The prophet Ezekiel was noted for stressing the personal responsibility of individuals for their behaviour and in today's reading he drives this point home. Israel's common experience was that they were a community, the people of God. If they were saved they were saved as a nation and if they were punished it was because they had sinned as a community. The prophet Ezekiel also wished to emphasize the other aspect as well, namely that we are also individually responsible for our actions. The way we are living now matters in the eyes of God, not so much our past actions. Even though we have been baptized, if we are living in sin we stand condemned. On the other hand, no matter how often we have fallen, if today we are repentant sinners, God is ever ready to forgive and accepts us as his children.
You are responsible!
In a road fog a driver pulled up on the Santa Anna Freeway in California to change his flat tyre. To avoid hitting him the car behind slowed down so rapidly that a third car crashed into him. This was repeated by 200 cars in a 5-mile pileup that, in addition to the 200 collisions, that wrecked 60 cars, injured 50 people and killed one. Crumpled cars like castaway dominoes, were pointed in every direction. The first driver fixed his tyre and left during the ensuing confusion, oblivious to the massive chain-reaction he had touched off!
Harold Buetow in 'God Still Speaks! Listen!'
In the Gospel Jesus tells this parable of the two sons to vindicate his proclamation of the good news of the kingdom. The parable is a proclamation of God's mercy towards sinners. The parable speaks of the man who has two sons and he says to the first "My boy, go and work in my vineyard today." and he answers, "I will not go," but later on thought better and went. The man then goes to his second son and said the same thing who answered, "Certainly Sir," but did not go. "Which of the two did the father's will?" "Who is the truly obedient one?" Jesus conveyed his message in the form of a story, a story which apparently did not have any mention of the divine and seemed to speak of
everyday realities. The two sons mentioned in the parable stand for two types of people, two types of believers and we have to decide which type represents us. The son who said 'yes' but did nothing about actually doing what the father desired, primarily stood for the Jewish people, who claimed to be followers of Abraham, their father in faith. They claimed to be God's people, yet they rejected the prophets, they rejected John the Baptist, they rejected Jesus Christ. The second son, who said he would not go but ultimately went is not a model son either but definitely the better of the two because he did finally obey and what is more important, did what the father wanted of him. Jesus likens that son to the tax collectors and sinners, who came to listen to John the Baptist and repented of their sins. That son would stand for the many gentiles, the many pagans, the many agnostics, the many non-believers, who say they do not believe in God, yet live honest lives, lives filled with compassion, lives ultimately acknowledging the divine. In the final analysis our faith is seen and judged by the quality of our lives lived in our day to day dealings and interactions with our fellow human beings. We will be held responsible not for the past but for the present lived with or without love.
How we live professes our faith!
Joe never attends a planning meeting. He does not see himself as articulate enough to formulate plans for the neighbourhood or for the parish. But when it comes to doing the job is always there to work. He knows that actions speak louder than words and he lives accordingly. The proof of faith is good works. Love of God is shown above all in generous service to the neighbour in need, without distinction of social class or religious practice. Joe is often impatient with people who promise much but deliver little, who think that talking nice words is an adequate substitute for effective action. Jesus shared Joe's impatience, as we read in today's gospel, where the father tells his two sons to go to work in his vineyard. One refuses at first but goes. The other promises to go but does not. It is the former who actually does what the father asks and that is what counts. Among the Jews of his own time there were many people who professed their faith in God but refused to live as Jesus taught. On the other hand, there were people who had not lived according to the book but, when invited by Jesus to repent and make a fresh start, they did so enthusiastically. It is these who received salvation. Their actions showed their faith. Are we prepared to do as he asks or do we settle for pious aspirations? How we actually live gives the answer.
Tom Clancy in 'Living the Word'
Who is right?
