Last week’s Gospel parable concerned men being hired to work in the master’s vineyard. Today, Jesus picks up once more the theme of work in the vineyard and goes on to develop His earlier teaching. His focus, as before, is on the attitude of those called to work; this time, the attitude of two sons with regard to their own father in whose vineyard they are told to work.
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.”
Now the teaching of today’s parable is supremely close to the heart of Jesus because it concerns “doing the will of His Father”:
"Which of the two did his father’s will?" Jesus asked.
Jesus, you will recall, once told us the whole purpose of His own coming on earth:
I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me. (John 6:38)
Nor was that an expression of some merely passing emotion; for, in the most agonizing moments of His suffering in the Garden, in torments which caused Him to sweat blood, He repeated those same words to strengthen Himself:
Abba, Father, all things are possible to You. Take this cup away from Me, but not what I will but what You will. (Mark 14:36)
And above all, that very same attitude is fundamental to the only prayer He taught us, which is, ultimately, the only prayer we need:
Our Father Who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Therefore, for all who want to be disciples of Jesus, our life as Christians is not simply a matter of carrying out a determined task in the master’s vineyard with humble trust and respect, but rather a journey to be undertaken with a loving desire to become true children of the Father Who is ever drawing us to, and calling us in, Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour.
Presuming we have such a desire, how are we, in fact, going to set about doing His will, with and in Jesus, and finding our salvation?
Let me first of all clear up a possible misunderstanding resulting from the first reading. To be sure, it is not a mistake that would easily be made by any sincere disciple of the Lord; but for some going through difficulties, perhaps only half-hearted in their love for the faith, those words of Ezekiel in our first reading might be thought to signal an easy way out:
If a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.
Someone might think -- as, for example, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great is reported to have done -- that one could leave thinking about conversion and the good life until death was at hand, and then, “turn away from wickedness” and be saved from all past sins by the unique power of the baptismal sacrament.
In such a case, however, conversion would be more apparent than real, only having been ultimately adopted after life-long indulgence of one’s weaknesses and gratification of one’s lusts; with professed love for the Lord faring no better than Herod’s ‘reverence’ for John the Baptist. Moreover, Ezekiel’s words “turning from wickedness does what is right and just” would not seem to give any encouragement to such worldliness: for a death-bed, fag-end, remnant of life, is hardly a suitable time for beginning to do what is right and just, let alone a fitting gift to offer the Lord.
And so, whilst it is, indeed, never too late to mend; and whilst it is always possible -- even at the eleventh hour, and in whatever situation one may find oneself -- to turn to God our Father and find forgiveness in the name of Jesus; nevertheless, it is absolutely essential that we turn to the Father in sincerity and truth.
St. Paul told us in the second reading how we should set about trying to do the Father’s will:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Today we often hear people with a fundamentalist turn of mind, saying: “All that is necessary is to read the Scriptures and do what Jesus did”, or, “do what Jesus would have done”. Let us just look rationally at those two bits of fundamentalist advice. “We must do what Jesus did.” How can we do that? Jesus lived on earth two thousand years ago, His circumstances were not the same as ours today; our society, with its background and its understanding of the world, its possibilities and prospects, is far different from that of Jewish society in Jesus’ time. Jesus, with His sublime understanding of people and of the workings of divine grace, sometimes did things, spoke words, which we today -- having only a sin-stained appreciation of, and sensitivity for, our fellow men, together with a native ignorance of the workings of divine grace -- would not dare to say or think of doing. "All we need to do is to read the Scriptures and do what Jesus did." Indeed! Who would dare to say with Jesus: "It is not fair to give the children’s food to dogs” to a woman begging for her daughter’s healing? Or again, what doctor or nurse, or, indeed, anyone in a position to be of help, would treat dear friends, as Jesus -- in His supreme love and divine wisdom -- treated Mary, Martha and Lazarus:
When He heard that (Lazarus) was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. (John 11:6)
Let us therefore recall the Apostle's teaching:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
We cannot 'do what Jesus would have done', until we have, in truth, the same mind, the same attitude, as Jesus; and that can only come about by the gift of the Holy Spirit, for it was the Spirit Who led Jesus on His earthly mission.
