Today we are presented with another parable which is as intriguing as last Sunday’s. It tells of two sons whose response to their father’s order is totally opposite of the other. When the first son was asked by the father to go to work in the field, he said no, but eventually changed his mind and went. Instead, when the second son received the same order from the father, he said yes, but did not go.
After listening to the story, we tend ask who is the better son. Such question, however, misses the point. The parable does not propose a model to follow. Both sons are defective examples. If there is any model worth emulating, it is none other than the Son Jesus, the perfect “Yes” of the Father, who “became obedient even unto death.”
The parable of the two sons is about the kingdom of God. It is about salvation. To be saved, one needs to be converted. Both sons needed conversion. The “tax collectors and prostitutes,” who are represented by the first son in the parable, needed to change from their evil ways in order to be saved. Likewise, the “chief priests and the elders of the people” whom the second son represents, needed to change from their presumptuous and self-righteous ways in order to enter the kingdom.
We all know that salvation is pure grace from beginning to end. It is a gratuitous gift offered by God to all. But like every gift, it also a responsibility. Today’s readings speak of salvation as a personal responsibility.
In the first reading, Ezekiel affirms that no one is held accountable for the wrongdoings of others but only for one’s own.
More importantly, the prophet reveals God’s desire for the conversion of the sinner and the preservation of his life.
The gospel stresses that our response to God’s call to the kingdom (the vineyard) is a personal responsibility. Because we are created free, we can say “yes” or “no” to God’s invitation. At the same time, it also demonstrates the infinite mercy of God, who is willing to put up with our initial “no,” – as well as our many succeeding “no’s” – and patiently waits for our final “yes.”
For several Sundays now, we have been listening to parables of the kingdom of God.What is the kingdom of God? Where is it? I usually answer by saying that the kingdom of God is where God is king – where he rules, where he is obeyed, where his will is done. Hence, our prayer, “Thy kingdom come” is immediately followed by “Thy will be done.” Both are one and the same prayer.
When we obey the will of God, his kingdom dawns on us – “a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” (Preface for Christ the King) Now, that is salvation –God’s kingdom which begins here on earth and is brought to perfection in heaven.
From the readings, it is clear then that the key to the kingdom of God is obedience. Obeying God means surrendering my will and allowing God to rule my life. It may sound inspiring, but it is the most difficult thing to do because, truth to tell,
I would rather take charge of my own life. In fact, the last thing we let go of is control. We want to be in control till the end.
I once read an article by Ronald Rolheiser where he mentioned a funeral he attended of a rich and successful businessman. The Mass was presided by his own son who was a priest. During the homily, the son mused on why God had been extra generous with his father, when the usual rationof life is only 70 years, or 80 for those who are strong. Instead, his father lived to be 90. Knowing his father’s strong character, the priest then realized that God was simply giving him every chance until he was ready for heaven. He described his father as a good and honest man, much loved by his family and employees, but even more feared because he was strict and demanding. At 80, he was still his usual cantankerous and controlling self. No wonder God gave him 10 more years to mellow down. First, God took away his wife, then his health, and then his mobility until he could say, “Help me.” He has finally learned to surrender himself.
Could this be the meaning behind the old adage, “hierba mala nuncamuere” (bad grass dies hard)? I don’t mean, of course, that all old people are bad grass. I know many who are living saints. But, the saying certainly reminds us of today’s gospel, of a God who patiently waits for us to change and give our final “yes” to him.*