Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There is a Jewish story that says teshuva was created before man was created. Teshuva means the possibility of going back. God knew that we would make mistakes and teshuva means that we can fix our mistakes and are able to change, and go back. We get another chance.
In Ezekiel’s chapter 18 we hear a unique expression that is repeated often by the prophets. He says that when parents eat sour grapes the children’s teeth are set on edge, meaning the sins of the parents have their effects on the children. But Ezekiel makes a very revolutionary distinction that in moral decision making I have to stand on my own two feet. I cannot blame my parents or anyone else for the decisions I have made in life. It is a huge development at this time over 600 years before Christ. And one that is very timely for our culture, which is a culture of blame.
St. John Paul II said something similar: our actions create the person we are to become. By my moral decisions I define who I am. And today’s parable hopefully awakens us to who we are and our tendency to be self-righteous. It is difficult to know truly who we are. And this parable underlines the difference between what we say and what we do. A sunny disposition is not enough and maybe it covers over one’s indifference or resistance.
The first son has a great freedom in saying to his father; I don’t feel like going to the vineyard. I don’t want to go. He says what is on his mind. But later he though better of it and the verb used seems to say he became anxious. Maybe like Roskolnikov in Crime and Punishment who was haunted by the murders he committed, even though he had a good intention, which led to his confession of the crime. This son had a healthy and operative conscience. How happy his father would have been as he entered the vineyard.
The second son is like the second soil in the Parable of the Sower. It fell upon rocky soil and had no root and when tribulations arose it fell away. He is very polite and says, yes, Sir, I will go. Literally it means that’s me, Sir, and pretends to go to the vineyard. He is very shallow, despite his sunny disposition.
One of the main points of the parable is how a person made rebellious by sin can turn toward God and be open to him. We will be judged on our final condition so be patient with yourself and with others. How the movie ends either makes or breaks the story. The same happens with us. If we are always saying yes, it might show an unhealthy desire to please and be approved and might show our superficiality. God is interested in the long run and what we do with our freedom.
The tax collectors and prostitutes merely overheard the announcement given to the religious authorities and yet they thought better of it, even though they rejected this invitation earlier in their life. They are like the first son. Perhaps the greatest sin of the Pharisees is that even when they saw the conversion of the publicans and prostitutes, they did nothing. They thought they had the fullness of truth.
I like what the Afro-American special prosecutor said in the Louisville case of the killing of Ms. Taylor. He stated we have spent a lot of time and energy analyzing the facts of what occurred in this terrible loss of life. We are looking for the truth, not one that fits a certain narrative. It is very courageous for someone speak like this.
There is something refreshing about the first son. He has a certain honesty and says the truth: I don’t want to go! And that evolved into something different. The same may happen with us or with your spouse or your son. Be patient, the play has not ended! His response is very different from a ‘yes’ that doesn’t come from the heart.
The parable may also point to our biggest enemy: the illusions we have about ourselves. Do we usually only tell people what they want to hear and fail to follow through on our promises? Are we men and women of our word, especially the word we tell God? These days we long to hear the truth from our leaders so we should also want to hear the truth for ourselves.