Thursday, September 18, 2014

Homily - 28th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

28th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10a         Second Reading: Philippians 4:12-16,19-20        Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:1-14


Once upon a time a family had lived on a street for a long time and had no neighbors because the other lots were vacant. Then many of the lots were sold and new homes were constructed. The original family was delighted. At last they had neighbors, young people with children like themselves. They went to each of the new people and invited them to come to a special welcome party organized in their honor. The local priest would be there, some old timers on other streets in the neighborhood, some doctors and dentists and lawyers, the precinct captain, a famous actor who lived on the next street, and samples of food from all the stores in the area. It was a wonderful chance for everyone in the new block to get to know the rest of the community. The newcomers thought it was a wonderful idea. They could hardly wait for the party. But it so happened that on the day of the party no one came. The wife who had brought round the invitations made some calls - “An interior decorator is coming, can’t be at the party; my in-laws are visiting, can’t attend the party; soccer game in our old neighborhood, can’t come; and ...” So, the old timers ate all the food and drank all the beer and had a wonderful time.
This story is very similar to today's gospel parable that Jesus tells about the wedding feast hosted by God. The invited guests do not show up, so other guests are gathered from the streets and invited to share the table and the joy. What about us? Do we accept God's invitation and share in His joy, or do we also ignore His invitation and disappoint Him with our excuses?

Today is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The common theme of today's Scripture Readings is the abundant providence of God and His universal salvation, exemplified in a 'luscious feast.' God loves all and wants all to be saved and to attain eternal happiness. In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah speaks of the abundant providence of the Lord of hosts for all peoples. Here, we have a very clear graphic description of the 'great banquet' that the Lord will prepare on the mountain for all peoples. There will be rich food and fine wines. There will be neither mourning nor death. There will be exultation and rejoicing, because the Lord 'has saved us.' Isaiah’s image of salvation is the fulfillment of our deepest longings, viz. the absence of hunger, mourning, death and shame. The Gospel Reading from St. Matthew contains a parable which likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a 'wedding feast' to which all are graciously invited. Some have rejected the invitation; others have accepted. But admission to the feast is not enough. It is necessary to don the wedding garment. Participation in the feast requires living lives worthy of the Kingdom. In the Second Reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, the following words of St. Paul can be linked to the imagery of banquet and feasting, “In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” Indeed, his deep participation at the Lord’s Table has prepared him to relish abundance and feasting as well as to endure hunger and various difficulties in times of scarcity. Again, in the familiar Responsorial Psalm of today, we sing, “The Lord prepares a banquet for us in the sight of our foes.” This song of thanksgiving to the Lord is a prelude to the Eucharist we celebrate this Sunday.

Today's First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is a poetic description of the 'heavenly feast' that God offers to all people. It is has served for countless generations as a classic expression of the eschatological banquet motif, a set of images used time and again to evoke the sum of all blessings that God’s people will experience on the last day, the day of vindication from the Lord. It is just such a hope-filled passage that speaks of the abundant providence of God and universal salvation for all peoples. The setting for the banquet is the mountain, a place that always carries in Jewish literature symbolic connotations of encounter with the Divine. The feast is lavish, and the blessings of the table are incredibly wonderful. There will be rich food and fine wines. There will be neither mourning nor death. There will be exultation and rejoicing, for the Lord 'has saved us.' This is all placed in the future. Isaiah’s image of salvation is the fulfillment of our deepest longings, viz. the absence of hunger, mourning, death and shame. This passage is among the earliest of Old Testament texts which hints at or even asserts that there is a consoling after-life, after earthly death. This text is a frequently chosen Old Testament text at Catholic funeral liturgies. With all human failings removed, there will be no more tears caused by the suffering and death.

