Grace to you!
Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was known for telling a lot of funny stories when he delivered his sermons. It's one aspect of his communication skills that shows his Irish heritage and endeared him to many people.
During one of his sermons, he shared the story of what he called “Three surprises in heaven.” The first is that those you expect to be there may not be there. The second is that those you thought won’t be there may be there. And finally, “I myself will be there.”
This is a wonderful analogy packed with meaning. It could be related to the Lord's word in Matthew 21:28-32. The Lord Jesus Christ told the Scribes and Pharisees a story about two sons who were asked by their dad to do an errand (work in his vineyard). The first said no, but later went. The second said yes, but never went. When Jesus asked his listeners who among the two did the will of their father, the Scribes and Pharisees responded it was the first.
The Lord explained that the publicans and sinners will go to heaven before many like the Pharisees and Scribes who, relying on their positional authority in the house of God, never do the will of God. Certainly, the lesson of this parable isn't only for the 2000 years ago when the Lord spoke those words. It’s applicable today, for the Word of God is alive and active (Heb 4:12). It’s ever new from generation to generation.
The Lord’s message would definitely be first addressed to us Christians if we claim to have said yes to Christ’s invitation but never follow through to the end. More narrowly, it could be applied to the clergy who have positional authority like the Scribes, but fail to have the same mind that should be of believers in Christ; namely, the mind of total obedience to God and humility (Phil 2: 5).
God is never unjust the way He treats us. His desire is our salvation. God is more disposed to mercy than to retribution. Recall His word in Ezekiel, when Scripture tells us the Lord does not take pleasure in the death of a sinner, but that the sinner repent and live (Ez 18:23).
Death here is not physical death, but the death of the seed of God in the soul, resulting from what St. John calls “sins leading to death” (1 Jn 5:16). In our Catholic tradition, we call it being in the state of mortal sin. To be in the state of mortal sin is to be spiritually dead.
That moment of spiritual death is when we have the attitude of indifference or disobedience to Christ. We are not doing God’s bidding. We behave like that child in the above analogy who says, “I will” but never did. But when we repent, we live. We enjoy the fullness of life that those who obey God witness.
In all this, we see that what is important is not necessarily who said yes to God first, but who is doing God’s will now. For even if one were to say no earlier, meaning the person was not disposed to God and His will, no matter how far away the person may have gone from the will of God, once the person opens his or her heart to divine invitation, the mercy, grace of God welcomes the person with open arms.
Here is the triumph of the mercy of God over the sinful sinner like we are. Here, too, we see that divine forgiveness, as Saint Pope John Paul II say, goes hand in hand with conversion, repentance.
May we ask ourselves: Is there anything holding me back from having the mind of Christ? Repentance is the answer. Our Catholic practice of Confession is so powerful to set us in the right direction. Embrace the sacrament of reconciliation and see it as a special channel of receiving the grace that molds us more and more in the mind of Christ.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sunday Week 26 Ordinary Time A: Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11 or 2:1-5; Mt 21:28-32]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.