The Three Sons
How then do we respond to this gracious invitation to enter into God’s family? This is the challenge addressed to us in our Gospel reading. We heard that the owner of a vineyard asked his two sons to go out and labor in that vineyard. This vineyard owner, of course, represents God.
The first son initially refuses to heed his father’s request, but then later regrets his rebellion and goes to work. Jesus identifies this son with sinners who initially rejected God and his law, but later repent and enter into God’s family. The second son paid lip service to his father’s wishes and agreed readily to do as he asked, but his outward show of obedience was mere talk and not backed up by his actions. Jesus seems to identify this second son with insincere pious people that do not practice what they preach. As a result, such persons do not enter into the Kingdom.
Now, of course, of the two sons in the parable we are much better off imitating the first son. We may have been sinners refusing to obey His commands and His plans for our life in the past, but the doorway into His Kingdom and into His house is always open because that doorway is Jesus, and He has promised that we will always encounter His love and mercy in Confession and in the Eucharist. If we repent and turn back in love and obedience to Our Father in Heaven, then He will welcome us home with great rejoicing. It is much more dangerous to stand in the shoes of the second son, smugly secure in our sense of self-righteousness, oblivious to any sense that our lives are in need of conversion.
However, neither so in the parable is a particularly good model for how we should respond to God’s invitation to work with Him and for Him for the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven: one son failed in word and the other in deed. It would be much better to model our behavior on another Son; Jesus the Son of God.
As St. Paul wrote about Him; though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In Jesus the graciousness of God was made manifest for us. The extraordinary generosity of God is revealed in the Father sending His Son and the Father and Son together breathing out the Spirit to gather us back in after we had lost our way through sin. And if we share in Jesus’ loving relationship with His father in heaven, and in the infinite and eternal exchange of love that is the Holy Trinity, then we are empowered by that love of God to manifest that same graciousness and generosity in our own lives.
We are called and given the grace to live and love as Jesus did: to make known the gracious love of God through our words and in our deeds. The love of God enables us to be like Jesus in the way that we show and share our love. This means that we are able to respond promptly and generously to Our Heavenly Father’s summons to labor in His vineyard as Jesus did for the building up of the Kingdom of God.