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. —Matthew 21:31b–32
Here is Jesus talking in riddles again. If I spoke or wrote in such a way, you would probably accuse me of moral relativism or fuzzy thinking! How do we learn to live with such confusions?
We must first be willing to admit the contradictions inside us, and still let God love us in that partial state. Once we agree to see our own shadow side, our own foolishness, our own sin and still know that God has not abandoned us, we become a living paradox that reveals the goodness of God. This is what the tax collectors and prostitutes had to do, and what changed them. Notice that the “nice people” were unwilling to “change their minds” about themselves or about God.
Once we know that God lives inside our contradictions, and God’s love is not dependent on our perfection, then other peoples’ contradictions don’t scandalize us or surprise us anymore. Henceforward we can be much more patient and compassionate with others because we have allowed God to do the same with us! Basically, the Christian moral life is no more and no less than “the imitation of God” (Ephesians 5:1).
I am a mass of contradictions and yet I am also a saint. I am a very good person, and I am also a sinful person. I get it and yet I oppose it too. Are both of those true? Yes, both are always and forever true, and for some wonderful reason that is what God loves. Faith is to personally surrender to such a mystery—not on a theoretical level, but right inside ourselves on a daily level. The poor prostitutes had no choice, and if we are honest, we don’t either. That is what I mean by “living yourself into a new way of thinking.” Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart, and if the heart does not change, new ideas do not last long. We all “know the mystery of salvation by the forgiveness of sin,” as St. Luke said (1:77), because forgiveness is not something God does, it is who God is.
There is probably no other way to understand God’s nature except to daily stand under the waterfall of divine mercy and then become conduits of the same flow.
Can you name at least one of your own inner contradictions? Do you think God can still love you? Can you love yourself?