Now, the Spirit of Jesus is not given to any of us either fully or permanently, nor is He given to all of us in the same degree. However, the Holy Spirit of Jesus is given in sublime and abiding fullness to Mother Church so that she can make her children living members of that Body of Christ in which all have a unique purpose and personal role to fulfil for the Body as a whole, and for the glory of the Father. Therefore, our first and supreme duty, in order to learn and to do the Father’s will, is to hear and obey Jesus’ clear commandments given for all His disciples in the Scriptures and in their authoritative presentation to us by Mother Church. That, indeed, we can all do thanks to the baptismal grace of the Holy Spirit given to all who believe in and commit themselves to Jesus. That is the minimum expected of a true, catholic, disciple.
But in order to have the same mind as Jesus Himself, and so do the Father’s particular will for each one of us, we must desire and pray much more.
By enabling us to obey the commandments of Jesus and the Church, the Spirit can be said to rule our actions. However, most of our choices in life do not directly or necessarily involve serious sin, being largely somewhat indifferent choices of themselves. And so, if we aspire to have the same attitude and mind as Jesus and thus to do the Father’s will in all things, we must ask, beg, pray, the Holy Spirit not only to rule our actions so as to keep us from sin, but also to guide our lives in every respect to the extent that it is no longer we who live, but rather -- through the Spirit -- Jesus living in us for the Father, as St. Paul said:
It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
The Spirit is the Father’s Gift, Jesus' bequest, to Mother Church; He is not ours, He cannot be acquired, so to speak, and then possessed. Because He is Gift, we have to keep close to the Father in prayer, and to Jesus in the Eucharist, if we aspire to receive the Spirit ever anew and appreciate Him ever more faithfully. Moreover, we must also beg the Holy Spirit Himself to so penetrate our very being that He might guide and rule us, not only in our rejection of sin, but also in our own free choices and deepest desires, until He has wholly transformed us into His faithful instruments for the Father’s glory. In other words, we should beg the Spirit to make each of us a likeness of Jesus painted by His own divine hand for the Father’s purposes in our world of today, rather than allow us to make ourselves into an inauthentic imitation produced by personal pride under the motivation of a fevered imagination or esoteric fancy.
But once again, how -- with what dispositions -- should we thus turn to the Holy Spirit in prayer?
For such final guidance we should look to our Blessed Lady who, after her beloved Son’s resurrection from the dead, saw Him disappear from her sight into heaven at His Ascension into Heaven. What joy for Him filled her mind and flooded her heart as she thought of her Son’s glory and fulfilment with the Father! But also, inevitably, what gnawing emptiness -- though never any sorrow – she experienced in herself, albeit never for herself!! What a loss! What a longing!! What a gulf!!!
And precisely for such a suffering Mother of, and Model for, the Church, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and bestowed by Jesus, to completely satisfy and transfigure such dispositions. Because of her longing and love for Jesus, because of her total self-emptiness, Mary could and would become the chef d’oeuvre of the Holy Spirit … for ever serving Mother Church as a most sublime lightning conductor, so to speak, drawing and leading the light and the power, the fire and the beauty, of the Holy Spirit -- the eternal bond of Love uniting the Almighty Father and His only-begotten Son -- to Mother Church and potentially into the minds and hearts of all her children.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is in like dispositions of love for Jesus and emptiness of self that – with the help of Mary our Mother -- we should pray to the Holy Spirit for His guidance and strength in our lives, that Jesus may be ever-born- anew in us:
(Jesus) said in reply to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers. (Matthew 12:48-9)
Thus may we, worshipping God the Father in Spirit and in Truth, become true sons and daughters of His in Mother Church, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and bearing witness to the power of His Spirit, so that:
All, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, may (come to) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.