We are back in the vineyard again this week. Last week we heard the parable of the owner of the vineyard hiring all through the day and paying everyone the same wage, much to the anger of those who labored all day. The generosity of the land owner seems so unfair. The early workers resented the late comers. In this parable the scribes and Pharisees represent the long line of holy and devout Israelites who bore the burden of faithfulness through the centuries. In the eyes of the Scribes and Pharisees the followers of Jesus are not only new-comers, they don’t even keep the customs and traditions nor do they respect the authority structures of God’s ways.
The Apostles and the disciples are the late-comers whom Jesus has called into the vineyard to labor with and for Him. They will be rewarded, though their fidelity has been shorter.
This Sunday we are back in the vineyard only this time we are dealing with the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sons. Again Jesus is directing His teachings toward the scribes and elders of Israel. The tax collectors and prostitutes had said with their lives and lifestyles “No!” to the call of the vineyard. Yet, by listening to the call of Jesus their choices change to a strong “Yes!” as they repent. The “elders and scribes” have been living a “yes” as they kept all the laws and observances but they choose to say “no” to the invitations of Jesus. They do not gain entrance into the kingdom as do the former sinners. The religiously upright elders have a problem with Jesus’ being so mercifully inclusive. They hear this parable and understand it to mean that though they have said yes, by their refusal to follow Jesus, they do not belong. They find this a very harsh parable and they resent Jesus, even to the point of wanting to do away with Him.
I have a feeling that many parents have had the experience of the father in today’s gospel. The rebellious ‘no’ son or daughter who finally come to their senses and see and accept the values parents offered them in their early years: the value of an education, the value of self control, the value of honesty, the value of having respect for other people, the value of faith and belonging to a faith community, the value of family. Parents have experienced as well the disappointment of seeing a son or daughter with so much promise, blowing it by making disastrous choices and harmful decisions. Parents know the feeling of the father in our gospel story who sees a ‘no’ turn to a ‘yes’ and a ‘yes’ turn into a ‘no’ and the consequences that follow such choices.
But in the living of our lives we are all both yes-ers and no-ers. The good that we would, that we do not and the evil we would not do that we do. We are all ambivalent to the demands of our relationship with God. We all have within us an orientation toward trusting God’s care and mercy. We stumble over that “yes” when the confusions of life spin our minds and hearts around and we say “no!” by our not wanting to deal with, accept, or live through all that Christ might ask of us. We can live a “No” as well by not allowing ourselves to go into the vineyard of life, because we cannot accept forgiveness, acceptance and love. The tax collectors and prostitutes were included, because they allowed their lives to be changed, their self images to be rearranged by Jesus’ merciful touch.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that, strengthened by the bread of life we receive at this Mass, we will try to always say our ‘yes’ to the call of Jesus, Who calls us to grow in His life and love.