The statement of our Lord that “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” can be very troubling. Why and how could this be? To whom is this statement addressed? It could be addressed to any one of us if we have not undertaken the daily challenge of walking in union with God. Each day we draw breath God asks us “to go out and work in the vineyard today,” and thus each day becomes a lived choice of love for God. Yet all of us have days like the first son where we set out with the intent of walking with God only to slide into the darkness of sin by noon. Meanwhile, there are others who have perhaps lived long established patterns of sin. Those who have refused to follow God only to have a change of heart today toward repentance while we ourselves do not. Cheaters and bullies, addicts and Wall Street tycoons, thugs and crooks, prostitutes and tax collectors are perhaps all entering the kingdom of God before us if we have wandered away from the mercy and love of the one true God and the love of our difficult neighbor.
This daily habit of orientating our mind, heart and will to God can be a very long and drawn out affair. Our transformation in Christ takes time. One must repeatedly guard one’s self against despair or sorrow if the patterns of sin we are battling have worn deep trenches in our hearts. For those who have answered the call of God to grow in holiness, the challenge becomes, as St. Paul writes in the second reading, of having “the same attitude that is also in Christ.” It is as St. Paul writes, learning to become “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is especially true in regards patterns of selfishness and sin.
Learning to let go of habits of selfishness and sin and choosing a new direction can be very much like a death. The stillness required to refuse sin often needs to be as strong as the immobility of death. It is a death that shows itself in the idling of our tongue, the denial of another drink or the inner repudiation of petty hate, bitterness or jealousy. What is your death? Each Christian has their own manifestations of dying to Christ and from each of them God promises new life and our own participation in the “exaltation” of Christ, as St. Paul writes, “because of this… God highly exalted him.”
Our lives take each of us down unique paths whether it be to the busyness of the office or the stillness of our nursing home room and thus each day we are faced with the reality of entering the kingdom of God or not. The good news is that God fully desires and helps each of us say yes to him at every moment. Whether this be through the acceptance of struggles and pain or through an ongoing commitment to love God and neighbor. Each of us can right now say, “yes, I will go,” and for many of us, thanks be to God, we will.
Questions for Reflection
1. Where is God asking of me a spiritual obedience of death to sin?
2. When is it difficult to be the obedient son?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.