In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew, we have yet another Kingdom parable, 'the Parable of the Wedding Feast.' It is third and last in the series of three consecutive parables, called 'the Parables of Rejection.' It is, as the others were, also addressed to the 'chief priests and elders of the people.' This parable of the wedding banquet like the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants has an allegorical emphasis. This parable stresses on the story of the salvation history from the initial sending of the prophets to Israel through the renewed invitation of the followers of Jesus. It concludes with the Last Judgment when the good and bad from among the community are sorted out.
a) “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, ... come to the feast.”
In the parable, Jesus tells that the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a king who threw a party in honor of his son's wedding. When all the preparations for the royal wedding banquet have been made, the king sends his servants to inform those specially invited to come. Obviously, the king expects a full house. But those invited refuse to come. So, he again sends his servants this time to plead that they come since everything is ready. But they had other priorities and disregarded the king's invitation. Worse still, they maltreated and killed the servants who brought the invitation. The king of course punished them for this insult by killing them and burning their cities.
This is a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven and about the people who will eventually belong to it. It is seen here under the aspect of a marriage feast for a king's son. The king is the figure of God. The wedding feast is the Jewish image of the life to come. The son is Jesus Christ. The bride is the invisible Kingdom of Heaven on earth, i.e. the Church. Those invited in the first and second time are the people of Israel. The king sends out his servants, referring to the long line of prophets sent to the people of Israel calling them to love and service. The king's second invitation underlies God's patience with His chosen people - He still hopes for a change of heart in them. But for one reason or another, they still refuse to come. All this is tantamount to rebellion; to disloyalty and we are told that the king dispatches troops to destroy those murderers and their city.
b) “Go out, therefore, … and invite to the feast whomever you find.”
With the repeated refusal of those originally invited, the servants are now sent out to the 'highways and by-ways' to invite 'whomever you find.' There is an urgency to respond to the king's call and no exceptions are made this time. All are invited, good and bad alike, until the wedding hall is filled.
This means that God will not be denied His banquet. Since the people of Israel rejected God's offer, the Kingdom was extended to the gentiles. This is God's universal invitation to salvation. No one is excluded, however bad that person may be. We are all invited to God's gift of salvation.
c) “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?”
A sequel to this parable is another parable, 'the Parable of the Wedding Garment,' about one of the guests who came without the appropriate wedding garment. This too was an affront to the king and he was thrown out of the wedding hall.
Strange! It seems a gross contradiction. It seems so unjust. Having gone out to the highways and byways to bring in all and sundry without exception, how can one justify tossing out someone because he does not have a 'wedding garment?' Yet, some reflection will reveal that it is really part of the same teaching. The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus. Other people, Jewish outcasts and pagans, were invited to take their place at the banquet. However, it is not enough just to be present at the banquet. One is expected to behave as a wedding guest. This shows that we need to acquire the appropriate garments for the feasts, the garments of virtue. The symbolism is apt. There is a kind of beauty that virtues renders to a person and we must constantly strive for it.
d) “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
The parable ends on a slightly pessimistic note - “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The parable shows us three possible kinds of guests. There are the absentee guests who initially accepted the invitation, but when the time came to honor the invitation they drew back. There are the guests without wedding garments who attend the feast but do not take the trouble to prepare adequately for it, as the occasion deserves. And then there are the guests with wedding garments who make the necessary preparation to present themselves fit for the banquet of the King. It is a sad fact that although everyone is being called to experience the love of God in their lives, relatively few will take the plunge and really try to taste that experience.

In the Second Reading of today we hear for the final time from the imprisoned St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians, where he speaks of God's abundant providence. He expresses his deep gratitude to them for the kindnesses they have shown him. He places their kindness in the larger context of his life which included everything from great blessings to great burdens. While St. Paul strongly desired to be self-sufficient as a missionary and support himself through his own work, he humbly accepted gifts as he engaged in his missionary work. He had learned to be content with whatever he had. He had learned the secret of being well fed, referring to spiritual food. He found strength in the Lord Jesus. While St. Paul had to endure sufferings for a while, he was convinced of God’s grace that comes with such suffering. He endured all obstacles for the sake of spreading of the Gospel. The reading concludes with St. Paul’s statement of faith that God will also provide for the people of his dearly beloved community at Philippi in the midst of life’s highs and lows, in good times and bad. He then offers a doxology of praise to God for his generous riches in Christ Jesus – an example to the Philippians and us of how we are to be thankful for all that we receive to strengthen us in faith and life.

