A WARNING AGAINST HYPOCRISY FOR ALL TIME
(A biblical reflection on the 26th ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year A], 27 September 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:28-32
First Reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalms: Psalm 25:4-9; Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-11
The Scripture Text
“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32 RSV)
“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him” (Matthew 21:31-32)
This is the first of three parables which Matthew places in the same context because they have the same basic teaching. Jesus is telling the leaders of the Jews that the fact that they were God’s Chosen People, and that they were proud of their observance of the law of Moses, is not a guarantee that they will possess the Kingdom of God. Rather, because of their pride and their refusal to obey God’s call to repentance, they will exclude themselves, while the tax-collectors and sinners, who they despised, will repent their sins and will be accepted into Kingdom of God. The leaders of the Jews prided themselves on their strict observance of the letter of the Mosaic law while they failed dismally in keeping its basic motive true: LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOR.
We are now ready to understand the meaning of Jesus’ comments above. The chief priest and the elders said they were holy, but like the first son in the parable, they did not back up their words with action. They refused to repent when John the Baptist urged them to do so. The tax collectors and the prostitutes who accepted John’s teaching and reformed their lives are like the second son who ended up doing his father’s will. Because of this, Jesus says they (not the chief priest and the elders) will have a prominent place in the Kingdom of Heaven, implying that the tax collectors and prostitutes are holier than the chief priest and elders. As you can imagine, Jesus angered the Jewish leaders so much they began to look for a way to put Him to death.
This “Parable of the Two Sons” was primarily intended to show up the hypocrisy of the chief priests and elders of the Jews, and the perilous position in which they stood in relation to God and heaven. It is, however, a warning against hypocrisy for all time. Lip service of God will not merit heaven. Nominal Christians are not working in the Lord’s vineyard. At any moment they may be called from this life, and what defense can they offer the just judge? Will they dare to offer the flimsy excuses with which they try to silence
their consciences now: “we didn’t realize how sinful we were”; “we were too occupied with family and personal cares to have time for our spiritual duties”; “we were led astray by bad example”; “we didn’t like to be different from others”; “we were going to put things right”? Who will dare to offer such excuses at the judgement seat? Their utter futility will then be apparent an all its nakedness.
But we are still on earth, and while we are the door of God’s mercy is wide open to us. If in the past we said, “Will not go into your vineyard”, we still have time to reverse that sinful decision. Not only can we with God’s grace turn over a new leaf, but we can completely wipe out the sinful pages of our life’s story written up to now. Remember that what God in His mercy did for the tax-collectors and harlots in the parable, the Matthews, the Mary Magdalenes, the Augustines, the Margarets of Cortona, the Matt Talbots and the millions of unknown penitents who are now saints in heaven He can also do for each and every one of us.
We answered the call to God’s vineyard by accepting baptism and membership of His Church If we have grown lax in our fervor and refused to do the tasks allotted to us, we still have time, thanks to God’s mercy and patience, to put things right. Today, let us look into our conscience and see how much of our past life we have given to God and how much we have kept for ourselves. If we were called tonight to render an account to the Lord, would the balance sheet be in our favor? Is our corner of the vineyard producing abundant crops, or is it perhaps filling up with weeds, briers and brambles? The latter might be our case.
Prayer: Thank You, God, for not calling us to judgement today. We will begin right now to understand our sinful past, so that our corner of Your vineyard will be in good order when You do call us. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy. God grant that we shall never abuse it. Holy Spirit, lead all people everywhere back to our merciful Father, who is waiting to pour the fullness of life into their hearts. Amen.
Jakarta, 26 September 2020
A Christian Pilgrim