First Reading: Ezk 18:25-28; Psalm: 24. R. v. 6a; Second Reading: Phil 2:1-11; Gospel: Mt 21:28-32
THE GOD OF NEW BEGINNINGS
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
In the parable of today’s gospel, it is important to admit the obvious truth that none of the two sons is perfect or faultless. At first, neither of them did nothing that a true father should be proud of. The first son was rude and disrespectful. And the second son was pretentious and dishonest. This characterises the life of the two sets of people addressed in this parable, of which we are not exempted. Neither does the greed and lust of the tax collectors and sinners nor the hypocrisy of the Pharisees pleased Jesus. This obviously reveals our all-inclusive participation in the imperfection of man. But the question is: Among the two sons, who was less imperfect? Who was less faulty? There lies the turning point of this parable.
Every one of us has the tendency to make mistakes or to make wrong choices. But what mitigates the consequences of our actions is the humility to admit our mistakes and the disposition to make amends. The first son may not have agreed to do the father’s bidding at first; but upon reflection he probably discovered he was too rash and rude to his father and immediately swung into action to right his wrong. The second son on the other hand wouldn’t even see any need to reflect on his decision; because to him, he has won the father’s heart. And he is the father’s good boy who made his father happy by yielding. So, there was practically nothing regretful to reflect on since he believed his father was pleased by his deceptive submission. When we are honest, our sins become more visible. But dishonesty conceals lots of sin.
Now, what is more interesting in this parable is the question of Jesus: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Why this is more interesting is that Jesus did not ask, “Which of the two was rude and disrespectful? Or “Which of the two was pretentious and dishonest?” Had Jesus asked the latter questions, nor of the two sons would pass because none of them was free from error. But our God does not pay so much attention to our mistakes but to our regrets and conversion. Our God does not capitalise on our past failures but trusts that we are capable by his grace to repent as we proceed in life. And ultimately, our God is more interested in action than in words. Salvation depends not merely on what we say or believe but precisely on what we do.
As Jesus warned concerning self-deception; “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21). St James added, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26).
Only the living can change things. As long as there is life, it is never too late to right our wrongs. But first, we need the honesty and humility to admit that we have messed up in order to clean up our mess. Pretending that all is fine or that we have done nothing wrong shuts the door to God’s mercy and reconciliation. Just like the first son, we have all made rash and regretful decisions many times in life. But if we reflected and listened to our consciences, we would see that we are where we are not supposed to be and feel the need to turn back. Humble acceptance opens the door to God’s mercy. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2Chr 7:14).
Perhaps, there is something we can learn from our God who judges not our past but is pleased and approves of our new beginnings. The gospel message is always not complete in our hearts if we failed to better ourselves from the perfect examples of God. “You therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48). As we can see, this parable goes on to highlight that good actions can cancel bad decisions. The emphasis is; “Which of the two did the will of the father?” And not “Which of the two made mistakes?” Sometimes we emphasise on people’s regrettable mistakes even when they give us several reasons to think otherwise. We are not too bad not to make good decisions neither are we too good to be exonerated from bad actions. The point is focusing on efforts not errors.
People will always make mistakes in life. It could be our parents, husband, wife, children, friends, neighbour, co-worker or an extended family member. It could be a decision or a choice they made out of influence, undue compulsion or in a bid to meet some pressing exigencies. It could even be an action or decision wilfully though-out and done with full knowledge of the consequences. This can cut so deep. But we cannot deny true remorse when we see it; especially when there is a consistent pattern to right the wrong. Do not dwell on the past. Do not dwell on people’s mistakes. Dwell on the new beginnings even when the new beginnings are not so perfect.
We can be sure that from the way Jesus ended the parable, the father of the two sons would probably have said to the first son, “Son, I know you didn’t mean it when you said you won’t go to the vineyard. I understand you have a lot bothering you right now that you feel compelled to attend to them than obey me. I appreciate your sacrifice and I’m pleased you considered me first. Don’t worry, all will be fine.” Such encouraging and soothing words will most certainly calm anyone trying to put behind the error of the past. But imagine if their father was that kind of a man who dwells on people’s mistakes. He probably would have said, “Must you make a fuss over everything? Now that you have gone to the vineyard and returned, did the world collapse? Your rude and stubborn attitude will lead you to nowhere. Thank your lucky stars you reconsidered and went to the vineyard. You would have been grounded and starved the whole day.” This would be like rubbing salt into the wound. It doesn’t cost much to be nice even when we have every reason to be harsh.
So, we can decide today be kinder and nicer to people with our words and actions just like God our Father. What we say or do to people can either heal or open their scabs. It takes a lot of courage to make a decision to change from regretful actions. Those who take this bold step are fragile and vulnerable to relapse into worse conditions if not given the needed support. God’s mercy cancels our sins but it is his love that heals us. Our world is in most need of this love.
“Brethren: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:1-4).
It is not about which of the two sons offended the father. But it is about which of them reconsidered and did the father’s bidding. Don’t dwell on the mistakes. But let true love compel us to dwell on the new beginnings.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we are grateful for your love and mercy. Grant us the courage to always return to you when we fall; and the grace to forgive others just as you always forgive us. Amen.