes” to God. Each one of us is responsible to God for every one of our actions, and the just God will punish or reward each of us according to our actions. As we do not know at what moment death will take us, our only guarantee of dying in God’s friendship is to live in that friendship always, saying “Yes” to God in our deeds. We should become men and women who profess our Faith in word and deed, remembering that, “Not all those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father Who is in Heaven” (Matthew 7:21). God is ever with us to strengthen us, to pardon us, and to lift us up again when, through human weakness, we stumble on the road. God is calling us right now, inviting us to work in His vineyard, inviting us to say “Yes” to Him with our words and actions. Let us accept God’s invitation by purifying our hearts in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; by resolving to act upon our promises each morning before we get out of bed; and by declaring interiorly that people will be able to identify us as followers of Christ, not by empty words or pious gestures but simply by our Christian actions. In this way, we shall live a life filled with the joy that doing the will of the Father brings.
Instead of trusting in lame excuses, we need to seek God’s mercy. We often use flimsy excuses to silence our conscience. They run like this: “I didn’t realize how sinful I was”; “I was just too busy with work, family and a decent social life to have time for Sunday Mass”; “That’s what all my family does – it’s got to be OK!” ; “The devil made me do it – it wasn’t my fault!”; ””I couldn’t be different from everyone else—I’d look stupid!”; “I meant to straighten things out – I just didn’t get to it.” These are not valid excuses at the judgment seat of God. Hence, if we have been disobedient to God in our past life, we need to knock at the door of God’s mercy. It is never too late for us to be transformed.