Which Son of the Father Sinned?

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Because I am a sinner, I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. About twice a month, typically on my day off, I drive about twenty minutes away to confess my sins and receive absolution from another area pastor. The gracious gift of this sacrament helps me to be a better man than what I would be without it. After my most recent confession, Father and I went for a walk and talked about several topics. Something he said in our conversation made me laugh because there is some truth to it. He said, ‘The homilies that get the most compliments from parishioners are the ones they think that other people need to hear.’ (“That was a great homily, Father! You really told ’em.”) The homilies that we think we don’t need to hear – but that we think other people do – can make us feel good about ourselves without us actually becoming better people.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘Which of these two sons did his father’s will? The first, who when asked by his father to work in the vineyard, refused, but then changed his mind and went; or the second, who when approached by his father with the same request replied, “Yes, sir,” but chose not to go?’ The Jewish leaders answered that it was the first son who did the father’s will. But did they answer correctly? It’s true that the first son eventually did go to work in the vineyard. However, the Jewish leaders discount the fact that neither son did the Father’s will perfectly. One son sins by not going to the vineyard at all, but the other son sins by disrespecting his father, disobeying him to his face. No one obeyed the father completely.

The Pharisees had a similar blind spot. Once, when they saw Jesus and his disciples dining with many tax collectors and sinners, they objected: “Why does [he] eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. … I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” But wait, doesn’t Jesus come to call everyone and save everyone? Yes, but the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the elders of the people did not accept that “Christ came to save sinners,” and that this included themselves. When they confronted Jesus with the woman caught in adultery and he replied to the crowd, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus was not expecting there to be one such person among them. Even the most religious among them had sins to repent of.

Jesus would point this out, at times calling them hypocrites. Jesus’ words were hard against hypocrites, yet his words were gentle with sinners. So what’s the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner? A hypocrite is not just someone who professes one thing and does another. (Unless they lack moral principles, all sinners do that.) A hypocrite is more than a sinner. A hypocrite is someone who says one thing, does another, and doesn’t care anymore about the disconnect, if they ever cared at all.

Jesus was hard with hypocrites in hopes of shaking them from their deadly complacency. But the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners and wanted to change their lives. They were unhappy and hoped for more. They wanted a better life. They desired the way of righteousness that John the Baptist and Jesus were offering. But the Jewish leaders did not, and tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God before them. As the Prophet Ezekiel records in our first reading, the Lord is more interested in the direction we are headed than where we have been. The person who turns from wickedness to do what’s right can live and be saved, but the one who turns away from virtue to do evil can die and be lost. This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important.

Regular confession helps us to not be hypocrites, complacent in and comfortable with our sins. Confession helps hold us accountable, it helps to make us face reality and live in the truth. A good confession forgives our sins; in the case of grave sins, it saves our soul and reconnects us to Christ. The sacrament is an encounter with Jesus Christ, and we leave confession with a new beginning, a fresh start, new graces, and a fresh perspective. We walk away much lighter and more joyful than before.

When was your last confession? I offer confession times every week, but I have heard very few in recent months. Perhaps the posted times and places are inconvenient for you. If so, then contact me to make a confession appointment, for yourself or your whole family. We can do it in church or out of church in a way that is safe and convenient for you. Please make me busy hearing your confessions. What could our lives and community be like if we unloaded ourselves of sins? Is this a homily that you’ve needed to hear? Is the Father calling you to confession? Then please respond by doing your Father’s will.

One Response to “Which Son of the Father Sinned?”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Preach it, Father :)! I rarely *feel* better after Confession, but it’s changing the way I behave–chipping away at vices & fostering virtue.

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