26 Sunday A: Words or Deeds?

Opening Story:
“A companion of Francis of Assisi, Brother Juniper is remembered as a “fool for Christ” and there are all sorts of wild stories about his antics. He was notorious for constantly giving his possessions away and living with a winsomeness that sometimes got him in trouble. At one point he was ordered by a superior not to give away his outer garment to the beggars anymore. But it wasn’t long before he met someone in need who asked him for some clothing. He said, “My superior has told me under obedience not to give my clothing to anyone. But if you pull it off my back, I certainly will not prevent you.” (Another version: "I can't give, but you can take.")

Francis is said to have joked about how he wished for a forest of Junipers.” “Lord, you did not withhold even your life for our benefit. If nothing is too much to offer you, remind us that nothing is too much to sacrifice for our brothers and sisters. Amen.” Many Pairs: Jesus presents us with many parables of pairs to show how God's mercy works far beyond the rules of justice. a. Pharisee and Publican praying in the temple b. Prodigal son and elder brother c. Simon (Lk 7) and the sinner woman d. Woman caught in adultery (Jn 8) and the Pharisees with stones e. Two thieves hanging on the cross f. Samaritan woman and the disciples g. Priests and the good Samaritan

Chief_prsts_tkng_counsel_2-273An associate pastor, new to the parish, saw the need to start a Bible study group where people could learn to read the word of God and deepen their faith. After service one morning, he presented the idea to the people and received a unanimous and enthusiastic feedback. "It is a wonderful idea," they all said. Then the young associate pastor went and told the pastor that the people were happy with the idea of starting a Bible class. The older and more experienced pastor told the associate to rephrase the question and consult the people again. The following day the young priest asked the same congregation, "Who would like to sign up for the Bible study group? Only four hands went up. Then it dawned on the young man that saying yes to an idea is one thing and doing what is required is another. (Fr. Munachi, cssp)

Gospel text Matthew 21:28-32 

Michel DeVerteuil

General Comments
On this 26th Sunday of Ordinary time we enter the final stage of Jesus’ public ministry. Through our meditations on the Sunday gospel readings we accompany him on the different stages of his ministry. We began the journey with him in January, when he launched his career as an itinerant preacher in Galilee. We were with him on the 22nd Sunday when “he began to make it clear to his disciples” that he must leave Galilee and go to Jerusalem. We stayed with him over the last three Sundays as he continued his teachings on the way there. We will be with him over the next eight Sundays while he ministers in Jerusalem.
The gospel readings of these last Sundays of Ordinary time reflect the tense atmosphere of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem. He has come to the final confrontation between the “chief priests and elders” and himself and all he stands for. It is literally “a mortal combat” (sequence of Easter Sunday) since it will lead to his death, but he himself remains non-violent.
It would be good to let our meditation be influenced by this context. We celebrate similar moments of truth in our lives, or in the lives of great people we have known, important conversion experiences, painful but necessary, of being confronted by Jesus persons or having to confront “chief priests and elders.”
Today’s passage is in two sections:call to conversion
– a parable in verses 28 to 31a;

– Jesus speaking in verses 31b to 32. The parable is short and with few concrete details, so that we must make an effort to read it
imaginatively. If we do this, we will get a feel for the different temperaments of the two sons.
“I will not go!” – the first son comes across as rough, impetuous, rebellious; but like many with that temperament, he simmers down once he “thinks better of it.” From the second son’s “Certainly, sir” we get the picture of one who fawns, speaks with honeyed speech, but is superficial; he does not deliver. We can identify with both – as children or as parents!
Verses 31b and 32 are a call to conversion. We can feel the passion of Jesus, his frustration, and at the same time his deep admiration for those who have listened to the call.

The passage then is a meditation on conversions, – important ones which change lives radically, e.g. giving up a life-long addiction, returning to the practice of faith after many years, accepting to be reconciled with a long-standing enemy;
– lesser ones that mark daily living, e.g. forgiving someone who has hurt us, shaking off discouragement, starting to pray regularly.
We can also celebrate group conversions – of a Church community to a more humble presence in the world; of a nation to reconciliation; of humanity to a sustainable lifestyle.
We are free to focus either on the chief priests and elders, or on Jesus. As always we recognise them from our experience.

Jesus reminds the chief priests and elders that they have been refusing to listen to similar calls over a long period:
– John the Baptist preached and they did not listen;
– the tax collectors and prostitutes believed, they still did not listen;
– Jesus preached, they did not listen;
– the tax collectors and prostitutes listened and were now making their way into the kingdom, they still did not listen. Now they are getting a chance again.
We have all lived through the experience of receiving repeated messages that we should change things in our lives. The messages come from different quarters – a member of our family, a friend, our bodies, the failure of someone close to us. We celebrate the final call when we eventually listen.
The passage reminds us that true conversion does not leave our egos intact. It is always a humbling experience, like the one Jesus calls the chief priests and elders to accept – seeing those we had looked down upon make their way into the kingdom before us. Conversion is always a turning of the tables, “holy ones” exchange places with “sinners.”
We can focus on Jesus, patient, courageous, forthright. We celebrate those who have been like him for us and for the world. The passage calls us to imitate him in carrying out our vocations as parents, teachers, friends, spiritual guides. The Church must imitate him in its relationship with the wider community.