The Lord prepares a banquet for us in the sight of our foes,” and He invites us all out of a free act of kindness. The invitation is to all, the party is free for all, yet anyone who decides to attend has a responsibility to present himself or herself fit for the king's company. The Kingdom of Heaven is freely offered to us. Those of us on the way to the kingdom must spare no effort in acquiring the moral and spiritual character that is consonant with life in the Kingdom. What is our response going to be then? How can we receive and accept it? Have we ever thought that other things were more important, or that we were too busy to accept God's invitation to His table? To what extent, even right now, are we closed to calls from God because we are so tied up in all kinds of concerns and anxieties about things which do not really matter or about things which cannot guarantee us any real fulfillment and happiness? The Gospel parable of today is a challenge to accept God’s invitation. Moreover, we need to have a proper wedding garment if we are to enter the wedding banquet of the Lord. It is the characteristic mark of the wedding guest and without it there is no entry. Symbolically, it is the garment of virtue that the faithful must clothe themselves with. But the choice is ours. And this is the Good News of today.


Homily - 27th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

27th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7            Second Reading: Philippians 4:6-9            Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:33-43


George Campbell Morgan, a renowned English preacher and a Bible scholar, was one of 150 young men who sought entrance to the Wesleyan ministry in 1888. He easily passed the doctrinal examinations, but then had to face the trial sermon. In a cavernous auditorium that could seat more than 1,000 sat three ministers and 75 others who came to listen. When Morgan stepped into the pulpit, the vast room and the searching, critical eyes caught him up short. Two weeks later Morgan's name appeared among the l05 REJECTED for the ministry that year. He wired to his father the one word, 'Rejected,' and sat down to write in his diary: 'Very dark everything seems. Still, He knoweth best.' Quickly came the reply from his dad: 'Rejected on earth. Accepted in heaven.' In later years, Morgan said: “God said to me, in the weeks of loneliness and darkness that followed, 'I want you to cease making plans for yourself, and let Me plan your life.'
Rejection is rarely permanent, as Morgan went on to prove. Even in this life, circumstances change, and ultimately, there is no rejection of those accepted by Christ.

Today is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Now, there are striking similarities between the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. They both focus on the same subject, viz. 'the Lord's Vineyard and the Vine' in different ways and underline the necessity of bearing 'good fruit.' Failure to produce good fruits ultimately leads to 'rejection.' In the First Reading, we hear about 'the Song of the Vineyard.' In the song Isaiah describes God as the owner of a beautiful vineyard that has been carefully tended. The owner does everything possible to produce a healthy crop of grapes. But he winds up with sour wild grapes. The prophet warns the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah that they, the vine, will be abandoned (rejected) by God because of their injustice and non-observance of the Law. In the Gospel Reading we hear about 'the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.' Here too, the vineyard stands for God's people but the criticism is directed at the tenants rather than the vineyard itself. It is not difficult to see that the owner of the vineyard is God. The tenants are of course those who exercise moral authority viz. the chief priests and the elders of the people. The owner first sends his servants, then finally his son to collect the harvest. Instead, the tenants seize, beat, stone and even kill them all. The obvious meaning of the parable is completed by the rejection of the tenants and the giving of the vineyard to those who are prepared to work in the vineyard to produce good fruit. The chief priests and the elders, those to whom the parable is told, fully understand that the parable is attacking them. The Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is joyful in tone. It seems that the Christians of Philippi have produced fruits that correspond to the Gospel. St. Paul exhorts them to keep striving for all that is good and holy. In this way they need have no anxieties and the God of peace will be with them.

