In this week's Gospel, Jesus shares the story of the man with two sons. He told his eldest son to go work in the vinyard, but the elder did not want to go work and said "no" to his father. He later reconsidered and went to work in the vinyard. Meanwhile, the man told his younger son to go work in the field. He agreed to go, but didn't. The chief priests and elders claim the elder son did his father's will, and Jesus tells them:
[Yeah,] tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not change your minds and believe him.You know what I wonder?
Why is it always tax collectors and prostitutes? What's so bad about tax collectors? Aren't they just doing their jobs? (This website - http://www.colonialucc.org/worship/sermons/2008/sermon_060808.html - likens tax collectors to first century Palestinian Sopranos. Ha. That strikes me as funny.) I guess the case could be made that prostitutes are only doing theirs as well. Aren't those paying for the prostitutes' services sinners too?
Of course the whole time I'm wondering, I'm missing the point of the parable.
I do get the point: the elders and church leaders considered themselves righteous and above reproach, and they didn't bother to even listen to what John had to say. Meanwhile, the sinners were listening. They may initially have said "no" to their heavenly Father, but then they went out and did right - they chose to follow Jesus.
Fr Tony really nailed his homily again this week. He opened with two thoughts:
- I bet each of us can tell stories about how people have let us down - made promises to us and never followed up on them. We put our trust in them and, in the end, they aren't there for us. (Why, yes, that's happened to me.)
- But we must acknowledge times that we ourselves have gone back on our word when we have given a half-hearted "yes" to someone or something that we never planned to follow up on. (Why, yes, I have done something like that as well. True, not intentionally - I always mean it when I say "yes" to someone. Still, I'm guilty of failing to follow through.)
It's a challenge to see the Lord in our brothers and sisters, especially those brothers and sisters who have wronged us. It may be a bigger challenge to see the Lord in the brothers and sisters we have wronged. If we were really able to love the way Jesus wants us to love, it might not be such a challenge. And what kind of love is Jesus-love? It's love that is patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, rejoices with truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Best of all, Jesus-love cannot, will not, does not fail. Jesus-love is awesomely, wonderfully, eternally perfect.
I fail at Jesus-love sometimes. So do most people. Where I most often fail is in my inability to believe that sinners - and we are all sinners - change. I long for cosmic justice.
Punish the sinners!
Off with their heads!
Clap on the chains!
The sinner basically punishes himself. The punishment is built into the very sinfulness. This is what Ezekiel is saying [in Sunday's first reading]. “Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust?” It is not altogether uncommon to hear people complain that God is unjust to them. But God responds that a good person who violates his own integrity to do something evil dies in sin, precisely as a result of the evil he has done.Well, hell. What else is there to say?
Our self-seeking, our hate, anger, aggression, violence, jealousy, resentments, our greed and avarice… all lead to isolation, loneliness, hostility with others and often to physical and mental stress and breakdowns. Sin, which is a refusal to respond to God loving us, brings its own inevitable punishment. Our sins often leave wounds which take a long time to heal. God does not need to punish us; we do that very well by our own choices.