Fr. Roger J. Landry
Saint Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
September 25, 2005
Ezek 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
1) In last Sunday’s first reading, God said to us through the prophet Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways.” In today’s first reading, God tells us what his ways are relative to how we use our freedom. “When the just man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for … the iniquity that he has committed. [But] when the wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life.” To man’s complaint that “the way of the Lord is unfair,” God responds by saying, “Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?” God, who is just and merciful, is merciful to those who convert, and just to those voluntarily who turn away from his mercy and love. God tells us that anything less than that would be unjust, rewarding people for doing evil or failing to be loving to those who change their ways for the better.
2) This is the context for us to understand the parable Jesus gives us in the Gospel about the two sons. To the first, the Father says, “Go and work in the vineyard today,” but the son says “no.” Later, however, he changes his mind and goes. After the parable, Jesus implies that this is the proper way to understand those prostitutes and tax collectors and other types of sinners, who even though for lengthy periods of time they said “no!” to the sixth, seventh and other commandments, eventually converted and were now working in the Lord’s vineyard, building up and entering into his kingdom. The second son responds to his father’s command saying respectfully, “I will go sir,” but never acts on that promise. Jesus says that this applies to precisely those he was addressing, the scribes and the Pharisees, who so many times very publicly prayed in the temple chanting their loud “amens!” to God, but who were not following through on their covenantal commitments. The Pharisees, scribes and elders, who with their lips were saying yes to the Father’s will but with their actions were not, ended up showing where this hypocrisy can lead: they ended up framing Jesus and having him tortured, crucified and killed.
3) It’s obvious that the Lord wants all of us today to reflect on not only what we say to God, but especially how we follow through on our commitments. We’re here this morning because we are people who have said “yes” to God many times over the course of our lives. On the day of our baptism, our parents spoke up for us and made our baptismal promises, in which we committed ourselves to burn with and walk in Christ’s light, to keep our baptismal garments cleaned, and to live up to our dignity as God’s adopted children. At our confirmation, we stood up and renewed those baptismal promises to reject Satan, his evil works and empty promises, and to believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Moreover, at our Confirmation, we made the commitment to go and work in the Lord’s vineyard, with tongues of fire, using our tongues to proclaim the Lord’s Gospel with ardent passion. The Lord wants us to ask ourselves today whether we’ve been following through on those commitments and been getting down to work in his vineyard. If we have not been following through, if we’ve been saying “no” to the Lord with our bodies despite the yes-es of our lips, then the Lord wants us to learn from the example of the first Son and head out to do the Father’s will. Jesus is clear with us about his preference for deeds over words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
4) But there’s a third option, which is the example that Jesus shows us — of a Son who says “yes” to the Father and follows through on it. As we read in the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus said to his Father, “Here I am, Lord, I have come to do your will” (Heb 10:7-9). Jesus never had to change his mind, as the first son did in the parable, because in his mind he was always seeking what the Father wanted. The more we think with the mind of Christ, and follow through with his grace, the more we will please the Father. This is what St. Paul calls us to do in today’s second reading, when he exhorts us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Christ sought to do the Father’s will so much that he “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.” In response to Jesus’ question in the Gospel, “Which … did the will of his father?,” we’re called to respond that JESUS did the will of the Father! Today Jesus calls us to follow him in doing the Father’s will. He calls us to say “yes” to the Father and to act on that “yes.”
5) The greatest way we learn to put those words into action, the supreme example of doing the will of the Father, we find in Jesus in the Eucharist. Even though three times Jesus prayed that the Father would take the chalice from him, three times he prayed, “But not my will, but thine be done!” (Lk 22:42). That chalice was the cup of his suffering, filled with his own blood. When Jesus told us during the Last Supper to “do THIS in memory of me,” he was not merely telling us to convene as we do today to celebrate this greatest event of all. Jesus was telling us to make our lives truly Eucharistic and, following Jesus’ example, become obedient even to our own death, saying to God and to others, “This is my body, this is my blood, this is everything I am and have, given for you.” May the Lord Jesus whom we’re about to receive help us to say, “Amen!” to this mission and to follow through.