The Prophet Isaiah, was a royal adviser in the southern Kingdom of Judah. During his ministry (740-701 BC) the northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered and dominated by the Assyrian Empire. While the northern kingdom fell, the southern kingdom, too, was in serious political, religious, and social decline. The fundamental issue is that both leaders and population were in denial of reality, injustices prevailed among them and they were unfaithful to the covenant with God. They embraced political and religious ideology, rather than the good sense of truthfulness and integrity. It is in this background that we hear about 'the Song of the Vineyard,' in the First Reading of today. The unit is a skillfully developed parable, reminiscent of popular Hebrew love poetry, but with a savage ending that forces the hearer to conclude that the nation is deserving of divine wrath. In the song Isaiah describes God as the owner of a beautiful vineyard that has been carefully laid out and cared for. The owner does everything possible to make his vineyard fertile and productive, but at the end he gets only sour wild grapes. The prophet warns the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah that they, the vine, will be abandoned (rejected) by God because of their injustice and non-observance of the Law. It is a parable of tragedy and the metaphor is announcing divine displeasure of the most serious sort. Isaiah is insinuating that the conquering army of the Assyrian Empire was God’s tool of punishment for the Jewish failure at fidelity to the covenant with God. Isaiah maintains the connection between the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, so that this tragic exhortation is relevant to and aimed at the southern kingdom of Judah, as well as to Israel.

In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew, we hear about 'the Parable of the Wicked Tenants,' which also appears with some variations in other Synoptic Gospels that of St. Mark and St. Luke, and which is the third of the three consecutive parables about vineyards presented to us in the context of the Kingdom of God. St. Matthew inserts today’s story of the vineyard as second in another series of three consecutive parables called 'the Parables of Rejection' that details Jesus' controversy with the chief priests and the elders of the people. All these three parables are primarily addressed to the Jewish authorities and are meant to express their deep hypocrisy and their ultimate refusal and rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and the message of his Gospel. As it appears in Matthew's version, the story has become more of an allegory than a true parable. A parable normally presents one lesson and the details are not relevant; while, in an allegory, each detail of the story has a symbolic meaning. However, the Evangelist's point here is a stern warning to his own community, the present tenants of the vineyard, not to fail in their responsibility to 'yield a rich harvest.' Also, the reminder that divine justice and judgment will ultimately prevail is a message for every generation of believers.
Let's firstly set the Gospel parable within the context of its time. In those days, the landlords commonly lived far away from their land-holdings. It was not unusual for a rich man to plant such a vineyard and then leave it in the care of tenants for a fee or a percentage of the produce, while he pursued his business affairs. The trouble with this arrangement arose because the relationship between the landlords and their tenants often bordered on ruthless extortion. One can imagine how, with the passage of time, the landowner's rights might be disputed. The tenants might well come to see the vineyard as theirs and the landowner would be forced to reassert his rights. Given such a lop-sided deal, it was understandable that the tenants behaved the way they did - killed the landowner’s agents and finally the heir to the estate.
Now, the same theme as in the First Reading is taken up in the Gospel Reading. Like God in the Prophet Isaiah's 'the Song of the Vineyard,' St. Matthew's landowner did the same to his vineyard. But instead of tending it himself, he leased it to some tenants and went on a journey. When harvest time came, he sent his servants to collect his due. But the tenants seized, beat and killed them. He sent more servants but they suffered the same fate. Finally, he sent his only son. When they saw him, they said to each other, "This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance." And they did. Moreover, unlike in the First Reading, in the Gospel Reading the charge is leveled not against the failed produce, but the tenants, those temporarily in charge of the vineyard who failed to recognize the owner and his son. The chief priests and the elders, those to whom the parable is addressed, have no difficulty in recognizing the outrageous wickedness of the tenants towards the vineyard’s owner.
The interpretation of the parable may be done on two levels: First, and more obvious is that God is the landowner who planted the vineyard. He chose the people of Israel and made them tenants in His vineyard. But they disappointed their God. Throughout their history as God’s chosen people they have consistently produced the sour grapes of infidelity to their God and frequently killed the prophets sent to them to call them back to their allegiance. Now they have added to this list the refusal to hear the Word of God brought to them by Jesus. By hanging Jesus on the cross, by killing the Son, they think they have put paid to this inconvenient householder, this landlord, to God himself. Second, this obvious meaning of the parable is completed (concluded) by the giving of the vineyard to others who hear the Word and are prepared to work in the vineyard to produce good fruit. Jesus makes it clear that this is not an end to the matter. The message of the Gospel is for all times and applicable in every age. Hence, the less obvious message in this parable is - “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”

