TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
But there are many important aspects of our faith which are definitely both/and. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. We believe in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. We believe that faith and works are necessary for our salvation. These complementary truths work in tandem with one another to make a comprehensible and sensible whole. Most heresies arise when someone emphasizes one truth in isolation of another. They take something that should be both/and and treat it like an either/or.
Martin Luther understood God's justice but had a hard time accepting God's mercy and so never felt truly forgiven. He doubted the possibility of his own salvation until he read in Romans that "man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rm 3:28). The German friar latched on to that truth (that faith is necessary for salvation) to the exclusion of another (that good works are needed, too).
When St. Paul mentions "works of the law" in Romans he is speaking of the many and varied ritual laws imposed on the Jewish people in Deuteronomy. He is saying that merely observing these rituals is not enough to save you. Faith is the important thing. But he is not saying that you will not also be judged according to your good works (or lack thereof). Faith must be put into action. Otherwise it is like a gift that remains unopened. You may possess it, but it is not of any use to you.
It is not enough to believe in Jesus as your savior and not do anything about it. Jesus Himself says, "If you love me, you will obey my commands" (Jn 14:15). In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus describes how we will all be judged according to the love and mercy we showed others; whether we visited the sick and imprisoned, clothed the naked or fed the hungry. "Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me" (Mt 25:40).
In other words, what we do matters. Good works in conjunction with a strong faith are both needed if we are to be true followers of Christ. Both are needed for us to have any hope of heaven. "Whoever does the will of my Father is my brother, sister and mother," says Jesus (Mt 12:50). Catholicism is not a spectator sport. You have to get in the game.
Jesus demonstrates this perfectly with His parable in today's gospel (Mt 21:28-32). A man asks his two sons to go work in his vineyard. One says, "Sure, dad," and then goes home and lazes around. The other says "No way," but then decides to help out his old man. He goes to work in the field. Which one actually did as his father asked? The one who first said no, but repented.
There are two important lessons to be learned from this parable. Firstly, what you say is meaningless unless it is backed up with action. It is like saying, "Yes," to Jesus then not obeying any of His teachings. It is a false faith and worth nothing. Our actions speak louder than our words.
The second lesson is this: repentance is possible. You may have initially said no to God. You may be saying no to Him in your life right now. But you can change your mind. You can get up and start to work in the vineyard. You can choose today to put your faith into action. You can choose today to do the will of your heavenly Father.
But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed,
he does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die. (Ez 18:26-28).