In the first reading Ezekiel is letting his readers know that he has received from God and is speaking by Gods authority. Written by him but as God told him. “ What do you mean, that you use this proverb (mashal) concerning the land of Israel?” The word mashal means represent or compare. It can denote a proverb, riddle, or parable. God wants to know. The words that Ezekiel speaks to Israel comes in the context of all the things that have happened before they came to that point. After King Solomon died, Israel split into two kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). And now Ezekiel is talking to the complaining Israelites.
This text from Ezekiel emphasizes personal choice—accountability for the individual’s sins rather than the sins of the parents. This is an important point. If people believe that they are going to be punished for the sins of their parents, that belief robs them of hope.
“Cast away from you all your transgressions, in which you have transgressed“ (v. 31a). Rather than attributing their punishment to the sins of their ancestors, these Israelites need to acknowledge their sins and cast them aside so they can move on. We have to admit were we have gone wrong and ask God to forgive us. Maybe we didn't love our neighbor enough, maybe we gossiped and caused division. We live in exciting times with the pandemic, the upcoming elections and turmoil in this country and around the world. And often we don't live the Gospel and and cause division ourselves. Yes we are loving and caring, but usually only for the people that agree with us. We have to stop blaming other and God and look at our own faults. We have to see where we have gone wrong as a individual, a nation and as a world. The problem might be that we think we have not failed and want to blame God or others, for things we caused ourselves.
St. Paul tells us not to act out of our selfish ambition but it is better to be humble and count others more significant than ourselves. Being a follower of Christ means that we should not boast about our own accomplishments but always give credit to God and serve our neighbor. The Gospel also emphasizes to have the right attitude, when we say we are disciples of Christ. The story reminds us that actions speak louder than words. When we look around us we can see that organizations have mission statements what they want to accomplish. If we look carefully many of these organizations perform poorly. They may have good intentions but the fail to live up to their own rhetoric. With this parable Matthew probably meant to tell his community to imitate the first son and join them in believing in Jesus. He also meant it as a nudge to those Christians who had initially said 'yes' and then wavered. When we read these parables, we are called either directly or indirectly to ask ourselves which of the two we are. Most likely, both descriptions fit us, depending on the circumstances. We know it from our younger years. When our parents asked us to do something. Sometimes we acted like the first son and sometimes like the second one.
Neither son in this parable has the right virtue when it comes to it. Neither did any of the followers of Jesus back then, or now. Nobody is perfect, we are all human and make mistakes. Jesus is the only one that did the Father’s will at every point, even when suffering is his part. Jesus is neither of the sons in this parable. But there is a hopeful message in the parable Jesus gives us. Namely, that salvation is not for the perfect, but for the repentant. Redemption is still available for those who refuse the call of the Lord at first. These prostitutes and tax collectors to whom Jesus referred had repented of their sin and come back into union with the will of the Father. Even if, they were not necessarily enthusiastic about it at first. You can only imagine what the priests and elders thought of this parable. Jesus was explicitly saying that the priests and elders were the second son of the parable. They were only interested in honor and power for themselves. And that is also a warning for today's Church. Don't make it all about yourself. And i know social media does not really help, but we have to focus on God and neighbor always. The conclusion that tax collectors and prostitutes were closer to Heaven than the priests and elders, would have produced anger from them.
Having been in leadership, they felt entitled to God’s favor. They must have felt Jesus’s words as a deep insult to their dignity. However, our first reading from Ezekiel addresses that idea of fairness. Israel in those days griped that the Lord had been unfair in dealing with Israel. The delivered his rebuke: “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” This rebuke perfectly resembles the parable Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel. The Israelites in Ezekiel's day were also the second son in the parable so to say. The Israelites see the consequences of this disobedience as unfair. And that is because they are too caught up in their own things, instead of coming into communion with the Lord. And we are often quit the same. We are caught up too much in things that don't matter as much as our relationship with God: our own personal things, the pandemic, politics and so on. So this is a lesson for all times. Since the beginning people have a rebellious nature and hardness in their hearts. And that is still the case, even in Christianity. Some people might have Gods words on their lips, but not always in their heart.
Even with that hardness of heart and rebellious nature, the Father continued to send messengers to persuade his people into the role of the first son. That summarizes the the mission of Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection opened that path for all people. We are called to worship God and do as he tells us. Not because he wants to be harsh on us but because he knows what is best for us. Otherwise we will always suffer through the temptations of this fallen and divided world. We should not trust on human beings for our Salvation, but on God only. We have no other Savior and redeemer than Jesus Christ only. So let us renew our commitment to Jesus Christ. Let us follow his call to work in His vineyard for His harvest. God never gives up on us. He just keeps telling us patiently to listen to His call and hopes that we give up our disobedience and our clinging to the world. He calls us to admit our mistakes and move on. Once we do that we will experience true joy and happiness. Amen.