In the Second Reading of today from his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul encourages the Christian community at Philippi to respond to God's loving initiative by letting their faith in Christ bear abundant fruit in daily life. He advices them to strive towards whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and gracious. In a sense, this is the kind of 'fruitfulness' that Saint Paul wanted the Christian community to grow into. By instilling in them the necessity of prayer and the importance of virtues, he wants them to relish the peace of God, a fruit of the Spirit and a gift that surpasses human understanding. So, he tells them not to worry or be anxious about anything, but to always pray with gratitude and put all their worries and anxieties into the hands of God with confidence and conviction; then the God of peace will be with them. Prayer implies, in addition to gratitude, a perfect submission to the will of God. God is greater than all our troubles and can give us his peace, which is beyond anything we can come up with on our own. Still in view of letting the faithful experience the God of peace, St. Paul thus exhorts the community of believers to put into practice what they have learned and received, the words they have heard from him and the actions they have seen in him.

Today, we are God’s chosen people. We are the tenants in the vineyard. Now, God calls us to produce the fruits of the Kingdom of God that will endure. How do we see this call? Do we find ourselves specially privileged, by baptism, to be called to work in the Lord’s vineyard? How well, have we received the message of the Lord, when time and again we are invited to gather together to hear the Gospel and to make it part of our lives? Also, it is just as easy for us in these times to fail to recognize the voice of God in the messengers He sends us, just as the Jewish authorities of Jesus' time failed to recognize the Word of God in him. Over the centuries many prophets in our Christian communities have been rejected, abused and even killed. And all these martyrs have one thing in common - they were killed not by pagans but by fellow-Christians, the tenants in the Lord's vineyard. We can hardly feel superior to the people Jesus is criticizing in today's Gospel.
Again, God is outrageously generous and gracious indeed. But aside from his generosity, another quality of God is revealed in the Gospel parable of today. God values faithful stewardship. Since stewardship is an exercise in responsibility, it follows that God puts premium on our sense of responsibility. We are responsible for our life and for everything else that the Father has entrusted to us in this life. To be responsible is to be accountable to somebody. The tenants in the Gospel did not want to make accounts with the land owner. They refused to be accountable. They had pretensions at ownership. They wanted to enjoy the bounty of the land without accountability and privileges without obligations.
Finally, today we are reminded again of what the Scripture says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The prophets and saints may go unheeded and God’s beloved Son may be rejected, but God has not lost control. Tenants may go on failing, but God does not depend on them. In the face of rejection and sin, he is free to provide other tenants who will produce good fruit. There is surely here an implicit warning for the new leaders of God's people. Leadership must be about service and about nurturing God's people. Christian history has seen its share of failures in moral leadership but it also has no shortage of courageous saints. Today therefore, let us all take a few moments to review our status before God, asking ourselves if we will inherit the Kingdom of God. May the grace of God be with each and every one of us as we assess our spiritual status in the eyes of God. And this is the Good News of today.


Homily - 26th Ordinary Sunday Year A)

26th Ordinary Sunday (Year A)

First Reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28            Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-11         Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:28-32


In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery. “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king?” “I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”
“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.”
When King Henry died, a statement was written, “The King learned to rule by being obedient.”
Christ was obedient to the will of his Father unto death, even death on the cross. As his disciples, we too are called to be obedient to the will of God. Christ expects us to be faithful to him where he puts us, and when he returns, we’ll rule together with him.