The Jews had a very ironic story. In Poland during the Second World War, there was a synagogue, in which the worship was going on. The rabbi was seated in a corner and he was nodding his head as the psalms were being sung. On the opposite side, women and men were seated separately. They were totally engrossed in prayer. As they were praying, suddenly, a man in a worker's dress rushed in - his dress was dirty and stained with blood, his hair was unkempt, his hands were soiled. He came and stood at the altar facing the people. He began to rebuke the people: "You fools! What are you all doing here? The war is being waged, and you are wasting your time here. Come! Look at the people outside. They are wounded and are in pain. They need help. And there is none to help them. You are like the sheep that are misled. Your rabbi is misleading you. He is making you to believe in something, which does not exist. It would be better if you could come and lend a helping hand to those who are dying. God does not exist. He is just in your imagination. If I am wrong, let your supposed God in his supposed heavens say so." Suddenly there was thunder and lightening. The roof of the synagogue was blown away. And the voice of God was heard: "Listen to him. What he says is right." -This is a very ironic story. God approved the condemnation of the people by the atheist when he said that they were fools wasting their time inside the synagogue, instead of helping the wounded on the streets. The people who profess faith in God are wrong when they pray instead of helping the wounded and the dead. Human need takes precedence over prayers.
John Rose in 'John's Sunday Homilies'
One son obeys the other does not
A survey was distributed during a worship service one Sunday morning. Among the
questions was, "Do you think there should be an evening Bible study?" The young pastor was overwhelmed at the response. Over fifty persons indicated that there should be an evening Bible study. The elated pastor began making plans. A day or two later, the wise, experienced lay leader came to visit the pastor. Gently he advised the young man that he had asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, "Do you think there should be an evening Bible study?" the pastor should have asked, "Are you willing to attend a Bible study?" A second questionnaire was issued. This time the question was, "Are you willing to attend Bible study?" The result was quite different from the week before. This time only twelve persons indicated that they would be willing to attend."
Application: Which brother are we?
Gerard Fuller in 'Stories for all seasons'
Two converts. True Conversion
An aged Rabbi who lived an exemplary life and converted many people to his ancestral religion was distraught when his son embraced Christianity. After his death, he appeared sulking and sad before the Almighty. "What is the matter, Rabbi?" asked God, deeply concerned. "It's my son," cried the rabbi, "He abandoned our faith and became a Christian!" God replied in a consoling voice, "Don't worry, friend, I understand you perfectly - my only son did the same thing!" Today, conversions either create conflict or consolation depending on who converts whom to what, and why. We can reflect on today's reading from the prism of conversions: Internal and external.
Francis Gonsalves in 'Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds'
Along with Oedipus Rex and Hamlet, Sigmund Freud considered Dostoevsky's The
Brothers Karamazov one of the three greatest works in world literature. In Freud's interpretation, the three Karamazov brothers symbolize the nature of man. The eldest son Dmitri is a wild wastrel. He represents man dominated by sensuality. The next son Ivan is a teacher, writer and atheist. He symbolizes the intellectual dimension of man. The young son Alyosha was a novice at a monastery. He stands for the spiritual nature of man. The three Karamazov brothers were abandoned by their father Fyodor after their mother died. They reassemble now to do battle with their father and claim what is rightfully theirs. Their conflicts reflect those of everyman, which occur not only in his soul, but also in his relationship to God. Today's gospel parable tells another symbolic brother story. The elder son was told by his father to work in the vineyard, said he'd go, but never went. The younger son was also told to work, refused to go, but later regretted it and went. Jesus interprets the brothers story himself. The younger son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes whose lives have been a "No" to God, but who now repent and enter the kingdom of God. In contrast, the elder son symbolizes the Jewish leaders who professed to be religious, but who did not respond to join the Baptist's call to repentance. In point of fact, both groups have their faults, but at least the group who turn toward God is to be preferred to the group who turn away from him. The ideal for us is to live in such a way that what profess and practice meet and match.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'****
Father James Gilhooley
A man was confined to his bed at home. A priest came to see him. After his visit, he said, "I'll pray for you." The cripple replied, "I can pray for myself. If you want to help me, you can take out the garbage and do the laundry." Christians, we are advised, should be audio-visual aids designed to teach other people how to live. Our lives should suggest we are already living in Heaven. We should be angels for each other. Today's parable was one of three parables Christ spoke in His last days.
They are known in history as the Parables of Rejection. This day's Gospel was the first and shortest of the melancholy three. They are tough parables. Jesus delivered them right from the shoulder. He did not use diplomatic language. Put yourself in His sandals. He had but hours to live. Would you not tell it like it is? Or would you play happy camper? Today's four verse parable has been called the Better of Two Bad Sons. The meaning is clear. Number one son, who said no to his father but who went and did what his father wanted, is a type for sinners. When they run into the Nazarene, they change their lives.*******
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1) "Tell that woman that I want her here in the White House."
