Today’s passage is the first of three parables that Jesus directs to the religious leaders of his day. They have confronted him, but he turns the confrontation around by proposing a short parable about two exchanges between a father and his two sons. "Which of the two did his father’s will?" There are allegorical elements in this parable: the older son is like the leaders of the established religious tradition; the younger represents the outsiders and latecomers Jesus was fond of "latecomers" - as he noted in last week's parable of the workers in the vineyard - those who have lived apart, but now accept God's invitation through Jesus. Their initial "no" had now become a unqualified "yes".
The response of the chief priests and elders to Jesus' parable betrays them.
Jesus' style is unique. Rather than accuse his opponents of faithlessness or lack of sincerity, he proposes a parable and asks them to answer a question about doing God's will. Their response pronounces judgment on themselves. We, who also have this parable spoken to us, are invited to examine our own response to God. How faithful have we been to the invitation to follow Jesus and live his way of life? Of course we have been baptized; of course we have, in the past, done service to God in our family and at work. But now, how flexible is our spirit? How willing are we to say a "yes" and continue to follow through on our commitment to the message of the Gospel? Each day presents us with new opportunities to serve God and new challenges to our initial "yes."
This must be a daily affirmation... a daily "yes." We still have to be honest and faithful to commitments we have made. A simple reflection of our own lives will indicate the times we have said "yes" and have had others place trust in these commitments. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes. His message fleshes out what it means to be a beatitude people, a people blessed by God, who have answered Jesus’ invitation to become peacemakers, reconcilers; to be gentle spirited, and prophetic witnesses of God's love.
Jesus reminds the chief priests and elders of John the Baptist, who spoke of the nearness of God’s reign and called for a change of behavior. Those who listened to John were to gaccept God's call by yielding good fruit. John told the Pharisees and Sadducees that, no one, no matter how fixed they are in their ways, no matter what their past sins have been, is outside the realm of God's grace. Even the tax collectors and prostitutes can change their minds and their hearts.
We, too, have been called to a change of heart. How many attempts to change have we made and how many times have we been less than successful? It doesn't really matter to Jesus. With this parable that speaks God's Word to us, comes the flame of Jesus' Spirit to quicken our resolve to try again to change what needs changing. We can have hope that, in some small or even large way, change is possible because we have heard God's Word and experienced the living Christ through it.
St. Paul describes Jesus as always being responsive in both word and action to God. He was the one whose promise was never taken back, even when he faced his impending death. And he reminds us today that we are to "have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus."
There are times when we all can feel like outsiders or "latecomers." But God works on His own time schedule, one that doesn't necessarily put in first place those who have been around the longest. Every day, we are being offered an invitation to accept forgiveness and a challenge to forgive. Every day we experience the healing and comfort of a loving Father and we are expected to act in like fashion. Every day we are invited to the banquet and sent forth to share the bounty.
And, as in today parable, our Father waits both for our answer and our deeds.
[Image: The Two Sons by Eugène Burnand]