Today is the 26th Ordinary Sunday and we further continue to reflect upon the meaning of Christian discipleship in the context of the Kingdom of God. The dominant theme of today's Scripture Readings is to lead a virtuous life by being obedient to the will of God. In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel exhorts the people of Israel to renounce their wicked and evil ways and to embrace the life-giving grace of God. Conversion is a vital option and a personal challenge. There is only one way to life - by living a virtuous life here and now. God does not want the death of a sinner, but that he may live. The Gospel Reading from St. Matthew reiterates the necessity of making a fundamental option for the Kingdom of Heaven revealed in Christ Jesus. Today, we hear another Kingdom parable - 'the Parable of the Two Sons.' Here our struggle with obedience is exemplified by the two sons mentioned in the parable - first son who first says 'no' but changes his mind later and does the will of his father, and second son whose 'yes' remains only in word and unrealized in deed. The ideal way is both to promise and to do - and that with graciousness. In the Second Reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, we have the magnificent Christological hymn about Jesus' own spirit of service and selflessness. It describes the Incarnation, the act of Divine Condescension, as an act of obedience. Christ who willingly surrendered his divinity to assume the condition of a slave is held up as the supreme model of obedience.

The Prophet Ezekiel lived in the harshest of times around 600 BC, when the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen under the subjugation of the Babylonian Empire and the people were carried away into exile. But the people of Israel held responsible their ancestors' sins for this evil fate; also, they blamed God's unfairness in abandoning them to the Babylonians. In the First Reading the Prophet Ezekiel tells the exiled people that each individual is held accountable for his own actions. One is not doomed and helpless before an evil fate of another person's doing. He exhorts them to renounce their wicked and evil ways and to embrace the life-giving grace of God. He says that those who turn away from their wickedness by doing what is right and just, they will be saved. At the same time, those who consider themselves previously saved and have turned away from their righteousness to commit sins will die for it. This is a very powerful message. Conversion is a vital option and a personal challenge. There is only one way to life - by living a virtuous life here and now. The prophet was convinced that restoration of the nation depended on a remnant remaining faithful, and so he preached conversion and individual responsibility as the basis of their hope.

