26th Sunday in O.T.; 9-28-14
Ez 18:25-28 Ps 25 Phil 2:1-11 Mt 21:28-32
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
What kind of future are you preparing for? For some, it’s trying to get an elusive release date. For others, it’s resigning oneself to a lifetime sentence and all that entails living in Folsom Prison. Today, Jesus is encouraging us to think about the consequences of our choices—especially those choices that will effect our relationship with others and God here and now. Pushing it further, how will our choices count for eternity. In the spiritual life, there are only two directions: we’re either moving towards God and eternal life or we’re moving away towards permanent separation. As Catherine of Siena once said, “The road to heaven is heaven and the road to hell is hell.”
Today’s Gospel is all about gratitude and showing respect where it is due. Jesus tells a simple story about two imperfect sons to illustrate the way of the Kingdom of God. The father has provided everything the sons need to live a good, decent life: they’ve been given food, lodging, and everything else they need. The Father didn’t hold anything back for himself. All the stuff the Father had belonged to his sons as well. On top of that, he rewarded his sons to work in his own vineyard. What did the Father expect in return? He expected them to show gratitude, to be loyal to the one who had given them everything, and to honor him by doing their share of their daily work. Gratitude, loyalty, and honor—that’s not asking for too much, is it?
The “rebellious son” initially blew the Father off. He couldn’t be bothered and would rather go his own way even if that would cause a riff in the relationship. But afterwards the son, who probably did some bad things contrary to his Father’s purposes, had a change of heart and came back to do his Father’s will. The “good son,” on the other hand, initially said he’d work for his father—he went through the motions but his heart just wasn’t in it. So, he didn’t follow through. He sought his own pleasure, his own happiness outside of his relationship with the Father. Both sons disobeyed their Father. Which one do you identity with? The one who was bad from the beginning, but repented and then did what the Father told him to do? Or, the one who professed gratitude and loyalty, but acts just the opposite? Jesus makes his point clear: good intentions are not enough. Promises don’t count unless they’re followed through with actions. Eventually, we can judge what we really value by how we live. Are we giving God our gratitude, loyalty, and honor or are we not. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back: Do or do not—there is no in between.”
Brothers, we are all sinners. We’ve all thought, said, and done bad things. Yet, God still loves us no matter what. God is merciful and he’s willing to work with us, to transform our hearts so that it may be filled with gratitude and respect. As we cooperate with grace through prayer, the Sacraments, and reflection upon Scripture and Tradition, we will gradually show by our speech and actions that we respect God our Father—that we respect his will and we do it no matter what the consequences are. Brothers, God offers each one of us the greatest treasure possible, which lies buried here at Folsom Prison. He offers you a peace that cannot be destroyed, an immeasurable joy, and a friendship with him in his everlasting Kingdom. Who or what else can offer you peace, joy, and friendship that will endure forever? But, we’ve got to cooperate because if we don’t, we can lose it. If we refuse his grace, we’re condemning ourselves to a life of futility, frustration, anxiety, anger, and fear. That’s no way to live.
You may wonder, “how can I possibly live Jesus’ Way here at Folsom Prison?” Left to yourself, you can’t; but, you’re not alone—you have the greatest ally in the Holy Spirit who works in and through you so that you can do the Father’s will for his glory. So, it gets down to this: do you seek to please God and respect his will and honor his loving plan for your life? If so, allow the Holy Spirit to animate and energize you, to fill your heart with peace, joy, and righteousness for God’s Kingdom.
Let us pray as a small faith community at Folsom Prison that we only desire what is pleasing to our Father. Let us pray that we live our lives with a sense of gratitude, loyalty, and honor to the God who gives us everything he is. Let us pray for the strength, joy, and perseverance to carry out his purposes wholeheartedly. Amen.