Notorious Sinners Welcomed In Kingdom
Sunday Homily for September 28, 2008
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (26A)
By Father Clyde A. Bonar, Ph.D.
Many long years ago — I was in college — a friend took me to his church for a prayer service. There’d be a famous speaker. The service began with singing. Praising God in song. Then personal testimonies began. Witness talks about how God had worked in a person's life.
I'll always remember one lady. She said: "I have not sinned for 20 years." By her words, telling us she had done nothing to offend God. For twenty years always she lived a life of complete love for God and love for neighbor. Quite an accomplishment.
Actually, I felt sorry for the lady. Everyone sins. Surely the lady had turned a blind eye to her own sins.
Saying "Yes" But Meaning "No"
Jesus tells about a sinner in today’s Gospel. A father tells his sons to go work in the vineyard. One son says, O.K., but does not go to the vineyard. That’s a sin. His words said "yes," his actions said "no." Willful disobedience of a parent. By Old Testament Law, for disobeying his father, the son could be punished by stoning (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Let’s take a quick check. When do we say "no" to God? What are some sins we do?
I’ll tell you one, stealing from work. I once lived in Washington, D. C. Go anywhere in Washington, and you will see government pens. Charge gasoline and the attendant gives you a pen marked "Property of the U. S. Government" to sign the charge card. Go to a restaurant, the waiter writes your order using a U. S. Government pen. Note well: Uncle Sam is not advertising. The pens were stolen from a government office. When we break the commandment not to steal, we are saying "no" to God.
Some of our "no’s" to God are annoying, others more serious. There’s the friend we asked to have lunch with us, and the friend never shows up. The explanation, "Time got away from me." Meaning, I really didn’t want to have lunch with you. A "no" to God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In family life, parents who pepper their conversation with gutter language are saying "no" to God, setting a bad example for their children. Children say "no" to God by disobeying their parents. God commanded us to honor our parents.
One son said, Yes, I’ll go work in the vineyard, then does not. A "yes" by his words, a "no" by his actions. His sin, willful disobedience of his father. We too can list our sins, our "no’s" to God.
Our Past Is Not Our Fate
But listen to what Ezekiel tells us. We are not slaves to our past sins. The prophet says we can shake off our past lives. Years of wrong doing put aside. New habits formed.
Works something like this. We’re watching an interactive television program. For a half hour, we watch the story. It’s a murder mystery. Then, the drama stops, we’re given options. Pick choice "A," and the clues tell us the butler did it. But, pick choice "B," then we read the clues a different way to discover the younger son did the crime.
With the interactive television program, we cannot change the first half hour. But we are able to write the end of the story. To change the outcome.
Ezekiel tells us that’s the way it is with our lives. According to the prophet, the wicked man can change and begin to live a just and righteous life. Or, the good man might go bad. Clearly, our lives up to this point are only the raw material for the rest of our lives. The past can be remade by the present.
Like a carpenter remodeling a house. The house built years ago is what the carpenter has to work with. But he can tear out walls or put in new walls or add an addition. By the time the remodeling is done, we'd never recognize the old house. We might think the carpenter tore down the old and built an entirely new house.
So too with our lives. Our past is past. What we did before can limit our opportunities. But the past does not dictate the future. If we had to habit of saying "no" to God, we can start to say "yes" to God.
Orthopraxy: Right Believing and Right Living
In our Gospel, the second son says: "No, I will not go to the vineyard. But afterward he repented and went." It’s that simple. Decide to change, then change. Decide to act like a Christian, then do what Christians do.
We start with our prayer life. So often a priest hears in confession about missing Mass. Often, due to traveling. The lax Catholic thinks, "I’m traveling, I’m excused from getting to Mass."
Another Catholic family took the opposite approach. Caught at the airport with a ten hour layover, this Catholic family said, "It’s Saturday, why not find the local Catholic Church and go to the Saturday Vigil Mass." And, they did. They checked with the information counter, rode a taxi to the Church, and went to Mass. After Mass, they asked to use the telephone to call a taxi. Instead, a parishioner gave them a ride. With still hours before their flight, the parishioner recommended a nearby restaurant. Then, introduced them to the maitre d’. After Mass, the family had the best meal and the best service of their trip.
Our "yes" to God begins with prayer. Then, being friendly with God by our prayers, we begin to imitate Christ. We put our Christian beliefs into action.
A good example comes from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Remember Bishop Sheen, popular on TV a generation ago. One day Bishop Sheen was talking to a foreign medical mission society. He praised their prayer support and reminded the society to send medical supplies.
Bishop Sheen said, In prayer, we ask God to bless the efforts of the medical mission. And, we back up our prayers with action. We send medicines to support the medical mission.
In our daily decisions, our actions need to reflect our Christian values. For example, pick out some sin and stop doing it. Perhaps, the sin of judging someone. The quick crack of judgment passed on so lightly can deeply hurt the other person. And, it’s so easy to think others should live by our standards. But no good Christian sets in judgment. Just stop judging.
Or at the fast service store, bypass the adult literature section. Pornography appeals to our baser side. Christians seek the deeper love found within the Sacrament of Marriage. Doing better is easy: don't buy the sex magazine.
The second son told God "no," then repented. He went to the vineyard, a big "yes" to God. Its all very simple. Decide to act like a Christian, then let our actions reflect our Christian values.
On retreats a song often song goes like this: "They will know we are Christians by our love." Make that a question for ourselves. Will people know we are Christian by our lives? Does what we do day in and day out, at work, with our families, say "yes" to God?
Even if we used to be notorious sinners, God welcomes those who say "yes" into his kingdom.