Once again, this week’s readings invite us to consider the ways of God’s justice and mercy. He teaches His ways only to the humble, as we sing in today’s Psalm. And in the Epistle today, Paul presents Jesus as the model of that humility by which we come to know life’s true path. We can only come to God, to serve in His vineyard, the Church, by having that same attitude as Christ. Israel’s leaders in their vanity, they presumed their superiority—that they had no further need to hear God’s Word or God’s servants.
Jesus asks yet another question— “What do you think?”—and then launches into a parable about two sons. When their father asks the sons to work in the vineyard, one son says something like, “Sure! I’ll get right on that!” But he doesn’t follow through in the end How often have we made a promise or a commitment that, for whatever reason, we couldn’t keep? But the focus of the parable is on the other son—the one who, unlike his brother, initially says he won’t help but winds up doing so in the end, regardless of what initially prevented him, the son eventually accepted his father’s invitation to go to work in the vineyard.
At its core, this parable is the pattern of our life with God. No matter what we’ve done, or what may have initially prevented us, God is always extending an invitation to us. We are constantly being drawn into a new place—to new depths of faith, to a new place.
No matter if this is the first time we’ve ever heard the Gospel, or if we’ve been faithful Christians for decades, this parable lays bare one fact: God isn’t finished with us yet! There’s no such thing as a retired or part-time disciple of Jesus! But here’s the thing: life with God is always forward-looking, always calling us out of the past and present and into something new. To live we must be willing to leave the past behind—no matter how comfortable or familiar and turn toward the future, complete with all its uncertainties and questions and anxieties. And make no mistake: that’s hard!
The Chief Priests and the elders of Jesus’ day, had quite a bit invested in the status quo. Leaving the past behind meant forfeiting their claims to power and position, which had become their entire identity. Stepping into life with God meant leaving all of that behind, in favour of a future they couldn’t predict and couldn’t control.
And, then there were the tax collectors and prostitutes, whose past was marked by derision and servitude; of being treated as things rather than as persons. For them, God’s future brought new life!
This is the essential question that every single one of us must faithfully discern: Is God calling us out of our past or present circumstances, into something new?
The truth is, sometimes the answer to that question is unsettling. After all, for as hopeful and encouraging as the future might seem, it’s always uncertain. At least we know our past, even if it is limited.
As people of faith, we are called to hold that tension between the certainty and comfort of our past and the uncertainty and discomfort of God’s future. We’re called to ask ourselves how our past has been allowed to determine our future, how it has restricted our ability to live faithfully, and to consider where it is that we find life and joy and peace, versus where we find resentment and fear and death.
We’re called to ask these questions of our communities of faith, too. How have our churches become entrenched in the structures and strictures of the past? How does doing the same old thing because we’ve always done it that way cut us off from new and life-giving possibilities? What parts of our common life together need holding onto, and what needs letting go?
But, one final word of caution: when we ask these questions from fear and anxiety—wringing our hands over what our future or our church’s future will be—these questions bear little transformative power. But if we ask them from a place of discernment and faithfulness, we can be sure that as we do this hard and holy work, God will be with us on the journey. He is the food we need for our strength. He is our way, our truth, and our life.
And in the end, we will find life more abundant!