Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing city! It has listened to no voice; it has accepted no correction. It has not trusted in the Lord; it has not drawn near to its God. At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, my scattered ones, shall bring my offering. On that day you shall not be put to shame because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.
For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord -- the remnant of Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid.
I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad. (R./)
Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called, the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress. (R./)
Jesus said to them, "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
The prophet alludes to the deeper level of our existence, where we exist simply as God's creatures. Every human being starts in mother's womb, somehow made in God's image. Our en-souled flesh-and-blood humanity we share with others, whether they be religious or not. Their human nature deserves our respect. The prophet sees human dignity in "a people humble and lowly," and reflects that our very humility attracts God's tender compassion. Therefore he sees great potential in the reduced remnant that survived the exile. "They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; Nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue."
Jesus made it his special ministry to reconcile and respect tax collectors and prostitutes, shamed people in the eyes of official religious leaders. Provocatively, he told the parable about a man with two sons, one of whom was outwardly pious and always said and did the right thing. The comparison with the religious authorities was too clear to need further elaboration. The other son was headstrong, disobedient and self-willed, the kind of character whose instinctive reply to authority is a quick "No!" before taking time to think. He was like the tax collectors and the prostitutes whose lives were quite disorderly, at first sight. And yet many of them repented and humbly listened to John the Baptist, who respected them as people whose shame could be lifted and whose dignity could be restored.
What of ourselves? Do we help people keep their dignity or do we prefer reminding them of their faults? The infant Christ recalls our basic humanity as created by God. He requires of his followers to give each person a chance to be truly who he or she is, respecting them as God's image as truly as we ourselves are. Respecting the dignity of others will not wlways be easy. We might suffer the same slur as did Jesus, for being "a friend of tax collectors and prostitutes." Jesus took that slur in his stride, but he suffered for it. We too could be blamed for allowing people a second chance, letting them be our friends, with every right to "call upon the name of the Lord."
We value people who keep their word to us. We appreciate those who are true to the promises that they make to us. The Lord also appreciates our efforts to be true to the promises we make to him. In the parable Jesus speaks in the gospel today, one of the sons of the father did not keep the promise he made to him. He promised to work in the vineyard but did not. He was not a man of his word. The other son went in the opposite direction; he initially said no but then thought better of it and did what was asked of him. We probably appreciate that quality in people too, the capacity to reflect on an initial decision and to have a change of mind, a change of heart, for the better. The Lord appreciates that same quality in us, the openness to a change of mind and heart for the better. When the Lord calls and we say no, he does not take that initial refusal as definitive, but is ready to wait on our change of mind and heart. The Lord gives us time to think better of our initial response to him. Having moved from a no to a yes, he looks to us to be faithful to our yes. He looks to us to keep our word, to allow our promise to him to shape what we do, how we live.