By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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Fine Words and Good Deeds

Ezekiel 18:25-28 Philippians 2:1-11 Matthew 21:28-32

An associate pastor, new to the parish, saw the need to start a Bible study group where people could learn to read the word of God and deepen their faith. After service one morning, he presented the idea to the people and received a unanimous and enthusiastic feedback. "It is a wonderful idea," they all said. Then the young associate pastor went and told the pastor that the people were happy with the idea of starting a Bible class. The older and more experienced pastor told the associate to rephrase the question and consult the people again. The following day the young priest asked the same congregation, "Who would like to sign up for the Bible study group? Only four hands went up. Then it dawned on the young man that saying yes to an idea is one thing and doing what is required is another.

In today's gospel Jesus tells the parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard the first son said no but later reconsidered his decision and did the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who actually did what his father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the same one who had said no to him.

Jesus told this parable in the temple in Jerusalem just days before they would arrest him and put him to death. For three years he had been preaching to the people, inviting them to repent and believe the Good News. He had discovered that, in fact, it was public sinners like the tax-collectors and prostitutes who responded to his invitation. The religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, even after they perceived the divine origin of the message of Jesus, still opposed it rather than believing it. They had greeted John the Baptist with the same attitude. They knew John's teaching was from God but they would not admit it. As Jesus said to them, "even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him" (Matthew 21:32). Religious people are sometimes so bent on proving that they are right that they fail to hear the voice of reason and the voice of God.

The parable likens the tax-collectors and prostitutes to the son who first said no but later did what the father wanted, and the Pharisees and scribes to the son who enthusiastically said yes but did not go. One group has no fine words but they have good deeds. The other group has fine words but no corresponding good deeds. They represent two kinds of people and the different ways they try to relate to God. There are those who have no fine words: like those who profess no faith, who do not go to church, who do not pray. But sometimes when there is injustice in the city they will be the first to rise up and condemn it. When there are people out in the cold they will be the first to donate a blanket. Wherever there is famine or earthquake they will deny themselves a packet of cigarettes to contribute to help the victims. These people have no fine words to say to God or about God but when they do things such as these, they are doing what God has commanded us all to do.

Then there are those of us who have the fine words: who come to church every Sunday and say to God "Amen! We believe." We wear badges and medals as ways of professing our faith. But sometimes when it comes to concrete action in support of what we know to be the will of God, we are found wanting. If we carry on like this, then we should heed the warning that those other folks are going into the kingdom of God ahead of us.

To conclude, we need to point out that today's parable is really the parable of two bad sons. Which of the two boys would you have as an ideal son: the one who bluntly says no to his father's face or the one who says yes and does not follow up on it? The answer is none of the above. Ideal sons and daughters are those who say yes to their parents and then go on to do what is commanded. This is what we should aim to be -- men and women who profess our faith in word and deed - knowing that "Not all those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

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