Jesus spoke (to the chief priests and elders of the people), “What do you think? There was a landowner who had two children. The landowner approached the elder son and said, ‘My child, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ This son replied, ‘No, I wont go,’ but afterwards regretted it and went out to the vineyard. The landowner then came to his second child and said the very same thing. The second child replied, ‘I’m already on my way,’ but he never went. Which of the two honored the landowner?” They replied, “The first child.”
Jesus said to them, “The truth is that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the reign of God before you. When John came walking on the road of justice, you didn’t believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you didn’t repent and believe.”Homily for 29 September 2002
A well-known cardinal of the church died and went to heaven – which might be considered by some to be remarkable in itself these days. He arrived there at the same time as a rather scruffy looking New York City cab driver. Each was assigned an appropriate dwelling place among the heavenly residences.
The cardinal got a third-floor walk-up flat near the very outskirts of heaven, while the cab driver got a beautifully furnished mansion just a few blocks away from God’s very throne. This upset the cardinal immensely. He complained to Saint Peter, the gatekeeper, saying: “I’m a cardinal, a ‘prince of the church.’ I’ve devoted my entire life to religion. And this is what I get – a walk-up flat in the boondocks – while this cab driver gets a palace! I deserve better!”
Saint Peter matter-of-factly responded: “Our policy up here is to reward results, not just good intentions. So let’s talk about results. Your eminence, what happened when you addressed your homilies to your people in church?” The cardinal grudgingly admitted that most of them fell asleep during his Sunday sermons. “Exactly,” said Saint Peter. “Now on the other hand, when people took this man’s taxi, they not only stayed awake. They prayed like hell!”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the priests and elders of the community which of the man’s two children did his father’s will – the one who said yes, but didn’t go to work in the vineyard, or the one who said no, but did go. The priests and elders responded correctly. They instinctively realized that results matter.
Jesus this morning invites each of us to go to work in the vineyard. At this very moment, each of us has been given a deeply personal gift from God, our very own slice of God’s creation, the families and communities to which we belong, the bit of earth upon which we tread, a vineyard as it were.
Then God says to each of us, “Take what I give you here and make it grow. Help it become whole and complete.” It takes some time to hear these words and to understand their meaning because God speaks to us very softly –sometimes in whispers of the heart. But when we do hear and understand that to which God calls us, how do we respond? We can say “yes” or we can say “no”.
Today’s Gospel message is about sincerity, about being true to our word, about saying “yes” to God’s invitation to work in the vineyard and then following through with our best efforts to do just that. We each have a spot in the vineyard for which we alone are responsible. If we don’t do the pruning and fertilizing and harvesting, then that part of the vineyard will never grow. It’s all about results.
Just where is this vineyard to which we are called to work? The vineyard is the circumstances of our lives – those people, places and things that make up our life experiences. My God-given task and yours too is to become a good human being, a faithful friend, a loving spouse, a parent who is bringing up wholesome kids, a person striving to be at peace with God and the world, one who is making the vineyard a better place for everyone.
Today’s gospel offers us both a comfort and a challenge. In praising the child who originally said “no” to the invitation, but quickly regretted it and then went out to work in the field, Matthew is telling us that there is still opportunity and room for those of us who are inattentive listeners or slow starters – even at this late hour!
And so we pray…”May God grant us the wisdom to respond affirmatively to God’s invitation to work in the vineyard, and then to match our deeds to our words. May we, as a family and a faith community, work hard and long to establish Jesus’ reign in our own acre of the vineyard of our lives. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen!”