Professor John Kenneth Galbraith, the world famous Harvard economist and author of four dozen books and over a thousand articles, also served as economic advisor to four American presidents. In his autobiography, A Life in Our Times, Galbraith illustrates the devotion of Emily Gloria Wilson, his family's housekeeper: “It had been a wearying day, and I asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while I had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. President Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House. "Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson." "He is sleeping, Mr. President. He has instructed me not to disturb him." "Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him." "No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.” When I called the President back, he could scarcely control his pleasure. "Tell that woman that I want her here in the White House." Today’s Gospel reminds us that perfect and graceful obedience to God is more rewarding than reluctant obedience.
2) Blind obedience:
How we admire the obedience a dog shows to its master! Archibald Rutledge, the American story teller wrote that one day he met a man whose dog had just been killed in a forest fire. Heartbroken, the man explained to Rutledge how it happened. Because he worked outdoors, he often took his dog with him. That morning, he left the animal in a clearing and gave him a command to stay and watch his lunch bucket while he went into the forest. His faithful friend understood, for that's exactly what he did. Then a fire started in the woods, and soon the blaze spread to the spot where the dog had been left. But he didn't move. He stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his master's word. Later with tearful eyes, the dog's owner said, "I always had to be careful what I told him to do, because I knew he would do it." This, and more, is the kind of obedience to which Christ has called us. The short parable in today’s Gospel illustrates what true and graceful obedience is.
3) A Non-Catholic Minister
recently quit the ministry after more than 20 years of faithful, dedicated service and became a funeral director. When asked why he had changed vocations, he said: "I spent 10 years trying to straighten out John and he’s still an alcoholic. Then I spent three and one-half years trying to straighten out Harold and Susan’s marriage problems and they ended up getting a divorce. Later I tried for two years to help Bob kick his drug habit and he is still an addict. Now, at the funeral home, when I straighten them out, they stay straight! Perfect obedience!"
4) One night an Admiral on a US Navy Battleship
ordered a certain course. The navigation officer, seeing a light in the distance, reported that the battleship now seemed to be on a collision course with another ship. So, the Admiral ordered his radio officer to send a message to the on-coming ship that it should change its course 10 degrees to the south. The reply came simply, "Change your course 10 degrees to the north.” After two more unsuccessful exchanges, the Admiral, now quite furious, came thundering into the radio control room, grabbed the microphone, and bellowed into it, "Do you know that you are talking to an ADMIRAL in the UNITED STATES NAVY?!" After a brief moment of silence, the even-tempered reply came back, "This is a lighthouse; alter your course 10 degrees to the North.” So, when God's Word asks us to do something and we wonder why, we need to remember Whom we’re talking to! If we want to avoid disaster in this life and the next, we really need to obey His orders!
There is a wonderful story about a group of military leaders who succeeded in building a super computer that was able to solve any problem--large or small, strategic or tactical. These military leaders assembled in front of the new machine for a demonstration. The engineer conducting the demonstration instructed these officers to feed a difficult tactical problem into it. The military leaders proceeded to describe a hypothetical situation to the computer and then asked the pivotal question: attack or retreat? This enormous super computer hummed away for an hour and then printed out its one-word answer . . . YES.
The generals looked at each other, somewhat stupefied. Finally one of them submits a second request to the computer: YES WHAT? Instantly the computer responded: YES, SIR.
The Pharisees, like these generals, were accustomed to people saying "Yes, sir" to them. They were the religious authorities. They were used to being treated as such. But there was a new teacher in town, a teacher who was threatening their authority. The Pharisees were alarmed. They feared Jesus' popularity, his ability to heal and to perform miracles. In their eyes, Jesus was preaching heresy and leading people away from the religious traditions that defined the Jews. The Pharisees wanted to expose him as a fraud.
It was in this context that Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Son, go and work today in the vineyard."
The boy immediately said, "No." Later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to his other son and said the same thing. This one answered, "O.K." but he never got out to the vineyard...
In every elementary school class, in every high school and college course, in every job, in every church, in every denomination, on every floor of every building, there seems to be a resident "know-it-all." You know the type.
As much as we despised and resented those resident know-it-alls, we love the current universal know-it-all. It's name is . . . . . Google. But even in a world where the phrase "Google It!" has become every parent's answer to every question we can't answer, we still have that suspicious feeling that Google is sometimes too eager to show off what technology "knows," and what humans don't. And no one likes a show-off.
