Many parents can identify with the Gospel today, but Jesus is not speaking about wayward children; he is speaking about the chief priests and the elders. They were very upset with Jesus. After all, they were the ones of recognized authority. They were the ones with all the religious training. They were the learned ones who kept the law of Moses.
Jesus tells them that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter into the kingdom before them. He tells them that they are like the son who tells the father that he will go and work in the vineyard, but does not. They had agreed to serve the Lord that was the point and intent of their preparation and training as religious leaders. But, instead they were often found frustrating the Will of Father God. More interests in laws and rules, while the poor, the widows and orphans went begging in the street. The public sinners, the ones who at first said no to God, they were the ones who listened to Jesus; they were the ones who followed Him.
While Jesus never condoned the sin, He never condemned the sinner. It was His presence, His acceptance, His forgiveness that restored their self-worth, their self-esteem.
The Scribes and the Pharisees often taunted Jesus because of the company He kept…if you were of God; You would know that these people are public sinners, and You would have nothing to do with them. Jesus’s reply was, you make God too small, you try to limit Him, you confine the love of God to the socially acceptable. The Scribes and Pharisees failed to realize the length and the breath, the height and the depth of the love of God. They failed to realize that God’s love is not a calculating love; it is a love that does not measure. It is a love that shines on the beautiful people and on the not so beautiful, on the clever and the not so clever, on the poor and the rich, on the sinner, as well as the saint.
The Gospel has another message for us today. It is that promises can never take the place of performance. Fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds. Remember the son who said- yes, he would go and did not, he was even respectful to his father, in his answer he called him “Sir”.
We can come here every week, say all kinds of prayers, be very respectful of God, but what really matters, what we will be judged upon is how we act out there, day in and day out.
Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? The man is travelling to Jerusalem on the Jericho Road, he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him and left him half dead. A priest comes along and he sees the stricken man, but passes by on the other side. This priest was very competent, very comfortable in the Temple; he could handle it all with ease, the altar, the sacrifices, the vestment and the incense, anything that had to do with the Temple. No trouble, no sweat. What he could not handle was the event on the Jericho Road.
As so for us Christians, of course, our faith is precious to us. It is our response to God’s disclosure of Himself. Of course, our love of God takes priority over all else. Unless we love God, we lose God.
But the First Commandment of the law makes no Jewish or Christian sense without the second Commandment – you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Of course, the sacrifice of the Mass is the focus, the center, the heart of our worship, but it does not make much sense if we cannot handle the event on the Jericho Road.
If we are Sunday Christians unfailingly on time for Mass, while all about us are men, women and children who need attention…compassion is another word for Christian.
Our Jericho Road begins at the steps of this church, stretches in every direction. It runs through the places we work, where we play and pray, wherever we are. We are not asked to work miracles; often all we need is to share a kind word, a smile, perhaps, a phone call, a hospital visit.
But we so often stifle these simple human kindnesses. I am afraid of being rejected; I have enough problems of my own. I am terribly shy, I’ve had a rough day, and it’s Miller Time. A thousand and one excuses to avoid getting involved. If I stop to care for you, I will be late for Mass.
Walk your Jericho Road, with eyes open, hand outstretched. Time and again you will come upon someone, a friend, enemy, and stranger, someone who calls to you.
Back in the Fourth Century a remarkable Bishop and splendid Apostle to the poor, St. John Chrysostom preached passionately to his people. He said; of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups when He Himself is dying of hunger. First fill Him when He is hungry, and then use the means you have left to adorn His table.
Do not adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother or sister, for they are the most precious temple of all.