In the first Reading, (Ez 18:25-28), the Lord through the mouth of Prophet Ezekiel enjoined on us to stand on the side of integrity until the end of our lives. We should not emulate evil men and women. Everyone has his/her own life story. The evil person may even have an opportunity for repentance before death calls. One may have a perfect contrition upon one’s death bed. We do not know the hour nor the manner of our death. Some people may have the privilege of having a priest at their death bed to administer the Last Rites. Others may experience a sudden death or die when no priest is available, or die without calling a priest for the Last Rites. We should not wait until death comes knocking before we repent of our sins. We should live with integrity and be mindful of the saying: “make hay while the sun shines”.
In today’s Gospel, (Matt 21:28-32), Jesus told the story of a father who had two sons. He asked both to work in his vineyard. While the first son, who verbally declined his request, later had a change of heart and went to work at the vineyard, the younger son who acknowledged to his father that he would certainly go and work in the vineyard did not match his promise with action. We ought to remember that action speaks louder than words, thus, we should not only ‘talk the talk’, but we must ‘walk the walk!’
The context of today’s Gospel was that Jesus had entered triumphantly into Jerusalem as a king and the promised Messiah. When he went into the Temple, he drove out all those who were profaning the Temple by turning it into a marketplace. The next time he went into the temple to teach, the Chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the Jewish authorities wanted to know by whose authority he was acting. Jesus promised to respond to their demand if they answered him the question whether John’s baptism was a divine or a human act. After a rigmarole, they decided to respond to Jesus that they did not know. Jesus saw in their answer a deception and a calculated attempt to obstruct the plan of God because they knew the truth. They knew that John’s baptism was a divine act and yet refused to accept it. Hence, they had become obstructionists attempting at thwarting and derailing God’s plan for humanity.
The Jewish leaders are like the younger son in the Gospel of today, they talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Some of their actions like being self-righteous is at variance with the Commandments of God. They claimed to believe in the scriptures, but the scriptures point to Jesus as the Messiah. They needed to reverse their course and believe in Jesus as their Messiah and reduce the burden they lay on people which they were unwilling to lift themselves.
At times, both, the members of the Church’s hierarchy and the laity, have behaved like the younger son. Each time we have committed a serious sin, we have betrayed our Christian identity, and hence, behaved like the younger son. Our hearts are saddened by the abuse of children which was perpetrated by some members of the Church hierarchy for decades and the various kinds of abuse which have taken place in homes, including some Christian homes. These abuses include child abuse and domestic violence. Some Christians have become wolves in sheep clothing because of their culpable behaviours.
Jesus, while not condoning the actions of the tax collectors who defrauded people or the way of life of prostitutes who demean their bodies which are the Temples of the Holy Spirit, applauded them for accepting the Good News and amending their ways. They are like the first son who initially declined his father’s request but later changed his mind and did what the dad had asked him to do, which was to go and do some work in his vineyard.
Jesus said that he had not come to call the virtuous, but to call sinners to repentance. His arms spread on the Cross is for everyone to come to him. Come to Jesus then, and you will experience the fullness of grace, for he came that you may have life and have it to the fullness. Let us stand up for integrity of life for a good name is better than silver and gold!
Finally, as we commemorate World Day of Migrants and Refugees, let us remember, pray for and commit to working to change the horrible reality of many in ‘our own backyard’. Members of Catholic Social Services Victoria and Parishes across the state are making considerable efforts to assist people seeking asylum; refugees and other migrants who hold temporary visas. Many remain in harsh circumstances in detention centres, and the majority of the 115,000 living in Australian communities have been deemed ineligible for any federal government support payments during Covid-19, making many at risk of homelessness and despair.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp