Gospel according to Saint Matthew 21,28-32:
Jesus went on to say to the chief priests and the elders of the people, «What do you think of this? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said to him: ‘Son, today go and work in my vineyard’. And the son answered: ‘I don’t want to’. But later he thought better of it and went. Then the father went to the second and gave him the same command. This son replied: ‘I will go, sir’, but he did not go.
»Which of the two did what the father wanted?». They answered, «The first». And Jesus said to them, «Truly, I say to you: the publicans and the prostitutes are ahead of you on the way to the kingdom of heaven. For John came to show you the way of goodness but you did not believe him, yet the publicans and the prostitutes did. You were witnesses of this, but you neither repented nor believed him».
What is between a YES and a NO?
Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, October 01, 2023 | XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 18: 25-28; Flp 2: 1-11; Mt 21: 28-32
First of all, a remark on popular wisdom, which seems to be confirmed by this brief and transparent parable of the two sons of the vinedresser: parents and those who lead or preside over human groups, should not be surprised by the fact that there will always be those who are dissatisfied or perhaps very angry
– because you acted too hastily… or not diligently enough.
– because the matters that they consider crucial are not being attended to.
– because the most venerable traditions are not being respected… or bold innovations are not being made.
– because too much is asked of them… or they are not taken into account at all.
Good thing there are also people who help with their constructive remarks.
But it is never possible to satisfy everyone. There are those who will express their dissatisfaction with words (complaints and/or defamation) and others with their unenthusiastic attitude or open rebellion. We can take this conclusion as the first teaching of the parable, but always linking it to the recommendation of the First Reading not to lose our calm, not to despair, because the evil that I commit and that my neighbor commits is not definitive; conversion is always possible: When the wicked person converts from the evil he has done and practices right and justice, he himself saves his life. If he comes to his senses and converts from the crimes he has committed, he will certainly live and not die.
We are all reflected in these two sons, neither of whom faithfully follows the model of Christ, although the former teaches us that repentance allows us to fulfill the will of the Father.
The image that illustrates this reflection is a painting by the German painter Friedrich Moritz Retzsch (1779-1857), which depicts a young man playing chess with the devil. The young man’s look is desperate and the devil seems to savor a near victory. But the artist has depicted an angel in the background… and more than one expert player has realized that the young man can win in a few moves.
This should make us think that Providence is stronger than all our weaknesses and betrayals, standing by us like that angel who holds our hand and inspires us.
What advantage do publicans and prostitutes have? They do not need to worry about hiding or concealing their sins; they are public sinners; their faults are impossible to hide. Moreover, they are fully aware of having said NO to what is right. They do not need to dissimulate and they recognize that they are weak and sinful; therefore, they are in the best disposition to receive grace.
All of us have powerful mechanisms (it is said of six) for not doing the will of the Father, for delaying our response, for justifying ourselves, being like the two sons in the parable, not welcoming fully and promptly what God sows in silence and with affection. And this is no different from when we reject ideas, proposals (sometimes precious) or even the explicit instructions of other people.
Sometimes, human behavior is as dull and sadly predictable as that of a duck. Surely each of us, you and I, have observed some of these six ways of saying NO in others:
To Ignore: not paying attention, not really listening, not leaving at all what interests me at the moment: my thoughts, the phone, a mechanical task…Maybe I respond affirmatively, but only with words, to free myself from the other person.
To Reject: Not attributing merit or interest to what I am told. To look only at the inconveniences or possible defects. Explicitly or not, we come to say what the First Reading says: The Lord’s way is not just.
To Exclude: Comparing what I am feeling or hearing with my personal perception, to which I am attached and immediately put as a priority.
To Defer: Although I recognize the value and positives of what God or my neighbor is telling me, my decision is put on hold… which is the first step to forgetting.
To Reinterpret and do not change: I recognize that I have received a new and valuable light, but I remain in the comfort and mediocrity of my penumbras.
To Reinterpret and make small changes: I modify my point of view, or my attitude… but only diplomatically and superficially, without conviction.
… what is less likely is that you and I have observed in our own way of acting any of these six mechanisms.
It seems that the second son allowed himself to be overcome by what we have just called “To Ignore“. Jesus does not give details of what happened in the heart of the first son, of how he came to conversion, to that conversion that has to be permanent and is only possible if I accept the discreet and powerful proposals of generosity that the Holy Spirit permanently deposits in my heart. I would like to illustrate this with a story from a Chinese atmosphere.
