'Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves...' -- Phil 2:3

Jesus begins Sunday's Gospel (Mt 21:28-32) by asking the opinion of the chief priests and elders. He then tells a parable about a man who had two sons and asked both to go work in the vineyard. The first son said no, but went out and worked. The second son said yes, but did not go to work.

Jesus asks, "Which of the two did his father's will?" There was clearly only one answer they could give: that the first son did the father's will.

Jesus structures the answer by the parable He tells. The chief priests and elders ultimately condemn their own behavior by offering their opinion on the parable.

Did they see themselves reflected in the parable, or were they so steeped in sin and self-righteousness that they did not recognize themselves?

Jesus is not going to leave the parable to be a subtle hint. He goes right to the heart of the story and sets it before the chief priests and scribes in stark and real terms: "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you."

In a world that was unfair and remains unfair, Jesus provides a teaching that clearly would be seen by some as unfair on the part of God. That great sinners would inherit the kingdom of God was absurd. Tax collectors, in Jesus' time, were seen as collaborators with the occupying Roman Empire. They collected the taxes from the blood, sweat and tears of the Jewish people and took their own cut of the taxes.

The prostitute had the lowest existence within society -- not only bought and sold by others, but condemned to a life of degradation by the very same people who purchased her services.

Now, Jesus is saying they will inherit the kingdom of God. God's ways are surely not our ways -- and thank God for that!

Ezekiel says as much in Sunday's first reading (Ez 18:25-28): "You say, 'The Lord's way is not fair!'...Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?" Again, God sets up the question: "When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does right and just, he shall preserve his life."

Forgiveness for all
Because God's ways are not our ways, we are able to be forgiven and redeemed for our sins. In case we forget, we have Psalm 25 (4-9): "Remember your mercies, o Lord." We need reminding that the Lord is just and fair and if we only turn to the Lord in our sin and seek reconciliation, we will inherit the kingdom of God.

In case we forget how God's ways have brought about the possibility of our redemption, we have the "Philippians Hymn" (Phil 2:1-11) to remind us. It's one of the most ancient of all the creeds.

Again, we see how "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Jesus' self-emptying is an invitation to all those who are enslaved in this world, whether that enslavement be money, materialism, sex, drugs, alcohol or any other vice which lures us away from God. Since God's ways are not our ways, we can be redeemed.

Why aren't God's ways our ways? That is the question Jesus left to the chief priests and elders to reflect upon, and to us, as well.