“The Family of God: Walking in the Way of Righteousness”
October 1, 2017
The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 18: 1-4; 25-32
Psalm 25: 1 – 8
Philippians 2: 1 – 4
Matthew 21: 23 – 32
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We are the family of God, and we walk in righteousness, in humility, in the way God teaches us to walk in in response to His grace. The initiative comes from God, and what we can do is to respond to His goodness and grace. It is not that we love Him, but He loved us first – even before we knew Him and even before we were born. We don’t earn anything from God. By His doing, we were in the vineyard working. We were idle, dying of hunger, and He gave us life. What He wants for us is to respond so that we will have fullness of life. Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. The heart of God is that He sacrificed His Son and the Son sacrificed His life, too.
In Ezekiel 18:2b, a proverb says, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This means that the fathers sinned, but it was the children who suffered the consequences. It was abused by the present generation and the children would say that they inherited a mess because it was their father’s fault and they point fingers. There was no admission of guilt or fault. In Genesis, when Adam and Eve sinned, and God asked Adam what happened, he said, “It was the fault of the woman You gave me.” He pointed a finger at the woman, not looking to himself. Filipinos blame the Spaniards, Americans, Japanese who colonized us. We blame our genes and our upbringing. There was no owning up to the responsibility.
Our attitude should be like the attitude of the apostles at the Last Supper when Jesus said that one of them will betray Him. Their attitude was not overconfidence, but in humility, they asked Jesus, “Is it I?” Take responsibility, repent and more importantly, take action because God has enabled by grace to do what He preordained to be done.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” In the story of the blind man that Jesus saw, the disciples asked, “Whose fault is it that this man is blind?” and Jesus said, “This is so that God’s works are demonstrated through Me.” Circumstances are for us to turn the bad to good for the glory of God. We have no more excuses. We were redeemed from the curse by God to overcome. If we are suffering the consequences of sin, we have been given the ability of God to overcome.
Granting that somebody messed up before, and we inherited the mess, the good news is that we were delivered from the curse, we have been given ability to face whatever, and turn them from bad to good to the glory of God, and for the sake of our brothers. We were lifted from the ash heap. We pray at the Eucharistic Table, “We thank God for bringing us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” His creative ability is in us, to turn a mess into something good.
In the gospel today, the sinners, the tax collectors and the harlots were humble enough to acknowledge that they have sinned and they need a Savior. The problem is with the religious leaders. They were arrogant. They were not humble enough. They see themselves as higher and holier than the others. They thought they were the elite to a point that they probably thought they didn’t need a Messiah. They were angry at Jesus because Jesus accepted the sinners, which they thought shouldn’t be. Jesus told them, “You are missing the point. Those sinners whom you thought won’t make it are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God, and they will see and experience the kingdom of God.”
The first step is humility. Jesus said, “Woe to you because you keep people from entering the Kingdom, and you yourselves would not enter.” Humble yourselves; acknowledge that you need a Savior because you have failed. He wasn’t putting them down; He wasn’t preventing them from the Kingdom. Jesus was stirring up the religious leaders to jealousy, prodding and prompting them, and showing them the way because He was not pleased with the death of anyone – righteous or sinners alike.
God’s will is fullness of life for all. We don’t do that by a show of pietism or empty words. This brings us to the parable of the two sons. The father told the first son, “Go, work today in the vineyard,” and the son said, “I will not.” He repented, and worked in the vineyard. The second son said, “Okay, I will,” but he did not work in the vineyard.” Jesus was referring to the religious leaders who were making vows, saying big words, making big talk, but were empty. Just because someone has a gift of gab or a big talker or talks loud, intensely, and with emotions doesn’t mean that they are sincere. It doesn’t mean that they will do what they promised to do.
I know of someone who sings, “Lord, You are more precious than silver. Lord, You are more costly than gold. Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds, and nothing I desire compares with You.” I can say that this is me, and maybe you can say this about yourself. We say these things, but we violate it the moment we have the opportunity. Thank God that His grace is sufficient, and His mercy is everlasting, and as long as we repent, we keep trying, and we repent and humble ourselves and come back to God, God will work with us. It starts with humbling ourselves.
