What is really amazing about the gospel today, is that Jesus wasn’t judgmental at all about some of the most frowned upon sinners of his time. In fact, he stood up for them right in front of the Pharisees. What an awesome advocate we have in Jesus. He isn’t concerned about the past, but he is concerned about the present. Who we are at this exact moment in time. Other people may remember our past mistakes and treat us differently because of them, but Jesus doesn’t. Maybe that is one of the reasons why Jesus is the most liberating human being that ever lived. Yes, it helps that he is God’s son, but the human side of Jesus was also very compassionate and did not judge people by the same criteria that others do. Jesus said in today’s gospel:
“Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
This verse in the gospel is not talked about by many Catholics and we almost never hear a homily preached about it. Maybe that is because Catholics devote a lot of time and effort into purging even our smallest, venial sins out of our lives, during Lent each year. Holiness for many Catholics means an absence of sin, or a purity of soul that has been carefully cultivated to eliminate even the tiniest sins. However, Jesus didn’t think that way at all. The Pharisees thought that way though. This should be a bit of a warning to us, that it is ok to strive to overcome our mortal sins, but don’t become overly scrupulous over perfection.
Jesus never really mentioned people’s sins very much in the gospels. If he did, it was with love and compassion. The overly religious leaders of his time were the main people that he found fault with. They claimed to be very religious but didn’t actually do the things that they had learned from their religious beliefs. That’s what the gospel is all about today.
There is such a danger in intellectually knowing a lot about our faith, but failing to put it into practice. There is a danger in studying all about our faith, maybe even obtaining advanced degrees in theology, etc., or build up a thriving parish community that is self enclosed. At some point we should look at our lives, and at our parishes and ask ourselves who are we serving? The first son in the gospel today had the right intentions to go work in the vineyard, but never followed through on them. He got wrapped up in his own self involved interests and never did what his Father asked him to do.
By way of contrast, there are many less than perfect Catholics who are not very knowledgeable about all the technical aspects of our beliefs, but they put it into practice. Their hearts know the truth, and their efforts are not done … because we all know what we should be doing, because of what we have been taught. These types of Catholics live by their heart. They would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it more than them. They don’t try to be good. They have simply learned to genuinely care about others, and to put the focus of their lives outside of themselves. They don’t build up their own spirituality, exceedingly. Their thoughts are not so much on themselves, because they are busy thinking about others.
Even though the second son in the gospel today initially put up a fuss, or refused to do what his Father asked, he listened to the voice of conscience afterwards and decided to go ahead and work in the vineyard. What a beautiful thing conversion is. Conversion is a cooperation with God’s grace.
The first reading today started out with several beautiful verses too:
“But, if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
It would really be a shame to devote our entire lives adhering faithfully to our Catholic faith, and then miss the point, jeopardizing our eternal salvation like the Pharisees did. Jesus talks about family in today’s parable. Family is formed through the bonds of love. The second son loved his Father enough to go do what he asked, even if he didn’t feel like it at the time. His initial negative feelings are not what even mattered to Jesus, because the son loved his Father enough to change his mind, and change his actions to show it.
Is there something that you know you should do, but you keep putting it off because you just don’t feel like doing it? Maybe call your parents, or visit your elderly grandparents, or buy your friend or spouse a birthday present? Let’s just go do it, whether we feel like it or not. The joy that comes afterward makes it all worthwhile.
Sunday Mass Readings:
Ezekiel 18: 25-28 / Psalm 25/ Philippians 2: 1-11 / Matthew 21: 28-32