In the classic movie, “Mary Poppins”, at the end of the first day, Mary is putting her two young charges to bed. The brother and sister are so excited from the events of the day that they ask the nanny, “You will never leave us, will you?” And the young boy quickly adds, “Will you stay if we promise to be good?” To this second question the wise nanny responds, “That is a pie-crust promise. Easily made and easily broken.”
“That is a pie-crust promise. Easily made and easily broken.” I like that phrase and it connects right with today’s gospel (Mt. 21:28-32). “Yes, Father,” says the second son “I will go out and work in the vineyard.” He promises, but he does not go – a pie-crust promise. It cannot be that way with us. Discipleship is a lived reality – a lived response to the risen Lord who is just as present to us today as any of the people we now see around us with our physical eyes.
Also, just as we as disciples are not to be about “pie-crust” promises neither are we to be about blaming others. This is another teaching from today’s readings. Ezekiel, in our first reading (Ez. 18:25-28), offers his prophetic challenge during a specific time frame in the history of Israel. Israel had fallen, the people had been deported to Babylon and sitting by the river Chuza they were left wondering how this could have ever happened. What had led up to this catastrophe? Whose fault was it? Where is our scapegoat? Surely, they concluded, it must have been our parents, our grandparents. They had not practiced their faith rightly and now God is punishing us for their sins. Yes, it is their fault!
Ezekiel, with the courage of a prophet, answers back, “No, that is wrong”. Or, in other words, “stop trying to pass the buck”. “If someone commits iniquity and dies it is because he committed the iniquity. If he turns away from iniquity and does good, then he shall live.” It is no one else’s fault but how often do we hear or maybe even say the opposite. “He or she made me do it. That person is the one at fault!” This has been the line from the beginning, Adam said to God: “Eve made me do it!” Then Eve said to God, “The serpent made me do it.” The truth is, no one makes us do anything – we choose. What we have a selective memory about though is that with choices come consequences – when the consequences are in our favor we remember and celebrate our choice but when the consequences are not pleasant we grumble and complain.
No pie-crust promises. No blaming others. Discipleship calls us to an integrity and authenticity of living but we know that these temptations are there. How might we find the strength needed to move beyond these temptations? The Letter to the Philippians has some good words of advice for all of us, “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, “Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but for those of others.” As we adopt this attitude of Christ Jesus we gain that integrity of living which moves us beyond the temptations of pie-crust promises and the blaming of others. Humility is indeed the needed remedy to these two temptations.
Christ emptied himself and took the form of a slave – humbling himself and in this is found the path to true life.