Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“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.’” (Matthew 21:28)

In an ancient work known as the Incomplete Work on Matthew, an anonymous Ancient Christian Writer (ACW) offers the following insight on these verses from today’s Gospel:

“Who is this if not the God who created all people and loves them with a fatherly affection, the God who preferred to be loved as a father rather than feared as a lord, even though he was Lord by nature? On this account, at the beginning of the commandments of the law, he did not say, “You shall fear the Lord with all your heart” but “you shall love the Lord with all your heart.” To elicit love is not characteristic of a lord but of a father.

Of the two sons in this parable, the older one represents the Gentiles, since they come from their father Noah. The younger son represents the Jews, who come from Abraham. “And approaching the first, he said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’” “Today” refers to this present age. How did he speak to his sons? He didn’t address them face to face like man, but he spoke to the heart, like God. Man only utters words to the ear, but God supplies understanding to the mind.”

What does it mean to work in the vineyard? To work in the vineyard is to do justice. We noted above that the vineyard is the justice that God has planted generally in the nature of all people but more particularly in the Jewish Scriptures. Each vine in the vineyard represents a different type of justice, and each person, according to his individual virtues, produces either more or fewer vines. I do not know of anyone, however, who is sufficient to work the entire vineyard.

“And he said, ‘I will not.’” How did he say, “I will not”? He said it in his thoughts, for whoever understands the difference between good and evil and abandons the good to follow evil seems to be rebelling against the Lord in his thoughts; for “I will not” is spoken against the faculty of the intellect, which was created by God for himself. No one would ever have been able to sin unless he had first said in his heart “I will not,” as the prophet indicates: “Injustice speaks within him that he might sin.” The pagans, who abandoned God and his justice from the beginning and converted to the worship of idols and to a life of sin, seem to have rebelled in their thoughts, as though they had said, “We will not do the justice which we learned from you.”

“Approaching the other,” Jesus asked the same thing, and he replied, “‘I will go,’ but he did not go.” When the Jewish people, represented here by the younger son, were asked both by Moses and by John the Baptist, as though God were speaking through each of them, they promised that they would do everything the Lord commanded. Afterwards, however, they turned away and lied to God, as the prophet had foretold: “Foreign sons deceived me.”

“Which of these two did the will of the Father? They replied, ‘the first.’” Notice how, as we have already said above, attracted by the truth of the parable, they turned its meaning against themselves when they said that the first son, who represented the pagan Gentiles, had done the will of the father. It is better to do the righteousness of God without promising to do so than it is to promise and then to renege. (Incomplete Work on Matthew, «Homily 40»)

O God,
Who manifest your almighty power
above all by pardoning and showing mercy,
bestow, we pray,
Your grace abundantly upon us
and make those hastening
to attain Your promises
heirs to the treasures of heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen