HONESTY AND SINCERITY IN FOLLOWING CHRIST
We are all too familiar with the expressions "actions speak louder than words"; "talk is cheap"; "what you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you're saying"; "everywhere you go preach the gospel, and only when necessary use words". We need to really pay more attention to these aphorisms and expressions and not recite them and believe they are mere expressions that have no concrete expressions in reality.
Sin is always a violation of God’s commandments. It practically means saying no to God. The two sons in the parable disobeyed the father. The first son said ‘no’, but later decided to obey his father. The second son said ‘yes’, but did not do what his father told him to do. In effect, it was also a ‘no’. Both of them offended the father. The ‘yes’ of the second son, though it initially pleased the father, was rendered meaningless by his disobedience. The ‘no’ of the first son hurt the father, but his subsequent repentance and obedience made the father happy in the end. Ultimately, it is not the words that really matter but the deed. Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
Let us look at the background to today's gospel narrative. Jesus had the day before thrown the moneychangers out of the Temple and the infuriated the chief priests and elders of the people. He was back in the Temple the next day when He addressed the words we heard in today’s Gospel to those same chief priests and elders, and thus exposed their insincere hypocrisy.
Beloved, the parable of Jesus this Sunday was intended for the religious leaders of Israel in his time, particularly the Pharisees. In their smug complacency, they believe they are assured of entrance into heaven. But Jesus told them: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). They are the religious leaders who have clearly expressed their ‘yes’ to God. But based on their behavior and attitude, their hypocrisy and pride, their lack of concern for the people and their double-standard lifestyle, they have actually disobeyed God’s will and commands. They are like the second son in the parable.
On the other hand, the tax collectors, prostitutes and other public sinners can be like the first son. They said ‘no’ to God, but eventually, they listened to the teachings of Jesus, and reformed their lives. This is what the prophet Ezekiel pointed out in the first reading: “But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they shall save their lives; since they turned away from all the sins they committed, he shall live; they shall not die” (Ez 18:27-28).
The main theme of today’s liturgy is about honest sincerity. Honesty is at the core of our truly religious expressions, particularly being honest with ourselves. Sin, we must remember, originates with the Father of Lies, and when we lie to ourselves we always get into deep trouble.
In the Gospel account we just heard the younger brother tell his father: “Yes, I’ll go and work” while the older brother said: “No, not me.” Both used words contrary to their actions. Talk is cheap. The younger brother simply didn’t live up to his words; the older brother changed his mind. The older brother had integrity; the younger brother gave cheap, valueless words to his father while having no intention at all of working. How many of us recognize ourselves in that younger brother?
The older brother had no intention of working and then had the honesty of saying so to his father. He was wrong, but he was honest. The younger brother was the opposite. He said the expedient thing to his father knowing what his father wanted to hear but he had no integrity. He was insincere because he had no intention of working even though he said he would.
How many of us pray that way? We give God the words of our prayers, words we think He wants to hear from us. It’s convenient for us. We may even be self-deluded when we speak them and end up feeling like we are pious and religious. On the surface we feel righteous but deep down we know full well that we are not going to follow through on those words with our deeds and our actions. So we give God our Father in heaven nice sounding words but never seem to get around to following through on them. God is not fooled but we fool ourselves.
This parable teaches us that promises can never take the place of performance, and fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds. In other words, the parable clearly teaches that the Christian Way is followed in performance, not in promise alone, and that the mark of a Christian is obedience, graciously and courteously given. We are not supposed to say “yes” to God on Sundays and “no” to God on weekdays. God doesn't want polite but hypocritical words, for that isn't obedience at all.
The first thing is honesty. We must be fearlessly and courageously honest with God and likewise honest with ourselves. Without honesty we are doomed. Without honesty in our business and professional lives we will fail. We will be easily seen as frauds.
Christianity is not simply our intellectual assent to a series of doctrines. It is not just our observance of rules and regulations. No. Christianity is a way of living in the truth. There are responsibilities attached to being a Christian. Christianity is a matter of living in our professional lives, in our personal relationships with others, and living with God in the truth, all the while being honest with ourselves, all the while being sincere in what we say to others and in how we treat them. Christianity is a way of life. Our Christianity should permeate every facet of our lives. Christianity is a way of living at home and in our surrounding world; Christianity is a way of relating to those around us, friends and well as strangers, in the way, the truth, and the life of Christ Jesus. Christianity must be matched not with words but by actions. Sincere honesty is one of the hardest and most demanding of things about being a Christian.
On being an authentic, honest and sincere Christian Jesus, when teaching in the synagogue, someone told him: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But Jesus looked around and asked, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said: “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother to me” (Mt. 12:48-50). It is in doing and obeying God’s will that makes us true brothers and sisters of Jesus. Words do not mean anything when they are not accompanied by actions. Worse, our words lose their value when our actions contradict them. Nobody will believe our words anymore.
Let us seek to match our words with authentic and concrete actions lest we become hypocrites. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to continue to assist us to live honest and sincere lives and let our following of Jesus be in spirit and in truth. The world is tired of preachers; what the world wants is witnesses. Those who will witness to the gospel message with their lives. Always remember o preach the gospel everywhere you go and use words only when necessary.
Prayer - Lord Jesus, change my heart that I may only desire that which is pleasing to you. Help me to respect your will and give me the strength, joy and perseverance to carry it out wholeheartedly. Amen!!!