HOMILY, 26TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A)
Rev Fr Andrew Odeyemi
Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
Today’s liturgy centers on the need for repentance and the importance of doing God’s will. What guarantees our entrance into God’s Kingdom is not mere profession of faith but most importantly repentance and obedience to the will of God. Therefore, we are being challenged today to translate our belief and profession of faith into active obedience, and to translate our words and promises into deeds.
Jesus, in the gospel passage, condemns the hypocrisy of lip-service and pretended devotion. In His parable, Jesus narrates the story of a man with two sons. The man sent the sons to work in his vineyard. One promised to go and did not go; and the other said he would not go, but he later changed his mind and went to the vineyard.
This parable of the two sons was primarily intended to show up the hypocrisy of the chief priests, Pharisees and elders of the Jews, who claimed to be God’s special people, but failed to do God’s will. Like the second son, they promised to work for God but fail to do so, and so have excluded themselves from the Kingdom. For Christ, the fact that they were God’s Chosen People is not a guarantee that they will possess the kingdom of God, but obedience and good deeds are the only conditions.
Therefore, this is a challenge to the religious leaders, and those Christians today who only pay lip-service, those whose lives do not bear witness to the faith they profess with their lips. They are the ones who have said “Yes” but never match their “Yes” with action. The parable of Christ today teaches us that promise can never take the place of performance, and fine words are never a substitute for the deeds. The proper Christian way is in performance and not promise. Doing the will of God is imperative. Hence Christ says, “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
Therefore, we can only prove we love God by keeping His commandments (Jn 14:15). The only mark of a Christian is obedience. Many at times we claim to be Christians but our lives contradict what we profess. Take for instance, at our baptism, we have solemnly rejected Satan, his works and his empty promises. Are we faithful to all these promises? Have we really renounced sin? Do we really reject Satan when we still patronize his agents whenever we are faced with some challenges? There are some of us too who make the profession of evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Are we making effort to live according to our vocation? Also many have said ‘Yes I do’ before God and people of God at their wedding. How faithful are they to all these promises? Also, how faithful are we to those new year resolutions? Like the first son in Christ’s parable, we need a change of heart, we need repentance.
Though the first son in today’s parable was not perfect either, he is better. The boy told his father, “I will not go.” Of course, that was a disrespectful rebellion. However, he later changed his mind and went. Christ is inviting us too to repentance. It is better to say first “No” and later say “Yes” than first to say “Yes” and later “No.” It is better to begin badly and end well than to begin well and end badly. This is also the lesson in today’s first reading.
Prophet Ezekiel, in the first reading, calls forth the people to turn to the Lord with a repentant heart. While it is depressing and disconcerting to learn that the good and holy man can turn from God and commit sin, this very thought should make us vigilant and watchful over our actions. On the other hand, the word of God that is telling us today that a sinner may turn away from his wickedness, should be a great consolation for us who have often offended God. God holds no enmity against sinners. He is ever ready to forgive us if only we could return to Him.
Therefore, we should never mind if we have said, “No” to God in the pasts. We can still say, “Yes,” We should never mind if our lives had been a bit naughty; we can still make up. Many of the greatest Saints in the history of the Church, like St Paul, St Augustine, St Mary Magdalene, etc, were sinners who initially said ‘No’ to God, and who later changed their minds and said ‘Yes’. And what God in His mercy did for these persons and the millions of unknown penitents who are now saints in heaven He can also do for us if only we genuinely repent from our sinful ways of life today. Note the word “today.” in Christ’s parable: “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard TODAY.” The Father (God) said, ‘today’ is the day to go and do the his work, not tomorrow. Why today? Because tomorrow may be too late: the harvest may rot in the field, and even something could happen to the boys after that day, they could even die (Heb 9:27). Therefore, it is risky and dangerous procrastinating our salvation.
Also, worth noting is that, in Christ’s parable, none of the two sons is perfect, though one is better than the other, yet the two sons are imperfect. The ideal Son, however, whom every Christian should strive to imitate is Jesus who willingly carried out His Father’s wishes in total obedience and humility. St Paul tells us in our second reading of today that Our model should always be Jesus Christ. We must all try to become like Jesus Christ who matches what He says with what He does. Practice and profession must go hand in hand.
Finally, today’s liturgy teaches us that God is so loving and willing to forgive. He is ready to forgive anyone who repents even after a life of sin. But the same God will not force repentance on us. He respects man’s freedom, just like he did not force those sons to go and work in his vineyard.
Also, those of us in the Lord need to persevere. That we have done good works in the past is never a guarantee. As children of God, we must continue to grow in the love of God each and everyday and keep that love live and strong.
May the good Lord help us to translate our belief and profession of faith into active obedience, and our words and promises into deeds, and may He help us to persevere to the end. Amen!