Where do I stand in response to God’s invitation

by Ben Cheng

In this Sunday Gospel reading, Matthew 21.28-32, Jesus begins with a parable of a man with two sons. The father says to the first son to go out into the vineyard and work. At first, the son says no, but after a reconsideration, he obeys and goes to work. The father gives the same order to the second son, and the boy promptly responds and says yes, but then fails to go. The story is simple, but it has a very important spiritual insight. It represents God’s invitation to each one of us in the depth of our hearts, the very source of our beings, the level of souls. He says, “I have got some work for you to do in the vineyard,” which symbolizes the “go” of our mission and the fulfillment of our purpose. It is not simply questions of decision for a family, work, or education even though they are also important, but rather it is a question of who we are at the most fundamental level. When the question echoes in my heart, and I hear the invitation to go for a mission in my field, this is the moment of truth, and that is the moment when I have to separate myself from the rest. Not being a victim nor taking any credits, I stand before God, and say here is what I am going to do.

The parable continues with different options regarding the human response to this fundamental invitation. The first son, as we see, says no, but then he repents. Please do not underestimate the spiritual importance of it. When we are addressed by God and we turn Him down, something “breaks” and is terrible. It is not that God is being cruel and capricious, but rather it is a spiritual physics: God has addressed me and I have said a “no” in a fundamental way, it is nothing more drastic, more important in life than something that has gone dramatically wrong. If I press that “no” all the way, we will understand what Jesus calls in the parables, the prostitutes and tax collectors, representing those who have been very morally corrupt. In today’s world, the “no” to God gives rise to rampant secularism and spiritual indifferentism, which leads eventually to destructive sins. What is the good news? The good news is that repentance remaining in those who say “no” is truly possible. Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). He is signaling the possibility of real repentance. He says, prostitutes and tax collectors, whom in His time would have been the worst sinners, had said no, and they followed that “no” into serious sin. But when they heard the preaching of John, they repented and said yes. The spiritual lesson for us is never give up! Please do not ever say it is too late for you, because even the most hardened hearts can turn a “no” into a “yes”! It is the same with the stories of many saints. Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. This is a good spiritual lesson.

On the other hand, however, the second son said yes very readily, but he treats it lightly as simply a “lip service”. Please remember that if we can muster the energy to say yes to God, it is not a small trivial response. There is a famous Aristotle’s quote which says, “Do not listen to what people say, but watch what people do” (Nicoachean Ethics 10.7). The second son represents someone who would “talk the talk”, but not “walk the walk”. Therefore, when every time we pray, every time we enter into the liturgies, participate in the sacraments, and we stand before the Lord saying our “yes” to Him, it is a pledge even more sacred than the pledge between husband and wife. If we say to the Lord, “I am going to go into your vineyard and to serve you”, we get to say yes, as a member of family or community, rain or shine, in good times and in bad. Once we have gathered ourselves and say yes, we let ourselves be sent without reservation.

So here is a spiritual question I will leave you with: Where do you stand with regard to God’s invitation? How are you taking spiritual responsibility right now? God bless you all.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “Taking Spiritual Responsibility”, “Let Go Rather than Grasp”, and “In The Form of God”. For more information, please visit WordOnFire.org.