Scripture Readings: Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 18:25-28; Letter to the Philippians 2:1-11; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 21:28-32
Here at the Monastery it is definitely “harvest time.” Such is the case as well in many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Our vegetable garden has produced abundantly and we are enjoying fresh produce nearly every day, including zucchini, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, squash, and many other eatables. The leaves of the many deciduous trees in our canyon are rapidly turning yellow and leaves are falling. The weather is still pleasant at night and warm during the day. It is really a beautiful time of year! Smoke from the tragic fires in the West is not affecting our air quality, so the sky is clear and crisp.
While we ponder the end of the summer and the growing season, we are offered this Sunday important lessons about the “spiritual harvest” that must also take place in our lives. A life lived in and for Christ, we believe, will yield a bountiful harvest, directing us to the fulfillment to be found in eternity, hence doing all we can now to gain the prize of life on high in God’s kingdom.
Addressing the religious leaders of the time, Jesus offers a short parable about a father and his two sons. The first of the two says yes to his father’s wishes, but then does not do what was asked of him. The second son initially says no, but ends up doing as he was told. In telling the story, Jesus asks “What do you think about the case?” The audience is invited to decide about “which of the two sons did what the father wanted?” They correctly reply, “The second son,” but in doing so they show their own failure to embrace the teaching and person of Jesus Christ. In their case, they need to do more than simply render lip service, which lacks sincerity and thereby runs the risk of exclusion from God’s kingdom. As the Prophet Isaiah preached: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Isaiah 29:13, and quoted by Mark 7:6).
In a follow up to the parable, Jesus gives the example of reputed or notorious sinners, specifically tax collectors and prostitutes, who seem to be disobeying God’s law, yet repent and so enter the kingdom. They end up doing the will of God, and are like the second son of the parable today, initially saying no then having a change of heart.
In another place in the Gospels, Jesus warns: “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” (Matthew 7:21). While Jesus addresses these words especially to the religious leaders of those times, they are words directed to us as well.
We are always given free will and God does not force us to act one way or another. God always lovingly invites us to walk in the ways of love, justice, patience and all that builds up the kingdom of God. God never takes delight in punishment, but the Gospels teach us that there are consequences, good or bad, for human free action.
Jesus refers to all those who “do the will of the Father” as his “brother and sister and mother” (see Matthew 12:50). Jesus is the model for this type of commitment and invites us all to be so also. We all fail in doing it perfectly, but we are never to give up along the journey of life.
In the mind of Jesus those stigmatized as sinners are not automatically “lost,” and often demonstrate more willingness to change than those who are not recognized as wrongdoers. What matters for all and us as well is a change of heart and dedication to God.
A short commentary from the splendid “Didache Bible” (Ignatius Press) says this: “The seasons connected with life and time are strictly established by God, and it is up to us to discern the proper season” (commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses 1-15).
As autumn dawns and summer ends, the time is right to ask again if we are preparing for the final harvest, reflecting on where our priorities lie: either in and for the things of God or somewhere else. Most of us may reply: “somewhere in the middle.” We all need to stretch our “spiritual muscles,” so to speak, for a closer relationship with God and selfless service to one another, thereby fulfilling the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. May the Lord always help us in this important work!