Scripture reflection
Lord, we thank you that in recent years
you have been leading your Church along the road to conversion.
Like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus
looking down on all those who did not keep the law,
we tend to condemn the modern world,
defining it in various negative ways:
– a culture of death
– having lost the sense of sin
– atheistic
– immoral.

But the modern world has taught the church values of Jesus that we had neglected:
– respect for the human rights of all,
– care for the environment,
– the democratic spirit,
– equality between men and women,
– protection for minority religions.
You sent us prophetic figures, great men and women
who were not members of our church,
but were, like John the Baptist, patterns of true righteousness:
– Gandhi with his commitment to non-violence,
– Martin Luther King and his struggle for civil rights,
– Green Peace and other defenders of the environment,
– the World Council of Churches,
– leaders who fought to free their countries from colonialism,
– feminists.

Often the church was slow to believe in them,
and yet many of our contemporaries whom we considered lacking faith, did.
We thank you for Pope John XXIII –
he challenged the church to read the signs of the times,
to recognise that we were saying “Certainly, sir, to you
but were not going to work in your vineyard.
He taught us to think better of it and humbly take our place
alongside those we considered tax collectors and prostitutes
but who were making their way into the kingdom before us.
Lord, send us church leaders like Jesus, who will challenge us again.
 Lord, we thank you for the great conversion moments of life,
when you send us Jesus to point out tax collectors and prostitutes
making their way into the kingdom before us.
He speaks to us under various guises:
– one of our own children
– a fellow worker
– a preacher from another Church.

mlk He shows us how those whom we consider to be spiritually inferior
– unbelievers or atheists,
– the uneducated or illiterate,
– members of the gay community,
– adherents of religions called superstitious and primitive,
are keeping the commandments of Jesus better than we do:
– welcoming strangers into their homes,
– refusing to give in to discouragement,
– forgiving past wrongs.
Our first response is to be indignant and refuse to accept the truth.
Like the first son in Jesus’ parable, we say “I won’t go.”
We thank you for giving us the grace to think better of it
and accept the challenge to work in your vineyard today,

the world where we can no longer hide
behind feelings that we Christians are superior to others,
but must relate with all men and women as equals.

Community activists, pastors, lay church leaders and student organizations caring for our world.
Community activists, pastors, lay church leaders and student organizations caring for our world.
Lord, humanity today has its chief priests and elders
– academics in universities and seminaries,
– consultants of the IMF and the World Bank,
– presidents and prime ministers of the wealthy countries.
We pray that our Church may be the presence of Jesus in our modern world,
calling on them to listen to your prophetic words,
– the ecological crisis
– the angry protests of the poor in every part of the world
– unending civil strife,
challenging them to recognise the little groups of people
who are building a better future for themselves and for us all
– developing local communities,
– living in harmony with nature,
– relying on traditional medicine.
They are looked down upon as naïve idealists;
help us to proclaim to our contemporaries
that they are making their way into the kingdom

before the chief priests and elders.
Lord, we have all gone through our rebellious stage.
When anyone in authority told us to go and work in a vineyard
we always said, “I will not go.”
We thank you for those who walked with us,
– parents or grandparents,
– school teachers,
– our first boss.
They did not get angry or point to others who were saying “Certainly, sir.”
Like Jesus, they waited for us to think better of it afterwards and then go.


Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

We are called by Jesus to follow the way of integrity: to match our deeds and our words; to humbly walk in the path of righteousness; and to seek the Father’s will. Now as we begin this celebration, let us ask pardon for our sins, and be conscious of the goodness of God who forgives us, makes us welcome here, and beckons us towards the kingdom.