A heavy bronze bell sank to the bottom of a lake in ancient China. All efforts to raise it failed until a skilled monk asked permission to try, on condition that the bell be delivered to his monastery.
Upon receiving permission, he ordered the monks to collect bamboo canes, which the divers brought down, one by one, and tied to the bell. Bamboo is hollow, light and does not sink, so after hundreds of logs were tied to it, the large bell began to move. Finally, when the last stick was added, the upward pressure became so great that the bell slowly rose to the surface. It was the last bamboo that finally made the bell rise.
Our witness of patience and forgiveness can help to work the miracle, what does it matter if it happens after our death, or if it happens in the last breath of the person we wish to bring closer to Christ?
But Providence does not only use our modest and always mediocre testimony, but it succeeds by all means and signs in purifying our intentions, so that our eyes may be opened. My Father works unceasingly, and I also work (Jn 5:17). We do not always allow ourselves to be helped. It is a way of saying “no” to the good that Purification means, to be more and more aware of our limitations. I would like to mention in particular Segregation, that painful separation between my instinctive life and my best aspirations. It is a real surgery of the Holy Spirit, removing my worldly intentions from what is an authentic vocation, which I will have to follow always, until the end, carrying the cross of my soul.
Thirty years ago, a young man named Edwin was embarking on a career as a sports journalist in Australia. “Sport,” he once said, “was my religion.” He paid little attention to his faith. “I had the typical boring Catholic upbringing,” he said, “and usually went to Mass only at Christmas and Easter.” As he moved up the career ladder, he got a job in radio.
One Sunday, with nothing else to do, he entered a church. He sat at the back. Mass was beginning. But it was unlike any he had ever experienced before. It was a mass for the homeless. All the people around him had nowhere to live, no place to call home. “I remember sitting among all those poor homeless people, and the Gospel came alive for me.” That moment was transformative. He knew he could no longer do what he had been doing. He had found a religion other than sports. A year later, he entered the seminary.
During his formation, he asked the archbishop for a special mission: he wanted to live and work among the homeless. The archbishop agreed. For eight months, Edwin lived at the bottom of a staircase, with nothing but a mattress. He showered in a public toilet. He lived among the lonely, the fearful, the depressed and the mentally ill. When he was ordained a deacon, the ordination took place where he often volunteered: at a center for recovering alcoholics. A few months later, he was ordained a priest.
Today, Fr. Edwin runs a charity for the homeless. A guy who once seemed destined to have everything he wanted serves those who have nothing. He’s never felt more fulfilled. “That’s why I got ordained,” he says today, “to walk alongside the most vulnerable.” At a critical point in his life, as the son of the Gospel, Edwin had a change of heart. Now, working with the homeless, he himself is an agent of change.
Our Father Founder has reminded us on many occasions that we are to be co-redeemers with Christ, which, for us, means not only “bringing souls out of sin,” but especially giving a chance to generous young people whom no one has given the possibility of serving and thus feeling loved. That is to redeem someone from a simply “good”, active, generous life and give him the possibility to give himself completely to others. This is the case of the young Chilean I mentioned last Sunday. Surely this is the deepest meaning of Jesus’ prayer: God does not want even one of these little ones to be lost (Mt 18: 14).
This continuous dedication, true service, is something similar to what happens in prayer. It is one thing to sit before the Eucharist and dedicate an affectionate and fraternal remembrance to a person, and quite another to spend half an hour consulting Christ with all my strength as to what I can offer to that human being.
Thus, in the Second Reading, St. Paul, who was proud of the community of Philippi, vehemently reminds us that doing genuine good always means leaving something of one’s own life, for he was aware of the desire for fame and recognition of many members of that church. He offers us the most sublime example, that of Christ himself, who stripped himself of his rank and took the condition of a slave, that is, of a servant. In our case it is no different and, as Fernando Rielo says in his book Transfiguration:
The price of love is easy to know
just by the birth of…
I would like to heartily thank the patient and efficient translators of these weekly Reflections, our brothers and sisters Letizia, Maurizio (Italian), Rebecca (German) and several brothers and sisters in French.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,