Today’s Gospel, from Matthew 21:28-32, teaches us about two types of sons; one that gives his “yes” to the father, and one that gives his “no.” The twist comes from which one is praised by Jesus, and the challenge is to be the best of both. Jesus told the story:
“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 he 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?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (MT 6:9) Jesus’ disciples back then, and we still today, continue to pray in these words. We say “Thy will be done” but we are often unwilling to actually do God’s will. Too many, I’m afraid, are like the first son in Jesus’ story. We honor God, our Father, with our lips but our heart is far from Him. (MK 7:6) Yes, too many of us play the role of the first son.
Make no mistake, there is darkness yet in our world, and our Father demands that we who are his children go out to labor in His “vineyard.” Each of us is gifted and called to serve in different ways according to the grace of God given to us (RM 12:6), but serve we must!
This parable from Jesus is also important because it teaches the truth about the fickleness of our thoughts and words, but the forthrightness of a heart oriented toward God. The second son gives his “no,” as the labor is surely difficult and demanding, and the natural human response is to object, but the son’s goodness is revealed not in his words, but rather in his deeds. The bottom line is that he did good work regardless of what he actually said. Actions do speak louder than words.
In truth, (and sadly) I too often find myself aligned with the first son. I am a Catholic Christian, a disciple of Jesus, a minister and teacher of the faith–there’s my public “yes” for the whole world to see and hear, but sometimes I discover that my disobedient self finds greater pleasure in sitting on the couch instead of doing the good spiritual work that my Heavenly Father demands.
Jesus’ message was to the Jews of his day that had grown comfortable and complacent. They had become lukewarm in their faith and were unfaithful in their commitment to the daily work that God had prepared for them to do–and his message rings true for us today as well.
As we journey through Advent and the day of Jesus’ birth draws near, we need to get off the couch, put on our Spiritual work boots, and remember that there is no such thing as spiritual welfare, but only spiritual warfare. We must dig in and go to battle against the forces of evil in our world, in our communities, in our schools, in our families, and in our own heart!
There is a third type of son that we must choose to become–that is of course the example of Jesus Christ Himself. Each day we are to go beyond both the first AND the second son–we must be the obedient children that the Father desires. We must both say “yes” to God and to doing His work and will in our world. Only then are we the good and faithful servants that God desires.
Say yes. Do good work. Marana tha!