Homily Notes
words vs deeds1. The question posed by Jesus touches a fundamental human dilemma: the gap between words and deeds, between intention and decision, between desires expressed in the calm of reflection and the quick fixes of lived life. This is a gap we all know, primarily in others whose deeds often fail to match their high-minded words!
2. This lesson is an important rea1ity check in our practice of discipleship: it is easy to prattle, practice is more problematic. However, the gospel also raises more profound questions for us than simply reminding us to practice what we preach. The gospel poses us a series of interconnected challenges.
3. First. There is the challenge to act with integrity: bring the inward person and the outward person into harmony. This is not simply the moral and the psychological challenge of integrity, but is at the heart of right living and faith. This quest for harmony takes place in the presence of God: we need to have integrity not just in ourselves, but to have integrity in the divine presence before whom we are transparent.
forgive4. Second. We know that integrity is a quest for wholeness: that the various parts of our lives wlll be connected up to one another. Wholeness involves us as individuals, as members of families and communities, and its links keep spreading out.
5. Third. We are called by God to be people of obedient faith, and that means that we are not just dealing with a religion of ideas or warm feelings. Anything declared as believed is tested in so far as it informs our commitment to the creation.
6. Fourth. The obedient son first rebelled and then recognised the path that he should follow. Being disciples involves taking this second look at our actions. We all like to declare our independence and to state boldly that ‘We will not serve!’ It is part of our human nature to be aware of our independence and freedom. Yet, we as disciples have to balance this with our appreciation of the limitations of our knowledge and of the Wisdom that created us. Integrating awareness of our freedom with our acknowledgment of the Christ as our teacher is an essential part of completeness and wholeness. It is part of the wisdom and integrity of holiness.
disciples bicker7. Fifth and finally. There is a challenge to each of us to acknowledge the generosity of God. We all tend to think of ourselves as models of humanity, and as Christians we even tend to think of ourselves as model disciples. But here lies a great illusion! Those whom Jesus met that were self-satisfied, he challenged with questions. Those whom the self-satisfied automatically excluded, the tax collectors and prostitutes, he sat and ate with that they might come to know the goodness and forgiveness of God.

John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

I know a man who thinks that he fools people easily, especially his supervisor at work. Whenever he is asked to do a task, he says ‘Yes’ immediately but quickly ignores the request. He tries to be popular by creating the impression that he is obliging and dedicated. In reality, however, he has no commitment to work.
His colleagues sometimes disagree with the supervisor, but at least they are honest. While this man initially impressed the supervisor and his colleagues because of his apparent willingness to do what he was asked to do, his credibility diminished when they realised that he was not a man of his word. We all know people who are like that. We may be like that ourselves!
Our word matters greatly in our relationships, whether in our family or at work or among our friends or with God. When we do not have our word, then we have nothing because we cannot be trusted with even the smallest responsibility. We become unreliable, like the second son in the gospel parable about the father asking his two sons to work in his vineyard. The father depended on him. But he assumed that he could easily fool his father. His word was meaningless and he lacked sincerity.
Dependability is a desirable character trait for all genuine Christians. Otherwise, people are wasting their time with us. God depends on each one of us to help him achieve his plan for the salvation of all people, just as the father in the gospel parable depended on his two sons.

The parable teaches us that it was the first son, who initially said ‘No’ but then thought better of it, who actually did what the father requested. That son had undergone conversion. He had the honesty and the humility to realise his mistake and to change his decision. He became reliable.
Perhaps too often we are like the second son who initially said ‘Yes’ to his father’s request, and then quickly ignored the request. We easily say ‘Yes’ to God without meaning what we say. Then our word becomes meaningless. The parable of the father and the two sons challenges us to do God’s will in action and not only to concur with it verbally. This requires that, like the first son, we are continually open to the possibility of conversion in our lives and that we are honest and humble enough to change our decisions when we recognise that they are wrong decisions, especially in matters relating to our salvation and the salvation of others.
Are we people of our word? How do we speak to our loved ones, to our friends, to our colleagues at work, to God? In what ways does our sincerity manifest itself? It would be good to be people of our word. Let us decide to be honest and humble enough to undergo conversion every day and to change our wrong decisions.

For meditation
Tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God. (Mt 21:31)
Fr Donal Neary, S.J
Grumpy brother and honest brother
Two brothers: the second was grumpy, honest and generous; the first was kindly, confused and selfish. We know often people who do what they say, who do something in the end, or who don’t do what they say. The first man knew his mind and then did what was right. Is it the message of this humorous and honest story that sincerity and integrity are important? A certain spirituality ignores ourselves – it’s all about doing. Grit your teeth and get down to it. Roll up your sleeves and work… but ‘nobody asked us how we were’. But we find God both in the discernment and in the doing. In the end we must know how we feel about some­thing and then put that in the hands of God and in prayer and do what seems right. The Lord wants the follow through! We need to take time to decide well – the first son did not do that. Then we need to follow and do what is right.

We need sound heads, compassionate hearts and willing hands. The vineyard is where we live all the time. The call is to live in truth, love and justice. We need to believe in the possi­bilities of a better world, and to become people who can decide on what is right in the sight of God and do it. We will often re­sist. We want to do what is right and do the opposite. He under­stands our mixed motivation. In all of that we need the Christian vision and a desire to do the world a world of good.

Recall a time you felt resentful about doing what you ought to do.How did you feel after doing it?Lord, may everything 1 do begin with you
and be happily ended in love. Amen.

