Archive for the ‘Two Sons’ Category

Which Son of the Father Sinned?

September 27, 2020

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.

Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent

December 16, 2009

Is it more important to say the right thing, or to do the right thing? As people like to say “Talk is cheap,” but “Actions speak louder than words.”

Some Christians say that if we merely confess Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior then we are assuredly saved. But Jesus Himself says that ‘not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

It is easy to feel righteous like the chief priests and the elders if we subscribe to the right and enlightened opinions, but we should be humbled by the fact that scandalous sinners have turned to Christ and today harvest more fruit in the vineyard than we do.

We have to do more than talk a good game, we have to show up on the court. For example, you say you oppose the killing of the unborn? Good! But what are you doing to end it? Do you pray for mothers and their babies? Do you march for life?

You say that hatred between peoples should end. Absolutely! But is there someone here that you cannot bring yourself to pray for, or say “hello” to in the hallway?

You say that we must care for people in need. Indeed, and Jesus says the same. But do you give of your time, talent and spending cash until it hurts a bit, like an actual sacrifice?

If I were to end this homily here and now with an exhortation that you should go out into your world and to work hard for good in that vineyard, you might decide to listen and your life might change a little bit for a little while. But I would not expect your life change a great deal, unless you also respond to another calling; the calling from our Father that you work in another vineyard first. This vineyard is within you, it is an inner-vineyard. You work it alongside Christ in prayer and what you harvest from it is intimacy with God.  Of this encounter, St. Augustine wrote:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

In the labor of prayer (and it does take a daily effort) you encounter God. He surprises you with gifts of consolation and peace, and you overflow with His love. This overflow is what makes the saints the saints. It is what makes their holy lives possible. The saints are not self-made men and women. Their cups runneth over within them, and it is from out of this abundance that they love the vineyard of the world and work in it for the better.

You say that you believe in God, and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. So come to the work of prayer each day, or your devotion and service to God will remain forever little more than lip-service.