Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A Ez 18:25-28, Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9, Phil 2:1-11, Mt 21:28-32
In 1858, a boy was born to a rich family in France. His parents gave him the name Charles, and, although he was baptized Catholic, as a teenager he distanced himself from his faith and fell into vice. He would live with girlfriend after girlfriend after girlfriend, often leaving one without telling her, in order to continue with a new one. He joined the army, but after a time he was expelled for “lack of discipline accompanied by notorious bad conduct,” as the letter of expulsion read. As he himself would later admit, he was a great sinner who seldom thought of God. Nevertheless, one day in 1886, he entered a church and said, “God, if you exist, let me know you.” Moved by grace, he confessed, and, in a well-known letter, he would later write to a friend: “As soon as I believed that God existed, I understood that I could do nothing else but live for him alone.” “As soon as I believed that God existed, I understood that I could do nothing else but live for him alone.” From that moment on, he became a fervent Catholic: he became a priest, then a monk, then a hermit, and later died as a martyr in the north of Africa. Today, we know him as Saint Charles de Foucauld.
The story of Saint Charles de Foucauld serves as a concrete example of what today’s readings teach us. Through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel, we heard the Lord’s promise: “But if [the sinner] turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” In other words, God is merciful and just, and He repays us according to our deeds. Saint Paul warns us, however: “Make no mistake; God is not mocked; a person will reap only what he sows.” In the same way, in the second reading Saint Paul tells us to “be of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” That is, we must be united in the desire to do good and avoid evil. He’s asking us to convert, and to really begin to follow Christ, and not simply with our words, but rather, and more importantly, with our actions.
In the Gospel, Christ presents us with the parable of the two sons; it’s a strong parable, because it makes it clear in no uncertain terms what those who claim to have faith in God, but don’t live in accord with that faith, do. Jesus says: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
In order to understand this better, and to understand our situation before God, let’s consider three details from the Gospel: first, we have the father’s words, second, the replies of the sons, and, third, Jesus’ question at the end: “Which of the two did his fathers will?” So, the father’s words, the sons’ words, and the question.
First, the father tells each of his sons: “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.” The important word here is “son.” The Greek word not only implies a relationship of love and affection, but also of total dependence. In other words, everything that those two sons have, they have because their father has given it to them. He’s given them everything, and the only thing he asks of them is to take care of the vineyard. That’s it. It’s easy to see that the father in this parable is our heavenly father, who “created all people and loves them with a fatherly affection, the God who preferred to be loved as a father rather than feared as a lord, even though he was Lord by nature. On this account, at the beginning of the commandments of the law, He did not say, ‘You shall fear the Lord with all your heart,’ but ‘you shall love the Lord with all your heart.’ To elicit love is not characteristic of a lord but of a father,” and the father in the parable, out of love, asks his children to help him. It’s like Saint John says in his first letter: “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” If we think that following God’s commandments, or doing His will, or doing what He asks, is something hard or difficult or burdensome, it’s because we’re not loving God with all our hearts.
Then, we have the replies of the two sons. Knowing that their father loves them, knowing that everything they have is from him, nonetheless, the first son says “Yes, sir,” but doesn’t go. The response is very formal. It’s respectful, in fact, it’s too respectful, too distant. The son isn’t thinking about the love that his father has for him, or what he should do out of love for his father. On the contrary, that son sees everything as an obligation, and, if he can avoid it, so much the better. And that’s precisely what he does: he says he’ll go, but, since he doesn’t really love his father, in the end, he stays put.
The other son replies to his father in a very short, very rude way: “I will not,” although perhaps a better translation would be “I don’t want to,” or “I have no desire.” Nevertheless, later on, “he changed his mind and went.” We’re not told why nor when, but what’s important is that something touched his heart, and he went to do what his father had asked of him. We can suppose that what touched his heart was grace, and the example of his father’s love.
Finally, Jesus asks His listeners: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” If we really think about it, truth be told, neither of them did the father’s will: the first said he would go, but didn’t. The second said no, he let some time pass, and then, only later, did he go. However, that lost time, that short, rude answer, isn’t what mattered. What mattered is that, in the end, after a bad decision, he decided to obey his father. And this, Jesus tells us, is what permits him to enter into God’s kingdom.
The parable is the story of our lives. Sometimes we separate ourselves from God, or sometimes we don’t do what He asks of us, but He is always there, waiting for us to return to Him. When we do, we imitate the great saints: Saint Charles de Foucauld, Saint Augustine, Saint Mary Magdalene, and many more. The obligation that we have is to want to change our lives, and to put into practice all the means at our disposal to really bring about a conversion. If I don’t put those means into action, I don’t really love God as a good child, and I don’t really desire to convert. If I don’t put those means into action, I don’t really love God as a good child, and I don’t really desire to convert. Saint Paul tells us that “God . . . wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” That is what God wants, but if we don’t try with all our hearts to change our lives for the better, we won’t be saved. God doesn’t throw anyone down into hell; those who end up there throw themselves in. To go to hell is a choice, the choice not to do God’s will in order to do my own will and not convert. Again, God doesn’t throw anyone down into hell; those who end up there, and visions like those at Fatima tells us that they are many, throw themselves in. Conversion can’t wait. We don’t know how much time we have left to live in this world. We just don’t know. We have to take advantage today of the graces that the Lord offers us, be that in confession, in getting married in the Church, be it in whatever way He’s calling us to Himself. God wants all to be saved, and this because He loves us. Through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Heaven, let us ask for the grace of true conversion, to work with a God who loves us so much that He sent His only son to die for us.
 Incomplete Work on Matthew, Hom. 40: “Who is this if not the God who created all people and loves them with a fatherly affection, the God who preferred to be loved as a father rather than feared as a lord, even though he was Lord by nature? On this account, at the beginning of the commandments of the law, He did not say, ‘You shall fear the Lord with all your heart,’ but ‘you shall love the Lord with all your heart.’ To elicit love is not characteristic of a lord but of a father.”
 Note: the ordering of the sons and their replies is different between the Spanish and English versions of the Gospel. There’s a well-established manuscript tradition that has the “No” son first, but the English versions seem to prefer a different tradition that reverses the order – NJD
 Literally, the Spanish translates it as “No quiero ir.”