Actions speak Louder

Who of us, having had to deal with children, has not heard today’s gospel in real life? Just name the situation, clean up your room, go finish your homework, stop hitting your sister. And how many times is the first response, “I will not”? This seems to be the universal experience from parents to teachers to relatives. More often than not, we seem to be hard wired to say “no” first and think later.

Today’s example is perfect, “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today”. Not that I have every owned a vineyard, so maybe it would be more believable if it were “Son, go out and mow the lawn today”. The typical first response would be, “Awwww, do I have to?” or “I just did it last week” or the best was always “it still looks great, why don’t we wait another week?” And not to pick on my son, this has been going on for centuries. Obviously, Jesus told the parable in his day and no one stepped forward and said, “what a unique response”. You just know that every parent in the crowd was all nodding their heads and rolling their eyes.

What is also not unique, is that after all of the complaining, and stalling, my son would almost always mow the lawn, or work in the vineyard, or stop hitting his sister. It may have taken a minute or two, and sometimes I would have to ask again, but his was almost always the right decision.

Not that I ever dared to try to get into the mind of my teenage son, but the motivation seemed to come from one of three places: 1.) fear – sometimes he was afraid of what would happen, such as no dinner (I have to admit that my son, like my dog, was very motivated by food). 2.) the right thing – whether this came from us, or not, he was just born with a strong sense of right and wrong. If he was asked, and it was within his power and generally fell into his “job description, he would eventually do it. And finally, 3.) love – not that he would ever, or at least rarely, admit that he loved me, sometimes he would do it because I asked.

Any of these three could have been the motivator in today’s story. Which ever it was, the first son went out and did his father’s bidding. All that we know is that “afterwards he changed his mind and went”. The more problematic son was the second one. The one that said yes “but did not go”.
If the first response seems to come natural this second one seems to be more of a learned response. This passive aggressive approach seems to come after years of practice.

In today’s gospel the interesting twist is that Jesus was not talking about the responses of children. He was talking about the conscience decisions of grown adults. He uses the examples of tax collectors and prostitutes. Neither of the professions garnered much respect in Jesus’s time and both were though to be conscience decisions to go “over to the dark side” as it were. Not to get too caught up in those two professions the point of the story was the nature of their initial response to God’s calling and their eventual destination. While they were thought less of by their neighbors they were eventually elevated by God.

Lessons of child raising aside there appears to be two profound messages and one ominous warning here. The first is that God knows us and will not give up on us. Even when we procrastinate, stomp our feet and threaten to hold our breadth, God will stand by and wait for us to do the right thing. The second is that God loves us and wants us to be with him. He will forgive us and forgive us as a matter of fact He has already forgiven us for that bonehead stupid thing that we are going to do tomorrow, but …. And this is the ominous warning … He is not going to take anyone kicking and screaming into heaven.
Notice that today’s parable is told to “the chief priests and the elders of the people”, he told this story to the people that should have known better. It as if we were telling our local auto mechanic that he should change his oil every once in a while. When his car breaks down, he has no one to blame but himself.

The same is true for us. We are in the middle of Advent and we know what it is that we are about to celebrate. Advent is a time of reflection and preparation. It is a time for reconciliation and realignment.

Isn’t it wonderful how this Gospel is paired with today’s first reading?

On that day
You need not be ashamed
of all your deeds,
your rebellious actions against me;
For then will I remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:

Tomorrow evening we have the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation here in our parish. Between now and that time take a few minutes to think about the times when we initially said, “I will not”. Think of the times when we might have been a bit of a proud braggart.

And let us remember our prayer before the gospel, Come, O Lord, do not delay; forgive the sins or your people.

MT 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and the 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.’
The son 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.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

December 14, 2021

December 14, 2021

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