Today's readings: Ezekiel 18, 25-28; Philippians 2, 1-11; Matthew 21, 28-32.
Religion can easily become a false security in one's life. When the Gospel stops being a destabilising factor in our personal lives and in the set up of our societies, religion would only guarantee the status quo and would thus betray its purpose.
This was a major hurdle for Jesus in his everyday dealing with the leaders of the Jewish people. Religion was not helping them grasp the truth. Jesus struggled to the end to unveil this lie in their lives. But they remained to the end imprisoned in their orthodoxy which, becoming an end in itself, kept their eyes from seeing God's revelation unfolding.
In today's parable, these leaders are represented by the son who said 'yes' to the father but failed to do what he promised. Jesus' affirmation, "I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you" was quite shocking and offensive to their religious mentality, as it is to ours.
It is coherence that makes the Christian message credible. The opposite is hypocrisy, which is defined as 'falsely pretending to be virtuous'. It is probably the strongest word Jesus uses in the Gospels to describe those who he addresses in today's parable, from which we can conclude that not being true to oneself is the worst form of sin. This is why Jesus contrasts those who live in falsehood and the tax collectors and prostitutes. The latter two may more easily acknowledge their sinfulness and achieve salvation.
Ezekiel and Paul in the other two readings provide the remedy for hypocrisy and falsehood. Ezekiel speaks of integrity. Paul, in the hymn of the self-emptying of Jesus, says that the ridding of the false self is the criterion for our full realisation as human beings. The climax of Christian maturity is in having the same mind as Christ.
There is always that part in us that refuses to let go of all that seems to give us status or identity. But Paul speaks about love, and about putting the interests of others above our own, showing how ultimately God's love can truly be made manifest to us. Our self-emptying, or conversion, is what faith is about. It is in this same context that Paul speaks of having the same mind as Christ.
Jesus is not just someone to admire or profess as Saviour, or Son of God. The truth of our belief is not a truth only to be professed. It is by doing the truth that we come to know the truth. Otherwise truth remains intellectual or ideological. "Love alone is the way to revelation," says Hans Urs von Balthasar. If you do not have love in your mind and heart, you can never know God. You can know about Him through study or reading, but never know Him. In this sense, truth is praxis, it becomes a style of life. This is the deepest, most significant implication of today's parable. The dividing line between believers and non-believers probably is not where we would normally put it. We can have all the requisites to be in, but be left out. It's terrifying how God works. But it's amazing how simple the formula is.
Recalling Dostoyevsky's famous legend from The Brothers Karamazov, in good faith we can even imprison Jesus or seek to silence him. Why be surprised? We've had and we still have racists with the Bible in their hand. We can perpetuate discrimination in the name of what we think is the truth. When there is complete disconnection between our being and our doing, we can perpetrate all sorts of evil, and 'in good faith'.