“Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31)
Today’s gospel text contains ‘the Parable of the two sons.’ In the parable the Father asks the first son to go and work in the vineyard, this son initially refuses but later changes his mind and obeys. Because at first this son refused the father, he asks, the second son to go and work in the vineyard. The second one obliged, but did not put his words into action. At the end of the parable, Jesus puts this question, to the chief priests and the elders, “Which of the two did the father’s will?” Undoubtedly the one whose, actions spoke louder than his words.
However, the Parable isn’t about the Jews and the Gentiles, but rather the religious leaders, the tax collectors and public sinners. The chief priests and elders are like the second son. They profess to be righteous observers of God's law, but they refuse to hear the call of John the Baptist and of the Lord himself. The chief priests were trying to please God. They studied the Law and placed a very high priority on doing what was right in the eyes of God. They wanted to see people do everything they could to “help themselves” to enter God’s kingdom. They most certainly believed in the phrase, "The Lord helps those who help themselves?" Somehow, these leaders’ enthusiasm for the Law had turned into a reliance on their own efforts. They couldn’t see that Jesus was calling them to move beyond their rigid expectations. He wanted them to be humble enough to let him and his promises make them pleasing to God. After all, He came to save these “sinners.” These elders were determined to stick with their do-it-yourself approach rather than follow Jesus.
The tax collectors and the prostitutes, on the other hand, are like the first son. Initially they said "no" to God, by their lives, but later they repent and change their ways and thus they enter the Kingdom of God. Yet the religious did not change even after seeing the sinners repent. It is easy to behave like puppets and say, yes Lord, yes Lord, at every juncture, however "It is not those who say to me `Lord, Lord' who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the ones who do the will of the Father." In other words, actual repentance is the true test of obedience. When we try to change ourselves by the sheer force of our efforts, we risk making it harder for ourselves. Such a heavy focus on our action makes it difficult for us to become “generous receivers” of God’s grace. Of course, we do have our own part to play. We have to obey the commandments and do unto others as we would have them do to us. But God wants us to learn how to obey out of an attitude of surrender. He wants us to learn how to yield to him and let his grace fill us and empower us. As we learn to open ourselves to his Spirit in this way, we will find ourselves changed and purified.
Let us be obedient and attentive to the Jesus’ call. May we move towards Him in repentance and contrition and also help others do the same. Let God change and purify us so that we can answer him more deeply. Let us offer him our good desires and may he multiply it with his own divine grace, because the truth is: The Lord helps those who know they need him!
“Heavenly Father, we are nothing without you, forgive us our sins, and help us prepare for your coming.”