Today's Gospel parable - 'the Parable of the Two Sons' - is the second of the three consecutive parables about vineyards, presented to us in the context of the Kingdom of God. Last Sunday we heard 'the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard' and next Sunday we will be presented with 'the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.' All three of these parables are clearly addressed to the Jewish authorities and are meant to express their deep hypocrisy and their ultimate refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah and the message of his Gospel. 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.
Now, coming back to today's parable itself - It is unique to the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is also called 'the Parable of the Better of the Two Bad Sons' and is one of the most easily understandable of all the parables of Jesus. It describes a situation we can all identify with and one that we surely all have experienced. It is a parable about obedience and disobedience. It is about compliance and rebellion. It is about changing one's mind in a positive way and changing one's mind in a negative way. It is fundamentally about the choices we make in life.
a) “What is your opinion?”
Jesus first begins by asking the chief priests and the elders of the people, “What is your opinion?” Then he tells them the parable. In the parable there is a man who has two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. The lad refuses but later changes his mind and goes. The second one is also told to go. He agrees to do so but in the end he does not.
Here we see that one talked the talk, but didn't walk. The other didn't talk the talk, but walked the walk all the same. However, they both changed their minds! Actions speak louder than words....
Now, the First son, who said 'no' to his father appears to be the worse of the two, for he denied his father in a way that the second son did not. He was a surly chap, who at first refused to work in his father's vineyard. And yet, because he later repented and did what his father wanted him to do, he is assured a place in the Kingdom.
Again, the Second son, who said 'yes' when his father told him to go out to the vineyard and work, loves his father only with his words. He is false to his father. He promised him to go and work in the vineyard, but did not deliver.
This parable clearly echoes the First Reading of today - some turn away from their righteousness to do evil while some turn from their evil ways to do righteousness.
b) “Which of the two did his father's will?”
At the end of the parable Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders of the people, “Which of the two did his father's will?” And they answered, “The first.”
After this Jesus immediately talked about the tax collectors and prostitutes, whom the religious authorities wrote off as worthless sinners. They were aware that they did not live according to God's laws but were open to a change of heart, to conversion. They did recognize John the Baptist as a true pattern of righteousness and heeded his word and repented. Also, when they met Jesus they experienced a radical transformation in their lives. They listened and they responded. They were like the first son who at first refused to obey his father, but then had a change of heart, and did what was asked of him. Then to the indignation of the religious authorities, Jesus said that these repentant sinners would enter heaven before those who thought their place there was assured.
On the other hand, the Pharisees and the elders of the people were like the second son who at first promised to obey his father, but at the end, did not deliver. They spoke much about God and, in particular, how God was to be served by a strict observance of the Law. They claimed to be willing to do God's will. They thought they, above all others, were pious and obedient. And yet their commitment was shallow and empty. They refused to heed John the Baptist, and would not listen to Jesus, the Son of God, or follow his instructions. At the end they were scolded by Jesus for failing to believe in clear evidence, for failing to change their minds when necessary and desirable.
Again, it would be a great mistake for us to think that this parable was directed only against the Pharisees and elders. Jesus is questioning each of us. Are we like the second brother and the religious authorities? Do we claim to be devout, religious people, who are willing to obey God, while, in fact, refusing to do his will? Or are we like the first brother and the sinners - people who at first refuse to obey God, but then repent and do his will? If so, we're in a far better state than those who are full of empty good intentions. The point of it is that we are all a bit of both - sometimes we talk and don't walk, sometimes we walk after we haven't talked properly. Neither of the sons nor what they represent is ideal. Instead, we must be people who say, 'Yes' to God's will, mean what we say and do it.

The text of today's Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is among the most famous of his poetical pieces and is called the Christological hymn. It speaks of the awesome dignity of Jesus as the Son of God. St. Paul says this in the context of a plea for greater unity in the Christian community at Philippi. In urging the Christians to serve each other's needs with the deepest respect, he asks them to have the mind of Jesus himself, to think like he does. He then points to Christ’s humble obedience to the will of his Father unto death, even the most shameful death on the cross. Jesus Christ thus is the supreme model of total surrender to the Father’s saving will. St. Paul invites the Philippians to live in such humility and obedience to God. He says that Jesus, 'though he was in the form of God,' made his human love and compassion his ultimate tool of witness-giving. He 'emptied himself' and gave his all as an expression of his love for everyone even for those who did not love him. His salvation was a salvation for the whole world, without exception. Because of his supreme generosity, he was exalted and glorified by God. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are obligated to be be faithful to him and are called to be obedient to the will of God in our life.

In conclusion: Christ as model of obedience challenges us today to narrow the gap between our word and action. In the gospel parable, both sons are confronted with a moral decision. There is a complex interplay of motivations, verbal responses, actions taken or not, and ultimately a decision to reverse course. As one follows the unfolding narrative of the parable, it becomes clear that Jesus is inviting his audience to recognize their own situation in the radical choice which confronts each of the sons. How we decide whether or not to follow the Father’s will for us is a matter that touches the deepest recesses of our hearts. This is about more than behavioral conformity - it is about conversion to the reign of God, a conversion open to sinners just as much as it is available to the righteous. Today, we hear that one might say 'yes' to God and later loose his soul by disobedience. Or, the other way around, one might say 'no' to God and later save his soul by an act of obedience. In the final round up, it is only by deeds that we prove what we really are. It is only by our actions that we establish whether we are genuine or faux. We may well be surprised to find that those who had been dismissed as being beyond redemption are welcomed into heaven, while some we would have expected to be present are not there. Let us then humbly pray and say, “O Lord, we have sinned against you and disobeyed your will,” so that we may be numbered among the repentant sinners whom Jesus welcomes into his Kingdom. And this is the Good News of today.