Sunday the Twenty-sixth

O Lord, You had just cause to judge men as You did: because we sinned against You and disobeyed Your will. But now show us Your greatness of heart and treat us with Your unbounded kindess (Dan 3:31, 29, 30, 43, 42).

Remember Your mercies, O Lord (Psalm 25).

“Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.'
He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" (Matthew 21:28-30).”

Welcome to the vineyard for another week. Welcome to yet another call “unfair,” this week courtesy of the Prophet Ezekiel. At first blush, one might dismiss this week’s Gospel episode as just a snapshot of a day in the ongoing fickle life of family living and expressive of the parent/child relationship. Yet when we look at this Sunday’s Gospel proclamation within the context of the Matthean Gospel, more is being sounded for living discipleship grounded in Jesus Christ.

Initial responses of the sons are interesting. The first son’s response is typical of a human knee-jerk reaction to any request that involves work. NO! I wonder if the son even ‘heard’ his father’s request. It is unfortunate, but let’s face it. When any of us is asked to do x, y or z our unreflective, uncritical response is “no.” This is what theology terms the “affects (influence) and effects (cause or result) of Original Sin. Life is all about me. This affect and effect ‘programs’ each of us to ‘look out for number one’ as an automatic response often devoid of any thought or depth.

Then there is the second son. One might see in him a bit more craftiness. I suspect that he truly knows that to say “no” to dad’s request would not put him in his father’s best graces. So what does he do? He gives the impression or appearance of being a ‘good son’ but that is exactly where he begins and end, the level of appearance. This too is both an affect and effect of the narcissism and relational disconnect known as Original Sin. The difference here is that there is a bit more calculation, a bit more conniving and certainly a bit more plotting. In other words, this son responds to his father’s request by intimating ‘how can I not do it while still looking good as if I were to do it?’ What a convoluted approach to life! What is the answer?

Back to the first son: what does he eventually or ultimately do? He does his father’s will. He has “changed” and “gone beyond” (Greek, μέτα) his mind (Greek, νοῦς). Jesus hails the first son’s ‘change of mind’ as a proper response to the father’s request. Yet what Jesus ultimately prizes in the first son is that he has ‘gone beyond his mind.’ In the biblical world of the New Testament, to ‘go beyond one’s mind’ is to move into the arena of the heart. The first son, after reflection, is moved from the heart to do what his father requests. “Changing” and “going beyond” (Greek, μέτα) plus “mind” (Greek, νοῦς) equals Jesus’ FIRST commandment: “μετανοεῖτε (metanoeite) be converted (Mark 1:15),” a message that John the Baptist sounds in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew as indispensable to recognize Jesus as Son of God, Savior. More importantly, however, Jesus applauds the first son for his eventual decision.

The fact that Jesus applauds the first son for his “change of heart” is not just a comforting reality but also a challenge. Jesus’ approval of the son’s change of heart gives each of us hope knowing that He – Jesus – offers us an opportunity to change. It is imperative to change when we sense – however slightly – the call to change. If we say to ourselves, ‘I will get to it next Monday,’ there is the possibility that the fervor will evaporate by then. Procrastination is truly an enemy in the spiritual life. You and I both know that we have truly known what to do in a particular situation or in answer to a prayer. Yet we have said to ourselves and to the Lord, ‘I will get to that next week.’ Next Monday is too late. Next week is too late. Tomorrow is too late. Now is the time to act.

But what exactly is the necessary action that I must do now? The answer is simple. As I want the Lord of Mercy to offer me an opportunity to “change” and “go beyond my mind,” I MUST offer that same opportunity to people who ‘press my buttons.’ This is the challenge of the first son’s change of heart. We have to admit that there are people in the world who we believe have been created for the sole purpose of making my life uncomfortable and miserable. They are on the road, cutting us off in the construction zone. They are in the express line at the supermarket with an order triple the checkout line’s maximum number of items. We meet them at work. They offer comments just when you think the meeting is over and it will now drag on for another half hour. They are the people who have the name husband, wife, brother, sister, friend – and the list goes on. Jesus’ delight in the first son’s response is a challenge to each of us as his disciple to offer one another the same latitude.

You show Your almighty power
in Your mercy and forgiveness.
Continue to fill us with Your gifts of love.
Help us to hurry toward the eternal life You promise and
come to share in the joys of Your Kingdom.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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