Jesus said, “Unless you humble yourselves like little children, unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is not getting your foot at the door of heaven; this is seeing a experiencing the goodness of God in His kingdom. My eschatology (what will happen in the future) is: one day, every knee bow, tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. This is where all things are headed toward. It is not to celestial or a global authoritarian, but to a meek Lamb whose ways are acknowledged as higher, superior, the Way, and the answer.
In Isaiah 2:2-3, Isaiah prophesied, “Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.” Our ways of the world do not prosper. The great kingdoms and empires of the world are nowhere to be seen. The mountain of the House of the Lord will be chief, and all peoples will say that their ways are not being fulfilled, so they say, “Let us go to the mountain of the Lord so that He may teach us His ways. We will bow our knees and we will follow.”
This is the restoration of all things. It is not about brute force nor by a loud voice, but meekness – a still small voice. In the kingdom, like the king, you don’t threaten. You draw; you inspire; you influence. In God’s kingdom, people will acknowledge His humble ways; His non-violent ways.
Aren't we supposed to make vows? We are not supposed to if we don’t have an intention to fulfill them or we can’t do it. We are also supposed to make commitments on certain occasions like weddings, ordination, baptism, confession, and worship. Saying “Amen” is a legal and binding acceptance of terms. Vows can be good. It doesn’t mean that if we violate the words that we say, we can’t make one. Vows can guide. They set us a standard for us to force us to fulfil them. The problem is that sometimes, we make them to appease the hearer. We do this to God, not understanding His heart.
God is not like, “I am the Boss, you are the slave. You do what I say.” No, He is after the good that our obedience will do to us. We can’t help God. What He is asking us to do is for our good. Our employment in the vineyard is a gift of God, by grace. We only respond, and our affirmative response results in the fulness of the grace He initially gave us. He wants grace upon grace piled up on this initial grace through our response of obedience. Our response should not be because of pressure to perform to please an exacting tyrant. It is to fulfill God's desire for us to taste and see His goodness.
When the father said to the son to work in the vineyard, it meant that he wanted the son to prosper. When Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers few, it doesn’t mean that God is short of manpower. God doesn’t need us. He is telling us that there is so much harvest, but only a few are enjoying it. He wants many to enjoy His gifts, but many people do not know, so we need to proclaim the good news that God has chosen to give us the Kingdom gladly, and there are many mansions in the kingdom of God, but few are they who find out about it. We need to tell and show the people the way.
God is being gracious, not needy. He is sharing; not hiring. The Kingdom is vast, and God has chosen gladly to give it to us, and He wants us to avail of it. The work is so that His joy may be in us, and our joy may be full. His will is to bless; His joy is to give. This is our God and His nature is love. He did not say, “This is My commandment: that you love one another so that I don't get upset.” No, He said, “This is my commandment: that you love one another that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” This goes for our giving. This goes for our volunteering and our doing of good works.
God blessed us because He wants us to be a blessing to discover the blessing of being a blessing. The song says, “The friendship of God is on those who fear Him.” Scriptures says, “The favor of the Lord is for those who fear Him.” Sometimes, we picture God as a God who withholds His blessings if we do not obey Him. No, it is not He who withholds the blessing. It is us who stops the flow of the blessing. He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, but many do not avail of it. God said, “I have set before you life,” so our response is to choose life so that we can avail of it. We do not take advantage of what God gives us. God shows us the way so that we can taste and see the goodness of God.
An earthly father provides for his children all that he needs – education, clothes and the others. Parents provide for the education of their children so that they will have a better future that they can be productive members of society, and that they can be able to provide for their families. If earthly fathers are imperfect, and they have this heart, what more God our Father who is a loving God and who is always after our welfare.
Go work today with this understanding. We are not serving a slave driver. We are serving a loving God, who in the first place just wants so much the best for us that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son – to provide for us life and life in abundance. Understand this because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.