Twenty-sixth Sunday, Year A
Our Gospel this morning is the second of a series of parables given by Jesus which he sets in a vineyard.
The message of today’s Gospel is clear: actions speak louder than words.
Words are easy.
Of themselves they cost us nothing.
You can say to someone ‘I swear’. ‘I give you my word’.
That part is easy.
The cost comes when you are called to follow up your words with actions, when you have to honour the commitment you have made.
The first son in today’s Gospel, when asked by his Father to go and work in the vineyard that day, refused to go.
He was, at least, honest. He didn’t want to work in the vineyard and said so.
Better that than to say ‘yes’ as the second son did but then not go.
The first son reflected, repented and went and worked in the vineyard as his father had asked him.
The second son wanted to look good in his father’s eyes, so he said that, yes he would indeed go and work in the vineyard.
But the commitment he made meant nothing.
He didn’t care that he was letting his father down, or disappointing him.
Saying he would do something he had no intention of doing simply got him out of an awkward situation.
No doubt when asked later by his father why he had not gone he would have some excuse ready.
The theme which runs through all three readings today is that of changing our mind.
Changing our mind can be a good thing, or a bad thing.
The first reading from Ezekiel puts it in this way …
When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die.
Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. ‘
The second reading from Philippians speaks of a Christ-like change of mind:
‘In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus’
writes St Paul.
Paul emphasises Jesus openness to God’s will, his self-emptying so that he could be as we are rather than as God is.
Jesus willingly humbled himself in order to fulfil His Father’s will.
The first son in the Gospel, having first refused to go and work in the vineyard, ‘afterwards thought better of it and went.’
He too humbled himself to do his Father’s will.
This is what is meant by repentance, seeing the error of your ways, admitting you were in the wrong and instead doing -or saying – what is right.
In the garden of Eden, Adam grasped the opportunity to be like God.
That tendency to cling to things, or people, or power and influence, or opinions is part of our human condition.
We are possessive, greedy, proud and arrogant.
And the cause of this need to cling? Insecurity.
Ask yourself a question: what am I clinging to? And why?
It might be a long-held plan, a hope or expectation, or power or possessions, reputation, a place, a person, health, even life itself.
We cling to what is fleeting and temporary when all we need do is hold fast to God and his promises.
They are the only thing we can utterly depend on: God and His word.
God is the only true reality.
Everything else is impermanent, fragile, an illusion.
Jesus, the very author of life itself did not cling to life, but rather clung to the cross and accepted death because it was His Father’s will and he knew without a shred of doubt that His Father’s will could only ever be for good.
And at his life’s end his final words:
‘Into your hands, I commend my spirit.’
When Paul says ‘in your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus’, when Jesus himself says ‘he who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life’, that is what is meant.
Relinquish the self.
Again, quoting Paul, ‘always consider the other person to be better than your self.’
Put others before yourself and God before all.
Jesus told the chief priests and elders that tax collectors and prostitutes were getting into the kingdom of God ahead of them.
Think of this another way.
Consider that those you consider the lowest of the low in our society today, whoever that might be; and then then consider that should they repent of their ways they may get into heaven before you and I.
That is what Jesus was saying to these pious and holy men, men who lived according to the Law, but whose’ pride and arrogance prevented them from seeing that the way of being which Jesus was preaching to them was a better way.
Without repentance that pride would prevent them from seeing salvation.
We are responsible for our own actions.
Our sins are our fault and nobody else's.
But unless we take responsibility for our faults and failings we will not see the need to repent of them.
On the other hand, if we see the need to change our ways God will be there to help us
We have nothing to fear but the mercy of God.
The son who said he would go and work in the vineyard but didn’t go abdicated from his responsibility to follow up his words with actions.
The son who refused but then thought better of it and went accepted responsibility for his wrong words and followed them up with the right actions.
This son had a change of mind. Let us hope that it reflected a change of heart.
Because that is what we all need: a change of heart.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.