From The Connections:

Today’s parable of the two sons is a devastating condemnation of the Jewish religious leaders whose faith is confined to words and rituals.  Jesus states unequivocally that those the self-righteous consider to be the very antithesis of religious will be welcomed by God into his presence before the “professional” religious.
Prostitutes and tax collectors were the most despised outcasts in Judaism.  In light of the First Testament tradition of God’s relationship with Israel as a “marriage” and Israel’s disloyalty as “harlotry,” prostitution was considered an especially heinous sin.  Tax collectors were, in the eyes of Palestinian Jews, the very personification of corruption and theft.  According to the Roman system of tax collection, publicans (tax collectors) would pay the state a fixed sum based on the theoretical amount of taxes due from a given region.  The publican, in return, had the right to collect the taxes in that region – and they were not above using terrorism and extortion to collect.  Tax collectors, as agents of the state, were also shunned as collaborators with Israel's Roman captors.
Jesus’ declaration that those guilty of the most abhorrent of sins would enter God’s kingdom before them deepened the Jewish establishment's animosity toward Jesus. 

Jesus’ simple story of the two sons takes the Gospel out of the realm of the “theoretical” and places the mercy of God into the midst of our messy, complicated everyday lives.  Compassion, forgiveness and mercy are only words until our actions give full expression to those values in our relationships with others; our calling ourselves Christians and disciples of Jesus means nothing until our lives express that identity in the values will uphold and the beliefs we live. 
The words of the Gospel must be lived; Jesus’ teachings on justice, reconciliation and love must be the light that guides us, the path we walk, the prayer we work to make a reality.  Discipleship begins within our hearts, where we realize Christ’s presence in our lives and in the lives of others and then honoring that presence in meaningful acts of compassion and charity.  
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shatters labels and stereotypes in order to uphold the sacred dignity of all men and women in the eyes of God.  Christ calls us to move beyond our own contemporary version of the designations of  “tax collector” and “prostitute” to recognize, instead, the holiness that resides within the soul of every person, who is, like us, a child of God.  

Eden and Olivia
At first, Mom was repelled by the very idea.  Her teenage daughter wanted to get a pet rat?  Living in Brooklyn, the only rats she knew were those horrible little creatures scurrying across the subway tracks.  And their bad rap as carriers of disease didn’t help.
“No, Mom,” Olivia said, frustrated by her resistance.  “It wouldn’t be like that!  This would be a lab rat.  You’ll see.  They’re so sweet and really smart.”
Mom finally relented.  The next day, Olivia brought home Eden.  Eden was small and white, with a pink, hairless tail and ruby eyes, a rescue from the snake food cage at PetSmart.  At first Mom kept her distance as Olivia would feed her from own plate; the sight of Eden’s ropy tail curled around Olivia’s neck unnerved Mom — but Mom soon found Eden pretty adorable, as the little rodent held a noodle in her oddly human paws, gobbled it up and washed her face afterward.
But Eden proved to be more than adorable.  High school was not a happy place for Olivia, whose quiet personality didn’t fit into any of the Girlworld cliques.  Eden’s unconditional love proved to be a “soothing balm at home after a long day (there was just one infamous day when Olivia sneaked Eden into school, with consequences).  Olivia seemed to relish having a companion who was a misunderstood outsider, like herself.”
Mom soon came to appreciate the little, uh, rat:  “Even though she chewed holes in a few bath towels, and littered the table with nibbled bits of the morning’s scrambled egg, I couldn’t deny the beautiful way Eden softened the hard edges of school’s social craziness and academic pressure.  When I was a teenager I smoked cigarettes, got stoned and drank more than I could tolerate to alleviate my own social anxiety.  My daughter now had a rat to calm hers.  I only wish Eden had come into our family a few years earlier.”
Olivia is now in college — and Eden has made the trip with her.  “When I take care of Eden, it’s like taking care of myself,” Olivia says.
Enough said on the value of a little friend whose simple but essential needs keep Olivia mindful of her own best interests.
[From “My Daughter, Her Rat” by Julie Metz, The New York Times, August 24, 2014.]
Stones rejected:  A little white rat helps a teenager make her way through the storms of high school and adolescence to the promise of college and adulthood.  Like the tenants in today’s parable, we reject whatever scares us or threatens us, whatever we don’t understand, whatever challenges us and the safe little worlds we have built for ourselves.  But God’s Christ comes with a new, transforming vision for our “vineyard”: a vision of love rather than selfishness, of hope rather than cynicism, of peace rather than hostility, of forgiveness rather than vengeance.  May we have the courage and wisdom to look beyond the “stones” of our fears and welcome Christ (in whatever guise he may appear) into this vineyard of ours, aware that he calls us to the demanding conversion of the Gospel, but determined to sow and reap the blessings of God’s reign.   

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

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 Company
If 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...