Today’s Gospel (Mt. 21:28-32) should be a slap in the face to all of us good little Christians: people who believe in objective morality and righteous living, people who live decent lives and have maintained kept their reputations unsullied. All of these things are good and right and laudable, but they are not enough.
Crooks and sluts are entering the Kingdom of God before us, not because they are crooks and sluts – for that they would deserve punishment - but because with the help of God’s grace they recognize their sinfulness, repent, and seek the forgiveness of Christ – through whom they receive the reward of eternal life.
We, on the other hand, having found ourselves at a particular plateau in our spiritual journey, too often stop climbing. We’re good enough, we think.
We’re not like the slime balls and scumbags we see in the world around us. We’re good people – good enough, at least.
We’re not like the chief priests and elders whom Jesus confronts in today’s Gospel. We’re good Christians – good enough, at least.
We’re not like the son in today’s Gospel parable who told his father, “'Yes, sir,” but did not go.” We went; we followed up – far enough, at least.
But we only THINK we’ve reached a plateau. We don’t realize that we’re really on a ledge. Nor do we realize that the ledge is crumbling beneath our feet.
Indeed, we may have progressed quite far in our spiritual and moral development (thanks be to God), but when we stop focusing on that development, our remaining flaws and imperfections – once relatively small – inevitably and insidiously grow — to our own downfall.
Nor do we realize that when we simply stand out on a ledge, we are dangerously vulnerable to the unexpected winds of life, while the person actively climbing finds safety by clinging to the face of the cliff.
Indeed, when we pride ourselves on being upright, we are setting ourselves up for a fall, for we are sinners (God knows I am) and we all have weaknesses.
It is only by remaining fully engaged in the journey of grace through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we can withstand the storms of this world and the storms of our hearts.
The repentant know their own need and find life.
The self-righteous ignore their own need and die.
We must repent, with the help of God.
With the help of God, we must continue to climb.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.
O God, be merciful to me - a sinner.