A Reflection on Matthew's Gospel 21:28-32
We live in different degrees of unreality. Clear evidence of this can be seen in the whole money market in the world today. There is panic because the unreal bubble seems to have burst. That unreal bubble was created by people living beyond their means. It was created by the credit card culture where real money didn’t seem to actually exist. It was created by easy borrowing. Perhaps it was created by greed. Unreality can be a great place to live for a while. It is the place of the good intentions. It can be the place of extravagance. It can be the place where responsibility cannot live. Then the bubble bursts. The bubble must burst because unreality cannot last. When the bubble bursts all you are left with is reality – the thing that we have tried to avoid and discredit. Reality then can be hard and it can be painful.
In the gospel today there is the tension between reality and unreality. The first son was real. When he was asked to go into the vineyard his first reaction was to say no. Then he thought better of it and he went. He probably thought about his relationship with his father and his need to work. He went. The second son was living in unreality. He had the good intention. I’m sure when his father asked him he fully intended to go. However he probably had little sense of responsibility – something may have distracted him. He never made it to work. When we live in unreality we become untrue to ourselves and untrue to those around us.
After this little parable Jesus makes a number of very strong and even shocking statements. He told the religious leaders around him – you are living in unreality. The public sinners – the tax collectors and prostitutes – are closer to God. He could make this statement because he recognised that the tax collectors and sinners were true. They lived in the reality of who they were. They were not denying their sinfulness and so they were open to conversion. They were open to changing their ways and so becoming closer to God. The religious leaders were untrue. They were saying one thing but doing another. They had created a cosy bubble of unreality around themselves. In that bubble they did not even acknowledge the truth – the truth of John the Baptist. We can fool ourselves in unreality. However it is a very very insecure and unstable place to live. It is not healthy and it cannot last.
So how can we live in reality – the reality that we often seem to try so hard to avoid? Again the gospel reveals one thing that we need to do. We need to be honest about ourselves – be true about the reality of who we are. The reality of the person we truly are is the person that God created. The unreality is the person that we are trying to create. We need also to be true about our circumstances in life. We need to be able to answer what really matters in life. What do we really need? The answer to this question can control our greed. The answer to this question can help us to live within our means. The answer to this question makes us responsible. For too long we have been carried away into unreality. Money and extravagant living seems to have become a god. The truth is that there is only one God and everything else passes away.
All of this may sound negative as if the truth and acknowledging the truth was going to diminish us in some way. Yes it can be hard to admit the truth especially if we have made bad choices – if greed and selfishness have driven us. However it is only when we live the truth that we will be free. Pope Benedict in Sardinia a couple of weeks ago talking to young people said;
Jesus said 'The truth will make you free', yet the modern world preaches the opposite: that freedom will make you true.
Freedom without truth makes us at best irresponsible and at worst in a strange way slaves to greed and selfishness. In these times of uncertainty let us trust truth because truth is real. When we live in the truth we can be secure and we can decide to be happy.
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