Those "in the know" are the most respected, the most powerful, and the most influential. Knowledge offers a way to power and prestige. Portals to knowledge, like Yahoo and YouTube, wield the most authority over us and over our imagination.
Of course, whether we turn knowledge into wisdom is another matter. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is one of the most influential philosophers who ever lived, even though in his lifetime he published only one little book, one essay, and one book review. Wittgenstein said that philosophy is "thinking about what we think how we think, and how we can think." In other words, philosophy doesn't add to our knowledge of God, only to our understanding of the forms of our thoughts about God. Sometimes knowledge can loop back on itself and never leap into wisdom, leaving us imprisoned in the details of knowledge, the data of information.
Then . . . how much knowledge is wasted and goes unused for human betterment? The French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel calls the failure of known facts to inform public opinion "connaissance inutile" or "wasted knowledge." There is a lot of "wasted knowledge" even with all our know-it-alls.
_______________________Needing a Change of Heart
The primary point of this parable is about having a change in heart, not just about saying or doing the right things. The following stories might illustrate this point.
Once there were two couples. Couple A were married in a large, beautiful church ceremony. They pledge life-long faithfulness and love to each other in the moving words of their vows. However, their life together has been one of abuse -- both physical and verbal. They both have been unfaithful to each other.
Couple B live together. They had no public ceremony. They signed no marriage license. They spoke no vows in the presence of witnesses. However, their life together is a loving and affirming relationship. They have remained faithful to each other.
Which couple would you say is doing the will of God?
Both need change of hearts -- couple A in the way they act towards each other and couple B in their attitudes about the importance of the words in a public ceremony.
Another analogy might be with those who attend church and say all the right words, but whose lives fall somewhat short of John's "way of righteousness" and others who live exemplary lives; but who want nothing to do with "organized religion" and the public expression of their faith.
Both need "a change of heart".
Brian P. Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
__________________________________Be Careful Who You Judge
A young minister graduated from seminary just before World War I and he was appointed to a church in a very small town. He had been there only a couple of weeks when he received the call every new minister dreads -- the call to do his first funeral. The person who had died was not a member of his church. She was, in fact, a woman with a very bad reputation. Her husband was a railroad engineer who was away from home much of the time. She had rented rooms in their house to men who worked on the railroad and rumor had it that she rented more than just rooms when her husband was away. The young preacher, faced with his first funeral, found no one who had a good word to say about this woman, until he entered the small old-fashioned grocery store on the day before the funeral. He began to talk to the store owner about his sadness that the first person he would bury would be someone about which nothing good could be said. The store owner didn't reply at first and then, in his silence, he appeared to make a decision. He took out his store ledger and laid it on the counter between him and the preacher. He opened the ledger at random and, covering the names in the left-hand column, he pointed to grocery bills written in red - groceries that people had bought on credit -- and then the column that showed the bill had been paid.
He said, "Every month, that woman would come in and ask me who was behind in their grocery bills. It was usually some family who had sickness or death -- or some poor woman trying to feed her kids when her husband drank up the money. She would pay their bill and she made me swear never to tell. But, I figure now that she is dead, people ought to know -- especially those who benefited from her charity who have been most critical of her."
"Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you."
Roger G. Talbott, Good News for the Hard of Hearing, CSS Publishing CompanyIf the House Is Messy, Clean It Up
My wife had a second-grader who once drew a picture of a fierce rhinoceros with a disturbing and unvarnished admission as a caption: "I'm as angry as a rhino!" Similarly, in her book, Amazing Grace; A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris writes about a little boy who wrote a poem called "The Monster Who Was Sorry." In the poem the boy explodes about how he hated it when his father yelled at him. In anger he threw his sister down the stairs, wrecked his room, then destroyed an entire town. His poem concludes: "Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, 'I shouldn't have done all that.'"
Commenting on the boy's poem, Norris writes, "'My messy house' says it all; with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boy made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his rage and also gave him a way out. If that boy had been a novice in a fourth century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human. If the house is messy, they might have said, why not clean it up, why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell."
Dan Clendenin, The Monster Who Was Sorry___________________________________
A man applied for a job as a handyman. The prospective employer asked, "Can you do carpentry?" The man answered in the negative.
"How about bricklaying?" Again the man answered, "No."
The employer asked, "Well, what about electrical work?" The man said "No, I don't know anything about that either." Finally the employer said, "Well, tell me then what is handy about you." The man replied, "I live just around the corner."
