Today in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear another parable – ‘the Parable of the Two Sons’ – the second of three consecutive parables about vineyards. Vineyards are the perfect spiritual metaphor because working in a vineyard is hard work. It involves constant tedious trimming and pruning, ensuring proper irrigation occurs, either naturally or working to get water to the vines. There is also pest management, which is essential to ensure the vines and harvest are full and free from disease or stunted growth while working in a hostile environment with no shade where the days are hot and long.
So why is it the perfect metaphor?… well, it’s a comparison to our faith… It’s hard work that involves pruning, cutting away our vices, and those immoral, wicked behaviors. There is careful and proper watering to grow strong in virtue. Pest control to ensure evil does not invade our spirituality, which would stunt our growth or, in the worst case, kill it altogether. If we get it right, then we bear much fruit, a bountiful harvest that has the potential to evangelize and quench the thirst of many others. Through this process, we become the model of Jesus to others.
Jesus has presented to us today the vision of being called to go and work in his vineyard. This parable presents Two Sons; when the father calls the first son to go and work in the vineyard, he refuses but later relents and goes to work. The second son placates the father with a quick agreement to go and work, but then he never actually goes.
After Jesus tells this story, He asks the listeners to answer a question… “Which of the two did his father’s will?” It is a question not only for the priest and elders, hypocrites of the time but also for us. As listeners, as participants, we are called to answer the question, a question that also has us passing judgment on ourselves.
When we hear this parable, we are called either implicitly or explicitly to ask ourselves, which one describes me?… In this case, more often in my youth, I managed to be like both of them in this parable. Frequently, I was the second son, a fact that used to frustrate my mother and father. I’d just pay lip service and agree to their instructions to go and clean my room, unload the dishwasher, or mow the lawn. Most of the time, I ignored the request, and when I did bother to do what I was told, it was done with a lot of grumbling, balking, and complaining.
In my aging years and marriage, I would like to think I have gotten a lot better, but I will let my wife, Eileen, fill you in on that.
Often, because of our human condition, we struggle to even make a commitment in the first place, but once we do, we are able to muster up the discipline and enthusiasm to honor it. There are others who seem to have less trouble coming to a decision but then have trouble following through. For many of us, we fall somewhere in between.
To all of us imperfect disciples, we need to keep Jesus’ question fresh in our minds, “Which of us is doing the Father’s will?”
The key words in this question are “Father’s Will.” It is a question of obedience. We hear these words throughout Matthew’s Gospel.
In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).
At the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt. 7:21).
When Jesus’ family comes to speak with him, Jesus makes the comment, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (12:50).
Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep, concluding with: “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (18:14).
And when he is approaching his crucifixion, Jesus is praying in the Garden in Gethsemane; he says to God, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Mt. 26:42).
Keeping those scriptural texts fresh in the back of our minds should help us understand just what Jesus is asking of us when he asks the question. “Which of you is doing the will of my Father?”… … In fact, we see He is asking several questions of us at once:
- Are we participating in the kingdom of God? (Mt. 6:10)
- Are we committed to active response and obedience to God and not just lip service? (Mt. 7:21)
- Are we becoming a member of Jesus’ spiritual family, his sister or brother? (Mt. 12:50)
- Are we showing a commitment to saving the lost and excluded? (Mt. 18:14)
- Are we willing to sacrifice, when necessary, on behalf of the kingdom? (Mt. 26:42)
- Can we say we are doing the will of God?
You see, these questions can make you feel the heat of the work in the vineyard. It is hard, very hard. But if we follow the will of the Father, the fruit of our labor is sweeter and more rewarding than we can even imagine.
Reference: Illustration: Copyright: LPI
Author: Deacon Jeff Borski, Sacred Heart Catholic Church & School