26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 27, 2020
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about an ordinary family experience to make a point about life, faith and salvation. In fact, the image that he uses is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was first spoken two thousand years ago.
A man has two sons. He has a good bit of work to do in the family owned business and he looks to his sons for help. A common thing. When asked by his father to work in the vineyard, son number one responds as any father would hope, “I’m on my way, Dad. Whatever you need, you’ve come to the right man.” And he never goes. He never lifts a finger to help. Son number two surprisingly responds, “That’s not going to work with my schedule today. Sorry, Dad.” But with a soft spot in his heart for his father and the needs of his family, he changes his mind and does what his father asked.
Notice that neither of the two sons respond perfectly to their father. The first son comes across as a righteous soul, willing to do whatever he can to help out his father. But he ultimately lacks integrity. His actions don’t reflect his words. When all is said and done, it’s the second son who seems to get it. While he initially refused to help his father, his actions resonate with the values that lie in the depth of his heart.
Jesus initially addresses this parable to the religious leaders of his day – the righteous chief priests and elders – who followed the letter of the law and were quick to point out the shortcomings of others – but who never really seemed to have the capacity or desire to give life to what they professed. In other words, they said “yes” to God every day in their prayers and rituals – but like the first son in today’s parable, they said “no” to the opportunities given to them to live their faith.
Jesus’ parable offers a sobering challenge to people of all ages – and ultimately to me and to you. And its message is a familiar one: actions speak more clearly than mere words or intentions – even and particularly when it comes to our relationship with God. If we profess authentic faith in Jesus, what we believe will be reflected in how we live our lives and how we respond in love and mercy to our broken world.
There’s also another dimension to this parable – one that we would do well to consider along with the challenge just noted. The parable doesn’t simply utilize familiar life experiences to make its message easier to understand. It also reminds us that our faith is lived out in every day family interactions and daily life – no matter how extraordinary or mundane they may be.
In other words, we don’t simply live our faith in sacred places like this beloved church. Yes, it’s sustained by the sacraments that we celebrate here. But it’s also nurtured whenever our words of forgiveness are supported by actions of welcome and reconciliation. It’s nurtured whenever our proclamation of respect for life is fortified by efforts to value and treat with dignity the lives that God places before us.
When Jesus speaks of God and faith and life and its meaning, he often focuses on things like lost coins, staying sheep, people fishing in a lake, sparrows and the number of hairs on our heads. He does this to remind us that opportunities to encounter the ways of God and to live our faith occur wherever we are and through whatever we’re doing.
And when Jesus speaks about judgment, nowhere does he suggest that his Father in heaven will be particularly impressed with the quantity or volume of our prayers. No, instead Jesus states that we would be judged by how we addressed the basic needs of human life – like feeding those who are hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the poor.
Pope Francis shared these words that best seem to capture the message of today’s gospel: “Each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity. He has given us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples. He invites us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one. But he asks us to do so not merely by our words but by the witness of our lives in service of our brothers and sister.”
In short, every one of us has the opportunity each day to live the Gospel – wherever we find ourselves. Such opportunities may not be easy to embrace. They do, however, become the way to discover true meaning, life and peace.