Ezek. 18:25-28; Phil. 2:1-11; Mt. 21:28-32
During today's First Reading from the Book of Ezekiel, [Ezek. 18:25-8] we learned that those who turn away from their wickedness by doing what is lawful and right, they will be saved. When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it. Today's Gospel passage from Matthew reaffirms this message.
The chief priest and elders of the people came to challenge the authority of Jesus, and in response, Jesus tells them a parable about two sons, a father, and the concept of true obedience.
The parable begins with a father who has two sons. He approaches the first son and asks him to go and work in the vineyard. This son initially refuses, saying, "I will not." Yet, later, he changes his mind and goes to work as his father had requested. The father then approaches the second son and makes the same request. This son, on the other hand, responds with apparentobedience, saying, "I go, sir," but he ultimately does not go to work in the vineyard.
Jesus then poses a simple but profound question to the chief priests and elders: "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They reply, "The first." And here, Jesus delivers a crucial message. He tells them that tax collectors and prostitutes, often considered sinners and outcasts, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them because they believed in John the Baptist's message of repentance and righteousness. Even after witnessing the transformation of these tax collectors and prostitutes, the religious leaders failed to change their minds and believe.
This parable teaches us several valuable lessons that resonate throughout the Old Testament, classical literature, and contemporary examples.
First, it reminds us of the importance of genuine repentance and action. The first son initially rebelled against his father's command but later changed his mind and acted in accordance with his father's will.
One of the most famous examples from the Old Testament of someone who followed sinful ways but later repented and did good things is King David. David's story is chronicled in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, as well as other parts of the Old Testament.
David started his life as a shepherd boy and eventually became the beloved king of Israel. However, despite his many virtues and achievements, he also had moments of great moral failing. Perhaps the most well-known of these is his sin against Bathsheba and her husband.
David's actions were not only sinful but also deeply destructive. However, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, David realized the gravity of his sins and immediately repented. He composed Psalm 51, a heartfelt plea for forgiveness and a deep expression of remorse. In this psalm, David cries out to God, saying, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
God, in His mercy, forgave David's sins, although there were still consequences for his actions. Despite these failings, David went on to do many great things as king. He sought to lead Israel in accordance with God's will, fought the enemies of Israel, and expanded the kingdom's territory. He is also credited with composing many of the Psalms, which continue to inspire and comfort people to this day.
David's story serves as a powerful example of repentance and redemption in the Old Testament. It demonstrates that even those who have fallen into grievous sin can turn back to God, seek forgiveness, and go on to do great things in His service.
In our contemporary world, we can find inspiration in the stories of individuals who have turned their lives around, overcoming addiction, selfishness, or a life of sin to embrace a path of righteousness and service to others.
Nicholas Winton was a British who lived a seemingly ordinary life as a stockbroker in the years leading up to World War II. However, his life took a remarkable turn when he travelled to Prague in 1938 on a vacation. While there, he witnessed the growing refugee crisis caused by the rise of Nazi Germany.
Disturbed by the plight of Jewish families desperately trying to flee the Nazis, Winton made a life-changing decision. He took it upon himself to organize the rescue of as many children as he could from Czechoslovakia. Working tirelessly and often against bureaucratic obstacles, he arranged for the transport of 669 mostly Jewish children to safety in the United Kingdom.
Winton's efforts were heroic, but he did not seek recognition for his actions. For many years, his courageous deeds remained a well-kept secret, known only to a few. It wasn't until decades later, in the late 1980s, that his story came to light when his wife discovered a scrapbook in their attic containing lists of children and correspondence related to the rescue missions.
As the story of "The British Schindler" spread, Nicholas Winton's incredible act of kindness and compassion gained global attention. Nicholas Winton's story serves as a powerful reminder that even ordinary people, when faced with extraordinary circumstances, can make an immense difference in the lives of others.
Second, the parable challenges us to examine our own attitudes and beliefs. In the parable, the second son's initial words are pleasing to the ears. He appears compliant and respectful, promising to do his father's will. Yet, his actions do not align with his words. He fails to carry out the task he agreed to, revealing a disconnect between what he professes and how he lives his life.
In our modern age, we are surrounded by a world where appearances and words often take precedence over actions. We live in a time of instant communication, where we can express our intentions, desires, and beliefs with a few taps on a screen or the click of a button. We can post inspiring messages, share our thoughts on important issues, and engage in discussions about faith and values with great ease.
However, the danger lies in the potential disconnect between our professed beliefs and our everyday actions. it is essential that we move beyond mere words and embrace a faith that is lived and witnessed through our actions. The Gospel challenges us to be more than just hearers of the Word; we are called to be doers of the Word as well.
Consider the issues that confront our world today—poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, social injustice, and more. It is not enough to declare our commitment to helping those in need; we must extend a helping hand. It is not sufficient to advocate for peace and reconciliation; we must actively work towards resolving conflicts and promoting understanding. In our personal lives there are areas where our actions do not align with our professed beliefs.
The message of the second son is a reminder that sincerity and authenticity in our faith require a unity of words and deeds.
In conclusion, the parable in today's Gospel challenges us to reflect on our own lives, our attitudes, and our actions. It calls us to embrace genuine repentance and to prioritize deeds over words.