A Cycle – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
Mt. 21: 33 – 43
Here we go again! Jesus is chastising the Pharisees and the elders of the people. The Pharisees and elders are the ones who have dedicated their lives to the study of the scriptures and use their knowledge to lead the people to understand what God requires of them. Yet they do not seem to be able to grasp what it takes to please God themselves. What is it they are missing that the prostitutes and tax collectors are gaining heaven and they are not? What is going on that Jesus tells them today the Kingdom of God is being taken away from them and given to people who produce fruit for God?
Most of us have in our lives been responsible for teaching others something. It may have been life lessons taught to your child. It could have been a co-worker your boss requested you to teach some new skill. It could have been a friend you were helping learn some new game or sport. We have had that experience and we know how frustrating and taxing it can be on our patience. That is especially true if they do not to remember the things you taught them previously.
If they cannot or will not put into practice what you taught them yesterday, then you must go over the same material time and time again. Repetition of skills or concepts learned is a good thing for it forms a foundation to build greater skills. But what do you do when the lessons of yesterday seem to have been forgotten today? You must ensure they can reliably perform at that level before you can move on to the next level. If not, they are not growing and are not meeting the expectations, you or even they have set for themselves.
That is how parents raise their children as we teach them moral values, societal norms, citizenship, concern for others, generosity, politeness, and respect of others. We gradually increase the things we demand of them as they grow older. We keep teaching them until they reach an age where they have a foundation of core beliefs that they will build upon to become a productive member of society. In the Kingdom of God that is a person who bears good fruit. Jesus is telling us we must become disciples and fruit bearers if we desire not to become Pharisees. We cannot just depend on being a good follower of the law believing that is all that is required of us. For is we do not move from dependence on the law we will never discover the joy of Kingdom living and find ourselves looking down at those we believe are displeasing to God because they are not as good at following the law as we are.
The words Jesus has for the Pharisees and elders of the people in last weeks and this week’s gospel shows he is running out of patience with religious people. He is chastising those who should have understood what God requires of them is more than what they are putting into practice. In fact, they are neglecting their duty to help others grasp the nature of a loving God and helping them use the gifts God has given them to build the kingdom of God. Instead they are seeking praise for their own righteousness and are missing the opportunity to help others discover how God welcomes sinners.
This gospel should make you wonder if we are just a taxing of God’s great patience as the Pharisees and elders of the people were to Jesus. Why is it so hard for us to grasp the lesson that just following the laws of the church is not enough for us to be fruit bearers. That is the real issue Jesus had with the Pharisees is not that they followed the law but that they used the law to bring attention to how righteous they were. They were perfect followers of the law, but it seems that they wanted to be praised, recognized, and affirmed more than they wanted to take the time to listen to God speak to their hearts.
They did not sin because they broke any of the laws of God. Nor did they sin because they failed to follow the rituals required of them. But if we ignore the fact that Jesus himself showed us that the law is only our disciplinarian not our salvation then we are as guilty as the Pharisees. The law can only point our out sin and it can do nothing to change our hearts. We should not be lulled into a sense of our being in right standing with God because we adhere to the law. Depending on the law to define our holiness is to ignore what God desires most and promised us he would accomplish by sending us the Spirit.
The Pharisees and elders were not sinning against God because they rigorously followed the law but because they were prideful because they were able to avoid breaking the law. by the pride they took in being so good at practicing their faith. God told us thousands of years ago, “if my people who are called by my name would humble themselves and pray and seek my face, I would forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Ch. 7:14). It is in humbly acknowledging we can do nothing on our own, but we can accomplish great things with God when we begin to learn the lessons of humbly walking with God.
Jesus in that upper room the night before he died began that evening by telling the disciples and us that He was the vine and we were the branches. That is to be our relationship; without being rooted in him we can accomplish nothing. Dependency on Jesus keeps us from thinking we are pleasing to God because we keep the commandments and laws of the church. Strict dependence on the law only leads us to believe we are righteous, and it prevents us from inviting the Spirit into our lives to help us be pleasing to God. God has never desired obedience to the law, but he does desire us to hunger to know his heart.
God promised us he would forgive and forget our sins. He promised us he would change our hearts and give us hearts that seek him. He promised us we would know him intimately. Those promises cannot be fulfilled by us depending on the law, but they can happen in our lives if we allow God to pour his love into our hearts by the action of the Holy Spirit.
The lesson we need to learn is we must open our hearts to receive forgiveness and the love of God by depending on the promises of God. Versus us believing we will receive forgiveness and feel the love of God because we follow the law. We must allow the law to be written on our hearts by the Spirit. Once we learn that lesson, we are ready to take the next step by devoting our time and effort to find our role in the vineyard of the Kingdom of God. God expects us to bear much fruit by helping others discover the rewards of seeking first the Kingdom of God and receiving the blessings that follow.