This is the 26th Sunday in ordinary time. The readings for this Sunday warn us that it is our final decision for or against God, that is, our choosing to obey Him gracefully by doing His will or our choosing to go against His will, which will decide our eternal reward or eternal punishment. God gives us freedom, and, as free beings, it is we who choose our eternal destiny, choose to be with God or away from God.
There was a belief among the chosen people that children inherit the guilt of their ancestors and are punished for it. The prophet Ezekiel challenges and corrects their beliefs, saying that each person is to be rewarded or punished according to his or her individual actions, not for someone else’s. God does not keep account of our past. In the reading, Ezekiel answers the objection raised by the Jewish slaves in Babylon, “Our ancestors sinned, but we are punished, and so God is not fair!” God’s message is that His mercy overrules strict justice, and He doesn’t hold our past against us. Hence, if God is “not fair,” it is to our advantage, because He doesn’t hold the past against us and always gives us another chance. The Good News is that God is always ready to forgive; we need only show willingness to accept God’s forgiveness through our forgiveness of each other.
Paul, in the second reading, cites Jesus as the supreme model of obedience to the Father’s will, and affirms the truth that those who make the final choice for God will be rewarded. Paul reminds the early Christian community of their obligation to look to others’ interests rather than their own. He advised them to take Jesus as their model for such behavior, because Jesus obeyed His Father completely, emptying Himself, taking human form and humbling Himself by accepting death on a cross. Because of His loving obedience to the Father’s will, God exalted Christ, bestowed on Him the Name above every other name. The message is that if we are united with Christ in His faithful obedience to God, we will also share His glory.
In the parable in today’s Gospel, a man with two sons tells both to go out to work in the vineyard. The first son says he won’t go, but later regrets it and goes to work in the field. The second son says he will go, but does not. In each case, it is the final decision that is important. Both sons had the opportunity to mend their ways and win their father’s trust. One repented and the other chose not to, choosing his own way, remaining disobedient to his father. Jesus connects this parable to the followers of His time. The repentant tax-collectors and prostitutes represented by the first son who initially refused to work will make their way into the Kingdom of God before the chief priests and the elders, represented by the second son.
Each one of us is responsible to God for every one of our actions, and the just God will punish or reward each individual according to our actions. Since we are not sure of the moment of our death, our only guarantee of dying in God’s friendship is to live in His grace and friendship always, saying “Yes” to God by doing His will like Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary, by obeying God’s will, remained faithful to Him all her life. God rewarded her faithfulness and elevated her as our Blessed Mother.
If we have been disobedient to God in our past life, we need to knock at the door of God’s mercy and forgiveness. God can, and will, do for us what, in His mercy, He did for the repentant tax-collectors in the parable and in real life. Hence, we need to repent of our sins and ask God’s pardon through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us remember that it is never too late for us to return to God; God always waits for us. He does not keep account of our sins or punish us for our past.