A father was trying to teach his young sons the evils of alcohol. He put one worm in a glass of water and another worm in a glass of whiskey. The worm in the water lived, while the one in the whiskey curled up and died. “All right, sons,” asked the father, “what does that show you?”Well, Dad, said the younger son, it shows that if you drink alcohol, you will not have worms” (taken from an unknown source).
The reading today uses the vineyard metaphor in a culture where sons are to respect and obey their fathers.The way the two sons respond to their father represents how two groups of people in Jesus’ time responded to God. Eventually, this story also describes two directions in our spiritual journey.
The first son who initially replied,” No” then later changed his mind and helped represents the tax collectors and the prostitutes—two general classes of people who were regarded as immoral during Jesus’ time. Tax collectors cheated by taking money from the Jews for the Roman government. Prostitutes committed sexual sins and would often offer their services to Roman soldiers. At the onset, this group may not be on the right track when it comes to living a sound spiritual life. However, they heard the exhortation of John the Baptist. They responded to Jesus’ message of repentance.
The second son who responded, “Yes,” but eventually failed to help represents the priests and elders. They possessed high stature in society and work in the Temple. Their status was acquainted with a rightful way of life. However, the second group was less responsive to God’s prophets, particularly John the Baptist, and to Jesus himself. They maintain the status quo because they were afraid that responding to Jesus would harm their relationship with the Roman authorities. They affirmed the law, but they did not believe in Jesus and his message.
What Jesus says next would surprise the second group—the priests and the elders. He said, “Tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom before you.”
The story also reflects our spiritual journey. As you can see, there is no perfect response. Neither of the two sons, nor the two groups were perfect. A perfect response would have been “yes” all along, from the beginning until the end. But given our imperfections, what God cares about is our transformation as persons of faith. He cares that we change our response from no to yes in his invitation to us.
This change from “no” to “yes” is common to ordinary people that Jesus has chosen. Matthew, a tax collector, responded yes when Jesus invited him to be His disciple. Peter denied Jesus, not once, but thrice and then later repented. Paul persecuted early Christians but then converted and died as a martyr.
It is important to examine which direction we are heading in our spiritual life. Are we moving backward or moving forward? Are we like the first son or the second son?
Let us not allow our unpleasant past experiences or our circumstances determine our direction in life. Let us ask God’s healing, strength, and courage so that we could respond with a resounding yes to His invitation to work in His great vineyard.