“All that you have done to us, O Lord, you have done with true judgement, for we have sinned against you and not obeyed your commandments. But give glory to your name and deal with us according to the bounty of your mercy.” (Entrance antiphon for this Sunday)
This week, once again, we have the Israelite community complaining that God’s punishment was unjust. The Lord responds clearly and concisely with the truth:
Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he himself has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.
Notice that the Lord does not need spotless lives; He makes spotless lives, and He makes them through what we call “conversion.” And, by the way, this reference “he shall not die” is a reference to eternal life where, in fact, no one dies. Hence the name “eternal life.”
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus presents two different “sons” of a man. The man…
…went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the father’s will?
Of course, it’s no surprise to us that the first one is the one who did the father’s will. The Chief priests and elders of the people knew this too. They said to Jesus, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.”
The first son in Jesus’ parable represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, the worst of sinners according to the standards of those times, that Jesus speaks of. The second son represents the leaders of Israel that Jesus was speaking to. Jesus clearly points out that John the Baptist called out for good fruit befitting repentance (cf. Matthew 3:8) that tax collectors and prostitutes, among others, actually bore, while the leaders of the Jewish community did not.
In our Second Reading this Sunday, St Paul speaks to us about the humility that Christ Himself took on Himself, presenting Jesus to us as our model of holiness (see CCC 459 & 520, and also check out this article that I wrote about Jesus and the saints being our model of holiness).
St Paul explains that, even though Jesus possessed the fullness of divinity, He didn’t come to wave it in our faces. Instead, “He did not cling / to His equality with God / but emptied Himself / to assume the condition of a slave…” This is commonly the position of the saints too. They often show themselves to be extremely heroic, virtuous, and holy people that affect the course of history, yet they esteem themselves as lower than the dirt they walk on. They make themselves the servant of all and this shows their true greatness—of course, this is what Jesus has asked of us! (cf. Luke 22:24-27).
This is the humility that we need in order to recognise our own sinfulness and our need for mercy. Only then shall we have that mercy and can truly call it “conversion.”
Yes, it is true, the Lord is merciful. But mercy is freely and abundantly given to those who show repentance, clearly put: A desire for mercy. But “Lord have mercy, while I continue to sin,” cannot be.
When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, he lost that control of himself that he once enjoyed (called original integrity). Temptation after the first sin now often presents itself as too big to overcome (although temptation is never too difficult to overcome, really—see 1 Corinthians 10:13).
When grace was restored to us at Baptism and Original Sin was washed from our souls, the weakness still remained. Why? Because now God wants us to depend on Him as our strength. He is our Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and Jesus is our ‘tree’ (wooden Cross) of life; He is the one that tells us what is good and evil, because if we rely on ourselves, we’ll get it wrong and find nothing but misery.
The greatest fruit from this new tree of life is the Bread of Life—The Eucharist. This Sunday, we shall come to the Sanctuary of the Lord and we will partake of the fruit of eternal life. May this fruit bear good fruit in us and help us along to eternal life where “God will be all in all.”
See you next week on Seeking the Word!
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