Jesus said, “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
Today’s Gospel reading is the continuation of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple. The background of today’s parable is set in verse 23 of Matthew: “When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” In replying to their question, Jesus told them this parable. And this parable is the first of the three parables that Matthew places in the same background and context because they have the same basic teaching.
Having understood the background and context of today’s Gospel reading, we know that Jesus was talking to the chief priests and the elders of the Temple. They were also the leaders of the Jews at that time. The Jews are proud of the fact that they are God’s chosen people and that they observe the laws of Moses. And the leaders of this chosen people are the cream of the cream. But Jesus reminds them that observance of the laws of Moses does not guarantee that they will possess the Kingdom of God, if they refuse to obey God’s call to repent. Thus the key message of today’s Gospel reading about repentance. Further, we are reminded that our acceptance into the Kingdom of God is through repentance only, not through our identity, heritage, and observance of the laws.
Jesus uses this parable to expose the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders of the Jews. He also points out the perilous position in which they stand in relation to God and heaven. This warning against hypocrisy is still in force today. How often we hear or say: “I didn’t realize how sinful I was”; “I was too occupied with my family or work to have time for my faith”; “everyone in my work place did that”; “I was led astray by bad example”; “I did not want to be different from others”; “I was simply putting things right”? What do you think what are all these utterances about? Do they sound hypocrite to you? Against the backdrop of today’s Gospel reading, can I sense my hypocrisy of paying lip service to God?
While we are still on earth, and God is mercy to us, He invites us to work in the vineyard today! We still have time to repent, to change our previous decision of not repenting, and go to work in the vineyard. What does it mean to work in the vineyard? It is to cooperate with God’s grace to turn over our life a new leaf, to wipe out our sinful past up to now, like Matthew, Mary Magdalene, St. Augustine, and many other sinners who are now saints of the Church.
Our Baptism and becoming a member of His Church is our first response to His call to work in the vineyard. This identity and membership of the Church do not guarantee us the acceptance into the Kingdom of God because we finally have to come before the judgment seat to account for what we did. But God is merciful and patient. He gives us the time to repent, to work in His vineyard to put things straight.
In prayer today, take a look into our conscience and see how much of our past life we have given to God and how much we have kept for ourselves. Think, if we are called tonight to render an account to God, would the balance sheet be in our favour? Think, also, how we have taken care of the piece of vineyard assigned to us? Does it produce abundant fruits, or, is it wasted with weeds? Even if it is the latter, we should give thanks to God because He is mercy and inviting me to return to Him by repentance. We thank Him because he gives us the opportunity to right the wrongs in our past life. With such gratitude, we respond to God’s invitation to work in His vineyard. Amen.