By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-30
One reason why a study of history is important is because it helps us use the past to mirror and understand our present, so that we can better plan for our future. This makes our past an indispensable part of our life’s reality. However, there are certain times, for certain things, and in certain contexts, when a recall of the past is not useful for the present and would be dangerous for the future. One of such instances is in relation to former possessions. Some things that we had but no longer have are better left like that. For instance, bragging about a car you had as though you still have it does not make sense. It is not like you cannot talk about it, but not as though it is still there. It is about such cases that Nigerians have the pidgin adage which says “I get am before no be property.”In the context of our relationship with God, I get am before no be property is also very apt, and this is one of the directions to which today’s Liturgy of the Word points our mind.
In the first reading, through the prophet Ezekiel, God talks about the man who abandons his sinful ways for righteousness on the one hand, and the man who abandons righteousness for a life of sin on the other hand. These two people had a particular kind of image before God, which they have abandoned for another, and God says to him, their past has become useless; what matters is their current state of living. Similarly, in the gospel reading, Jesus talks about a son who had obedience in his heart but turns to disobedience afterwards in his actions and another son who intended disobedience but later turned to obedience. In both cases, it is their current deed that mattered, not their past; their past became useless, so it could be said about them, I get am before no be property.
A major point scored by the first and gospel readings of today’s Mass is that God is very interested in our present state of life. We cannot therefore lay claim to our past so to speak, as far as God is concerned. With God, if we repent of our sinful ways and turn to righteousness, our past becomes useless; he forgives our sins, wipes the slate of our lives clean and begins afresh with us. This is why He says through the prophet Isaiah that when he forgives our sins, he remembers them no more (cf. Isa 43:25). In the same vein, if we ever feel we have lived righteously enough and turn to a life of sin and obstinately persist in sin, then our former righteousness will count for nothing before God because I get am before no be property.
Dear child of God, this message is very important for us and we must pay serious heed to it because at the time of our death, our standing with God is the first thing that will matter. A person who has lived in sin all his life and repents on his death bed will find peace with God. If you doubt me, ask Jesus about the thief on the cross when he was crucified. In the same vein, a person who has lived righteously in the past but dies in sin has questions to answer before God. This is why Jesus admonishes us to stand ready for the son of man will come at a time we do not know (Mat. 24:44). The Jews started well with God but deviated and started living contrary to God’s will; but those they called sinners were repenting a securing spaces in the kingdom of God. So it was to them and to every one of every generation who lives like that that Jesus addressed the parable in the gospel reading. And Jesus’ conclusion, by implication, is that it is not the person who says “yes” to God by word of mouth but by way of life that matters. So, as we answer God’s call, let it be both by word of mouth and by way of life, for “not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ that shall enter heaven, but those who do the will of the Father” (Mat 7:21). By this, we will always be able to stand upright before God at all times and not have to rely only on our past good deeds but also our present good deeds to speak for us in the presence of God, because when that time comes, God may have to remind us that the past has becomes useless, for I get am before no be property.