“A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went.” (Mt 21:28-29)
Man has free will. It is one of the two excellent powers in the human soul besides the intellect which God has given to man to form him in the divine image and to distinguish him from the animals. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle called man “rational animal” to indicate that man, although a physical creature needing nourishment and having material appetites, is also capable of reasoning beyond his basest desires to pursue a life of virtue.
Man’s freedom allows him to say in his heart and with his lips, “I will” or “I will not”, and then to act accordingly. However, because man struggles interiorly within his conscience he will sometimes act differently than what he has spoken. A person may say that he will help with some activity then in a moment of selfishness decide not to show up. The same person may at another time say firmly that he will not assist, but later does so because he knows how much his assistance is needed.
In today’s gospel reading God uses this deviation in man’s will to explain something important about the spiritual life: that it is the one who not only changes his mind, but the one who changes his life deliberately by following Jesus that finds the path to “righteousness”.
For this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time we place on our bulletin cover a work by the Austrian Romantic painter, Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller entitled The Day Laborer with His Son (1823). Waldmuller painted in a style known as Biedermeier. While this style seems to display a realism because of its pastoral scenes, it lacks the serious and often somber expression of the bucolic life of say the realist Jean-Francois Millet. This is because Biedermeier is fundamentally romantic and its works portray an optimism, a cheer, and even a pious communal revelry that is thoroughly indicative of this Austrian movement.
In our work we see the father in today’s parable after a long day at work in the vineyard enjoying bread, meat, drink, and pipe. He is joined there by his son who for our purpose is the same son in the parable that came out to work with his father after initially saying that he would not. The father looks toward us with satisfaction and pride in his son. His young son places his right hand on his father’s left arm to get his attention to show him the butterfly he has caught in the field. The son has the look of one who wants to please his father in the same way that Jesus set out to please His. Behind them is a vast landscape of greenery signifying that their work has produced much fruit. The other son who said that he would come (but did not) is not in the scene. In a way that son is like the prodigal son of another parable who we can only hope at a later time will change his mind and return to his father’s vineyard.
If we have said “I will not” to God our Father in any way, there is still time to change our mind and say “I will” and then to do it. We have a perfect example of how to do this in Jesus, the one and only divine Son.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services