The Pretty Good Son

Today’s Gospel, from Matthew 21:28-32, teaches us about two types of sons; one that gives his “yes” to the father, and one that gives his “no.” The twist comes from which one is praised by Jesus, and the challenge is to be the best of both. Jesus told the story:

“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.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (MT 6:9) Jesus’ disciples back then, and we still today, continue to pray in these words. We say “Thy will be done” but we are often unwilling to actually do God’s will. Too many, I’m afraid, are like the first son in Jesus’ story. We honor God, our Father, with our lips but our heart is far from Him. (MK 7:6) Yes, too many of us play the role of the first son.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/735/973787/files/2014/12/img_1189.jpg Make no mistake, there is darkness yet in our world, and our Father demands that we who are his children go out to labor in His “vineyard.” Each of us is gifted and called to serve in different ways according to the grace of God given to us (RM 12:6), but serve we must!

This parable from Jesus is also important because it teaches the truth about the fickleness of our thoughts and words, but the forthrightness of a heart oriented toward God. The second son gives his “no,” as the labor is surely difficult and demanding, and the natural human response is to object, but the son’s goodness is revealed not in his words, but rather in his deeds. The bottom line is that he did good work regardless of what he actually said. Actions do speak louder than words.

In truth, (and sadly) I too often find myself aligned with the first son. I am a Catholic Christian, a disciple of Jesus, a minister and teacher of the faith–there’s my public “yes” for the whole world to see and hear, but sometimes I discover that my disobedient self finds greater pleasure in sitting on the couch instead of doing the good spiritual work that my Heavenly Father demands.

Jesus’ message was to the Jews of his day that had grown comfortable and complacent. They had become lukewarm in their faith and were unfaithful in their commitment to the daily work that God had prepared for them to do–and his message rings true for us today as well.

As we journey through Advent and the day of Jesus’ birth draws near, we need to get off the couch, put on our Spiritual work boots, and remember that there is no such thing as spiritual welfare, but only spiritual warfare. We must dig in and go to battle against the forces of evil in our world, in our communities, in our schools, in our families, and in our own heart!

There is a third type of son that we must choose to become–that is of course the example of Jesus Christ Himself. Each day we are to go beyond both the first AND the second son–we must be the obedient children that the Father desires. We must both say “yes” to God and to doing His work and will in our world. Only then are we the good and faithful servants that God desires.

Say yes. Do good work. Marana tha!

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

What Do You Have?

Today’s Gospel: Matthew 15:29-27
“At that time: Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus summoned his disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.” The disciples said to him, “Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied, “and a few fish.” He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.”

Today’s gospel reveals a God of mercy who sees people in the midst of their suffering, has compassion for them, heals them, and then demands that his disciples give what they have to help others as well. With so little Jesus can do so much!

Throughout Advent we will be continually reminded of two things that are particularly indicative of true Christian discipleship.

The first is that we must have eyes to see the suffering of others and ears to hear their cry. The suffering of others is everywhere and all around us. The first step is to have a heart like Jesus that we might see and be moved to the core with compassion, mercy, and love. True disciples cannot turn a blind eye to injustice, poverty, violence, ignorance, and pain and suffering. We do not excuse the actions that create suffering, but at the same time, we cannot allow the actions that caused it to be a justification for the hardening of our own heart. It is entirely possible for me to both give my student a detention for their wrongful behavior and still love them and mourn the social conditions and human weakness that caused the condition in the first place. We are not called to judge, but to act with justice and show mercy for sinners.

Secondly, notice that Jesus disciples point out a very real problem to Jesus–the people have no food to eat! The disciples want to send them away to fend for themselves but Jesus will have no part of it. Instead he tells his disciples to cough up what they’ve got! He asks them, “What do you have?” Their answer: not much. But with Jesus not much is still enough.

In a world with such great need, it can often be overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzingly. Where do we start? How can we help? What will be left for me? Jesus assures us that even were we to give all that we had to help others, we would never be in want. There is always left overs for those with generous hearts. Like my mom’s house at Thanksgiving…no one goes hungry and the fridge is full of leftovers for a week.

Today’s gospel asks each of us two very important questions, namely, “Can you see the need? What do you have to help?”

Give Jesus your bread and fish this advent season. He’ll work miracles with it and there will be baskets left over as well!