Yes is one word that comes out easily and often from our mouths but living up to it is quite another thing. The Gospel for this Sunday invites us to check: how yes is our yes? In other words, how much do we live up to what we say? It’s call to being authentic.
Bible readings Ezekiel 18:25-28 Psalm 25: 4-9 Philippians 2: 1-11 Matthew 21: 28-32
“Yes” vs “No”
Jesus gives a parable about a man who has two sons. He asks the first son if he can go and work in the vineyard. The son says no. So the father turns to the second son who readily says yes. But what’s interesting is what follows thereafter.
The son who refused ends up accomplishing what he was asked to do but the son who had accepted does nothing. Evidently, the punch line of the parable is in the question that Jesus poses: “Which of the two did the will of his father?” Then we realise that what counts, finally, it’s not the simple yes or no but rather what we do after our response. However, perhaps it’s important to place this parable in its context; what could have let Jesus to give such a parable?
Resistance vs conversion
Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, amidst the acclamation of crowds, and later he chases away venders from the temple. This puts him into conflict with chief priests and the elders who question his authority to do that. But in his response, which takes the form of another question, he lays bare their resistance to welcome the message of conversion. On the contrary, it’s often those who are considered as sinners who have responded favourable both to the message of John the Baptist and to that of Jesus.
In a way, these chief priests and elders are like the first son, who by their religious practice, have trumpeted a resounding yes and yet their lives do not reflect this yes. You don’t see in them fruits of converted persons. On the other hand it’s the prostitutes and tax-collectors who, by their lifestyle seemed to have refused to live according to the alliance, welcomed the message of conversion.
Yes, but more than religious practice
Being Christian demands more than just fulfilling religious practice; it’s about infusing one’s life with the Gospel. Here I think of the terms that you hear often especially in the western world: practising and none practising Christians. They are considered practising Catholics those who go to mass and receive sacraments. Those who don’t are labelled as non-practising. I sense a little danger.
Indeed, going to mass, receiving sacraments and doing what a good catholic is expected to do is a big yes that we announce. However, we risk settling ourselves on such external manifestations. The question that we should seek to answer is this: what happens after going to mass? How’s my life like after receiving Holy Communion? Jesus is challenging us to flip the curtains and see what goes on behind the religious platform. How authentic are we? How deep is our yes?
Risk of hypocrisy
This parable makes me think of other passages of the Bible: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Is 29:13). Another is “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father.…” (Mt 7:21). Here hypocrisy is denounced. Indeed, how many times does Jesus reproach Pharisees and scribes in harsh words when it comes to living a double standard life? A hypocrite says one thing and does quite another; there’s a gap between his words and his actions. Growing into mature Christian is about narrowing this gap. In other words, Jesus is inviting us to check this gap; is it widening or is it narrowing?
Polite son vs impolite son
I think it’s worthy reflecting closely on these two sons. One is quite impolite, he dares telling his father off in the face, I won’t go. The other is an adorable son, polite; I will go sir. Yet, it’s an impolite son who carries the day. But do we need to pass by an impolite no in order to fulfil God’s will? What’s praise-worthy about the first son?
He probably took time to reflect on his response and realised that he it’s better to change. On the contrary, the second son contented himself with the impression he made with his polite but empty yes. And he did nothing else.
I would say, that’s the strength of those who may have been scorned as sinners: we think of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10); Mathew tax collector (Mt 9:9-13) and the woman (LK 7:36-50) with bad reputation in the town; in them there’s an aspect of taking step to be different. It’s a sign of second thought they may have given to their previous lifestyle that enabled them to move on as changed person. This gospel is encouraging us to rethink our position, and not remain stuck paralysed by whatever aspect of our past.
The good news
Probably God is not asking us to be nice, adorable Christians; he knows our struggles that prevent us from responding favourably to his love. He judges us not, neither does he put label on us. Rather, he’s patient with us and he gives us time to reflect on our lives so that we can finally act a little better.
No matter how our relations may have been with God or with other people; we can always change for better. That’s what God awaits from us. This good news is announced in the First Reading: “Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die” (Ez 18:27-28).
Whatever gap may exist today between my words and my actions, no matter how shallowly I may be living my yes to Jesus; God believes in what I can become tomorrow. Yes, I can become a better person.
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