Sometimes the greatest ability we can have is availability. To be where God can call us, to be within whisper range of his summons, that is the beginning of a life of meaningful discipleship.
King Duncan, Time for Action
___________________________It Isn't How the Journey Starts, It Is How It Ends
The great wit, C. S. Lewis, started out a doubter. He saw British Christianity a pale and bloodless business. It did not excite him. In fact, to his reasoned, calculating way of thinking, Christianity made very little sense. It smelled of superstition and made promises about the future he was sure it could not make good on.
But C. S. Lewis came to see that he was missing something. He began to slide into a cynicism about life that frightened him. He wanted something to believe in. Someone who was on the Christian pilgrimage helped him to see that there was room for him in the parade. Not suddenly, but rather quietly, unspectacularly, Lewis came into the Christian camp. We know the rest of the story: He became a great intellectual apologist for Christianity, writing and speaking to confound the critics of the Faith. He was the reverse of Ralph Vaughan Williams, taking on the critics of the Christian faith in Britain in a series of radio broadcasts which became enormously popular among a population growing steadily more indifferent to Christ.
A similar story can be told of Malcolm Muggeridge, a British thinker who in later life came to see that the Christian Faith made far more sense to him than clinging to agnosticism. He, like Lewis, became an apologist for Christianity. He said "yes" to the invitation, after he first had said "no."
It isn't how the journey starts that counts. It's how it ends that matters.
Michael A. Sherer, And God Said Yes!, CSS Publishing Company
______________________________Fathers and Sons
A father once tried to talk to his son about how college was going: The father said, "How are things going?" The son said, "Good." The father said, "And the dormitory?" He said, "Good." The father said, "How are your studies going?" He said, "Good." The father said, "Have you decided on a major yet?" He said, "Yes." "Well, what is it?" asked the father. The son said, "Communication."
So it goes as parents and children try to talk to each other. So it was for the two sons in Jesus' story.
William J. Carl III, Church People Beware!, CSS Publishing Company
_________________________Getting All the Facts
A little boy was standing on the sidewalk in the middle of a city block. He was obviously waiting for something. An older man approached him and asked for what he was waiting.
The little boy confidently told the older man that he was waiting for the bus. The man laughed and said the bus stop was in the next block. The boy acknowledged that fact but insisted the bus would stop for him right here.
The older man became annoyed at what he thought was insolence. He raised his voice and told the little boy that he'd better start walking if he hoped to ride that bus. The boy politely turned down the suggestion and said he would wait for the bus right where he stood.
The man fumed at the little boy and started walking off. But before he was too far away, he heard the screeching of brakes. He turned around and couldn't believe his eyes. The bus was actually stopping for the little boy. The bus door opened and the boy started climb aboard. But just before he did, he turned toward the man down the street and yelled, "My daddy is the bus driver."
Billy D. Strayhorn, Seeing Is Believing
_____________________________Fire on One End, Fool on the Other
I remember in High School a physician who came to talk to us about the dangers of smoking. He scared us with his grim pictures of smokers' lungs and tales of death from lung cancer. The doctor finished his speech by saying, "Remember, fire on one end, fool on the other."
We were all impressed, especially those boys who would sneak out behind the shop building at lunch to light one up. But a couple of the guys saw the doctor himself lighting up when he got back in his car after the lecture. And his credibility was shot. He was the talk of the campus. It would have been better for the no-smoking campaign if he had never come to speak. Saying one thing and doing another is something nobody respects.
Julian Gordy, Didn't You Hear What I Said?
_____________________________Which Coaching Is Better?
Bonnie St. John Deane in her book, Succeeding Sane, tells about the movie, Hoop Dreams, a true story. For four years a documentary film team takes cameras and follows the lives of two talented young basketball players from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. The young man with more natural talent gets a high school scholarship, a posh summer job, and a coach from hell. However, the constant badgering, pressure, and demeaning style of the coach slowly destroys any fun the kid ever felt in the game. Once the desire to play begins to crumble, he begins to sabotage his own success. He becomes more vulnerable to injuries, his grades drop, and he acts up socially with drugs and sex. His cry for help goes unheard.
Meanwhile, the kid with less talent gets less help and less pressure. He is left to struggle in worse schools combating pressure from gangs. He has to want to play or it isn't going to happen...