Our Lord came to offer His mercy to everyone. Jesus wants all to live and to know how much God loves them. You would think the Lord would be universally accepted but He was opposed by the religious leaders with increasing hostility. Just before our Gospel passage today of the parable of the two sons, Jesus has entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. He has just cleansed the Temple of traders and money lenders who profaned His Father’s House. It is Holy Week; Jesus is just a few days from His sacrifice on the cross. He has been tackled once more about His authority to forgive sins and teach as He does about His Father and the Kingdom of God. Jesus in turn challenged the leaders about their indifferent attitude to the Lord’s prophet, John the Baptist; He follows this with His parable.
A father asks his two sons to work in the vineyard. The first says he will not but thinks better of it and goes. The second son says he will but has no intention of going. The first son represents all those who are the “no” people. These are the sinners are despised by the good and religious folk the lowest and most rejected of all being the prostitutes and tax collectors. They have been told “no” so often by the priests and Pharisees that they feel locked in to their pattern of life: a permanent inescapable state of “no”. The second son represents the “yes” people. But it is a qualified “yes”. They pick and choose. These are the people who regard themselves as “holier than thou”. They feel they tick all the boxes of religion and are the most exemplary of all society. But their religion is a veneer. They only pay lip service to God. Their religion is in their head but not in their heart. They believe in a world of “us” and “them”. The “them” are the outsiders, the excluded, the rejected, the imperfect, socially unacceptable and all are defined as unclean. Jesus points out it is the sinners who responded to John the Baptist’s call to repentance of sin and to accept Divine Mercy. These went on to accept Jesus and to place their hope in Him. Jesus broke them out of the prison of “no” and allowed them through mercy to walk in the freedom of “yes”. The religious authorities resisted repentance for which they saw no personal need. They were called a brood of vipers by John and in turn they do not accept Jesus and have tried to undermine His mission from the start.
It is evident that the leaders who feel safe are in fact the ones in peril and must change their attitude or find themselves excluded looking on as repentant sinners make their way into the Kingdom of God. Jesus will not compromise in His desire to reach out to sinners and embrace them in His mercy and love. We must remember, until Jesus came, sinners were treated mercilessly. Many were pigeon holed for life. Barriers were erected to keep them out of feeling the blessing of the Lord. To Jesus they were sheep without a shepherd and He was about to lay down His life for all.
Lessons from the parable. First: it is never too late to turn to Jesus and ask for His mercy. We immediately think of the good thief on the cross beside Jesus. He acknowledges he is justifiably guilty but Jesus is totally innocent. He is there for his crime. Jesus is there out of love. What right has he to ask the dying Lord for Mercy? He looks into the Lord’s face and this gives him courage to have the utterly ridiculous and totally unjustified hope that He would be forgiven after a lifetime of sin. He is like the first son in the parable, all his life has been a “no”, now in his final moments his heart has been changed and he wants to say “yes” and to his immense relief and eternal joy Jesus grants Him a place beside Him in Paradise. Luke gives us (as well as the good thief) a tale of two sons one of whom is Prodigal. The Prodigal Son says “no” to his father and leaves home to live a life of squander and sin. He, after a period of time, comes to his senses and returns. He is overjoyed when his father shows him mercy, love and reinstatement as his son. He would be the first son in our parable today. His “no” has become a “yes”. The son in the field is like the second son. He believes he is a wonderful son, he has never done wrong, but he has disowned his brother. He shows his hard heart and lack of inclusion and forgiveness as he will not come to the party. He thinks he’s a “yes” but his attitude and actions are one of a “no”.
Second: Promises matter. It is better to say nothing like the first son rather than make a promise you do not intend to keep. Promises are sacred to us and as Christians we do not make then lightly. Our promises are special to us. We make our baptismal promises which we renew every Easter. Before God we make sacramental promises to one another in our relationships. These promises bind us to God and each other. The second son shows how little he values the notion of promise by reducing it to mere words to placate the father. He has given the father false hopes which will soon be dashed. He has raised his father’s expectations and given the impression the work will be done. Trust is betrayed. His father’s happiness will be short lived but for the other son who actually had second thoughts and does the work.
Third: action speaks louder than words. One son eventually shows up for work the other promised to but had no intention of doing anything. Some people are all words and suggestions but cannot translate them into action. They are happy to leave things to others. One week a priest asked the congregation to put up their hands if they thought a bible study group should start. Dozens did so. The following week he asked people to sign up for the course only two did. Saying you will is one thing, commitment is another.
What about the vineyard? It needed work and would not look after itself. Vines need a lot of nurture and care. All that matters to the father is that one of his sons did what needed to be done, albeit eventually. Vines don’t watch the clock but sooner or later care must be given. Better late than never. Last week the landowner paid the latecomers and much as the full day workers; for God, all labour great or small is rewarded. All workers, early or late, have been seen to contribute to the care of the vines. All get the same reward: one denarius, why? Because our reward is eternal life and that is a single currency. Be you holy, saintly pope or last minute repentant sinner you get the same room and board in the Lord’s presence. There is no first or second class in Heaven.
Fr. Gerard X