Every parent with teenagers or teacher who works with adolescents can relate to the father who calls his two sons to work in the vineyard. And most, I think, would agree that they would prefer the child who shouts “No!” and slams doors, but then calms down and does what they were asked, rather than the one who makes promises but never keeps them.
The lesson illustrated here might be simply stated, “Actions speak louder than words.” Or as St Francis is said to have instructed his followers, “Go and preach the Gospel. Use words if you have to.”
But many of us, if we are honest, can see ourselves in the second son. We say “Yes!” with the best of intentions but fail to follow through. We try to make time for daily prayer and scripture reflection, but there are always so many other tasks calling our attention. When we finally sink into a chair, we’d rather read that novel waiting to be cracked open, or watch something mindless on a screen.
We can also fail to answer the call by over-committing ourselves. This is particularly true of those who work in ministry, in care-giving professions, or as social justice advocates. There are so many compelling causes and necessary tasks that need our attention. We mean well, but there is never enough time to do everything. In our attempt to juggle everything we stumble, lose our balance and drop some balls. Soon we’re not sure what’s important any more.
That’s when it is time to ask, “Is God calling me to do this or is it my ego?” We might need time to discern the answer to that question. Time and space; empty space, without commitments or distractions. The son who answered “I will not!” probably changed his mind after quiet reflection. It’s hard to hear the voice of the Spirit when we are surrounded by noise.
As the summer draws to a close and a new season of harvest and celebration is upon us, it is a good time to ask ourselves: What is working in my life and what is not? What seeds have I planted but not harvested? Have I neglected important tasks or relationships by letting myself get too busy? What do I have to let go of to lead a simpler life? What is stopping me?
Perhaps we need to take a lesson from the prostitutes and tax collectors of the Gospel. They had no social status or position to uphold. The Chief priests and elders, on the other hand, were too busy worrying about what people would think of them to really listen to the gospel message. Let us find some empty space this week and allow ourselves to exhale. Let go of all the noise and distractions that keep us from answering the call.