Our Gospel for today follows on the heels of last week’s Gospel wherein Jesus told the parable of the vineyard owner who went out, beginning at dawn, and brought laborers into his vineyard for the harvest throughout the day, until about an hour or so before sunset. The scandalous part of that parable was that at the end of the day the vineyard owner paid all of the laborers the same wage, which was the usual wage for a day’s labor, thus causing those who began work at dawn to, understandably, gripe a bit. The point of that parable was not about social justice, but about God’s generosity in issuing the call to conversion, the call to salvation, which is given in Jesus Christ. Part of the point being, there is no greater reward than eternal life.
Likewise, our Gospel for today is about Jesus’ call and our response. Faith is nothing more than our response to God’s initiative towards us. Faith cannot be reduced to mere belief; to giving intellectual assent to a set of truthful and well-thought out propositions. Faith that merits the name spurs us to action in God’s service. In today’s Gospel there is no great mystery to figure out. Clearly the son who initially said he would not go, but then went, was the one who did his father’s will, not the son who said he would go, but then did not.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to liken the son who went, even after initially saying “No,” to the tax collectors and prostitutes who, upon hearing the Baptist’s call to repentance, repented, that is, turned around and walked the path of righteousness after deviating from it. But the son who initially agreed, but then did not go, is likened to many of the observant Jews listening to Jesus.
My brothers and sisters, when you were baptized, whether as infants, children, or adults, you said “Yes” to Jesus’ call. Likewise, you said “Yes” when your baptism was confirmed and you received a fuller outpouring of the Holy Spirit to aid you in your service to Christ and His Church. Each time you participate in the Eucharist you are called and, at the end of Mass, you are sent forth to do. Do what, you might ask? To make the Lord present wherever you are present, as the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, puts this: The faithful are called by God to exercise “their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel [to]… work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity” (par 31).
In our second reading, taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, most of which, according to New Testament scholars, is taken from an ancient Christian hymn, we see that Jesus Christ, our Lord, both agreed to do and then perfectly did the Father’s will. The apostle urged the Christians of ancient Philippi to have among them the same attitude as Christ Jesus, which is a selfless, self-emptying attitude. Before citing the beautiful hymn, which he used as an example of the attitude they were to have, Paul told his sisters and brothers, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others” (Phil 2:3-4). This is a very succinct description of Christian ministry.
The prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, chided his hearers, who complained, “The LORD’s way is not fair” (Ezk 18:25). But the prophet seeks to demonstrate to them that God’s way is more than fair, that God’s way, as our Psalm response indicates, is merciful. Indeed, perfectly balancing mercy and justice is something that God alone can do. But the way around this obsession with fairness, as Jesus demonstrated over and again in His teaching and through His life, particularly by humbling Himself and “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), is to get over yourself. This, too, is the witness of so many saints down through the centuries of the Church. It is certainly the witness of St Vincent de Paul, whose memorial we observed yesterday. He was a priest who dedicated himself completely to serving the poor. His charity extended to all classes of people, from forsaken childhood to old age. In a nutshell, our readings today are about joining our words to our actions. Our Lord Himself said elsewhere in St Matthew’s Gospel, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
You may have noticed either coming into the Cathedral through the main doors today, or driving by the Cathedral on South Temple some light blue banners featuring a ship, the barque of our local Church, with the words, “Charting Our Course” and “Believe. Celebrate, and Live.” At Bishop Wester’s direction, our diocese has begun the process of putting together a comprehensive Pastoral Plan. The course we are charting is one that leads us to fulfill our mission: “Believe, celebrate, and live the redeeming love of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in Utah.”
What can you do in response to today’s readings in light of Bishop Wester’s call? You can take the on-line survey. There may also be an opportunity for you to participate in a listening session, either a regional one, or one held for a group of which you are a member. Right now the call we have been issued by our bishop is to give him our honest input through this initial portion of the pastoral plan in order to chart the course ahead for our diocese.
The Church of Jesus Christ in Utah is a growing, dynamic Church, a fruitful vineyard. The Lord needs more laborers and the laborers require a common plan to carry out the Father’s work. We are blessed that the issues and challenges we face as a local Church have mostly to do with growth and vibrancy. So, what is needed for our pastoral planning process to be successful is your input now and your follow-through later.
Bishop Wester’s goals for our Diocesan Pastoral Plan are three-fold: 1) To deepen relationships and encourage a community dialogue around mission; (2) To educate everyone about the diocese as the “local church;” and (3) to encourage participation in various ministries. This not something over and above, or added onto everything we’ve been doing and focusing on, such as stewardship. It is a way of pulling it all together, making it more cohesive, and, above all, making it actionable, which is what our Lord asks of us today.