Our Stubborn Selves and our Patient Father by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today,' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
One of the first things to come to mind when reflecting on this week's Gospel reading is the book entitled, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." I have not read it, so I am not sure what it says. Still, it seems the parable from Matthew's Gospel could just as easily be called, "The Two Types of People You Meet in Heaven."
When I say two types, I do not mean the tax collectors and prostitutes specifically mentioned by Jesus as entering the kingdom of God before the chief priests and elders. Rather, the first type consists of those who bear a strong resemblance to the first son depicted in the parable. Initially, he does not do what his father asks, but then he changes his mind.
There are souls who initially reject God's will, but later repent and return to the Father. A good example of this type might be Blessed Bartolo Longo. He was raised by devout parents, but later drifted from the Faith and delved into Satanism. He eventually returned to the Faith of his childhood and became an ardent promoter of the rosary.
The second type of person we can meet in heaven is not specifically mentioned by Our Lord, but his presence is certainly implied. We have a son who says "no" to the father, but changes mind. We have another son who says "yes," but then never follows through. The ideal situation would be to have a son who says "yes" and then does what is asked. This is the type of person who hears the Word of God, keeps it and does the will of God. There are notable examples of this in Mother Teresa and the Blessed Mother, who quickly united her will to that of God's: "Be it done to me according to your word."
The common trait between the two types is a willingness to obey the will of God. In the first case, the obedience may be more reluctant, but it is there and not likely to be refused. In the second case, the person is ready and eager to do what he is asked. The bottom line is that both types display obedience, and that is what Our Lord is getting at.
If we wish to enter the kingdom of God, we must be ready to obey the king. How can I claim to belong to Him, how can I claim to be His servant, if I am not willing to do what He asks? It is His kingdom, His laws apply there. Do I trust in His love and goodness enough to say "yes" to Him? Obedience is something of a dirty word in a culture that urges us to question authority, yet it is a key to entering the kingdom of God. Christ Himself taught us that lesson not only in what He said, but in the way He lived His life and died.
Luke tells us in his Gospel that the child Jesus made Himself obedient to Joseph and Mary. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that He did not come to do His own will, but the will of the one who sent Him. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus "humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death" on the cross. He goes on to say that God exalted the one who so humbled himself, giving a name above every other name. Time and time again, the word "obedience" is connected with Christ.
If we wish to be called sons and daughters of God, then that same spirit of obedience that was in Christ must be found in us as well. I have the feeling many of us will be able to identify more readily with the son who said "no" then "yes." Stubborn is a word that comes up pretty often in descriptions of ourselves and others. Thankfully we have a Father who waits patiently for us.
Still, how good it would be if we would just say "yes" to begin with. How much delight we would bring to the Father who loves us if we loved Him enough to say "yes" to His will.
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