Christ the King Catholic Church
Pope Saint John XXIII served as Pope from 1958-1963. He is remembered for many things and among those was bringing the bishops of the Catholic world together for the Second Vatican Council. He was born into a large, poor Italian family and he never forgot his roots. He is loved by the Italians for his common touch. Still today, he is referred to by the Italians as 'il papa buono' - the good pope'.
One of the many beautiful stories that is told about Pope John XXIII was his visit to a Roman prison the day after Christmas in 1958. He told the prisoners that since they couldn't come to Saint Peter's to see him, he had decided to come to them to wish them a Merry Christmas. He told them that he had a cousin who had been in that very prison and so he knew what it was like for them and for their families, especially at Christmas.
And then, after speaking to the group, the Pope greeted each of the convicts personally. A man who had been convicted of murder approached the Pope with tears in his eyes and he asked the Pope if there could be hope for someone like him. Pope John answered him by putting his arms around him. He didn't say a word. He didn't need to.
When the Vatican newspaper reported the story of the Pope's visit to the Italian prison, they never mentioned that he had had a cousin in jail. The editor was afraid that readers would be scandalized to know that a member of the Pope's family had been in jail.
I think of this story of John XXIII when I hear today's Gospel. Jesus tells a parable and it is addressed to the religious leaders of his day. The religious leaders were scandalized by Jesus when ate and drank with sinners-with tax collectors and prostitutes. This is not how they expected the Messiah to act. 'Their' Messiah would strike sinners dead with lightning bolts.
But, instead of striking sinners dead with bolts of lightning, Jesus astounds the religious leaders of his day by telling them that those very sinners were entering the Kingdom of God before them.
The religious leaders spent their lives talking about God. They studied the scriptures and the Law and they told the people what they had to do to do God's will.
But, in the fullness of time, when the will of God took on flesh in the person of Jesus, they rejected God's will. They opposed Jesus, just as they had opposed John the Baptist before him, and, ultimately, they would hand Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified.
Jesus, admittedly, spent a lot of his time with sinners, including an Apostle who was once a tax collector. He once told us that he came for sinners and not the righteous because it is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy. But when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors; when he invited them to listen to him and to spend time with him, he wasn't approving of their sin any more than Pope John XXIII's embrace of the convict in 1958 meant that he approved of murder.
By showing compassion and love to people who had been written off by society and by the religious leaders of his day, Jesus hoped to ignite that spark of goodness that was in them as children of God, created in the image and likeness of God.
Jesus knew that love could break through a hardened heart and sinners responded to that love.
Jesus tells the parable in today's Gospel to draw a contrast between the religious leaders and the sinners upon whom the religious leaders looked with disdain.
The first son, who told his father that he would not go into the field to work, but then regrets that decision and does, in fact, go to the field, represents sinners who appeared to reject God's will, but were, in fact, the ones who ultimately did exactly what God wanted of them by accepting Jesus.
The second son, who tells his father that he would go to work in the field, but then fails to act on that promise, represents the religious leaders who happily talked
about God's will, but, when then, when all was said and done, failed to do what God wanted of them when they rejected Jesus.
'Actions speak louder than words.' With the coming of Jesus, obedience to God's will becomes faith in the One he sent. To 'do' God's will is to accept the One he sent and to follow him.
A parable is a mirror that we hold up to our face and the power of a parable is that it helps us to see something of ourselves that we hadn't seen before. The religious leaders saw something of themselves in the parable of the two sons and what they saw was not what they wanted to see.
The parable continues to play out in our day.
We may be at Mass faithfully every Sunday. Our 'Amen's' may be loud and clear, but do our lives witness to our faith once we leave Mass? We can easily be people who say 'yes' to the idea of Christianity without doing the things that Christianity demands of us. It is easy to talk about forgiveness, without forgiving. It is easy to talk about love, without actually loving. It's easy to talk about mercy, without showing mercy.
There may be people who are not at Mass every Sunday, but who would be the first to give their jacket to the person who is cold, to stand up against injustice committed against the widow and orphan, or to welcome the stranger in our midst.
The parable that Jesus tells us is the story of two sons. Neither son is the ideal son. The ideal son says 'Yes,' and then acts on that 'Yes.' The ideal son is the one who says, 'Yes,' to the Father and then delights in doing the Father's will. Jesus is that son.
And that is precisely why Saint Paul wisely tells us that we are to have the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.
May our 'yes' to God at Mass this morning bear abundant fruit in how we live our lives in the coming week. May we all be sons and daughters to the Father who, with the same attitude of Jesus, delight in doing God's will.