Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 27.
Most novels are divided into chapters. The early chapters introduce the characters and subsequent chapters take us through the twists and turns of the plot -- some of which may be quite unexpected, especially as we reach the climax of the story. Sometimes the people you'd least expect end up saving the day. For instance, in “Schindler's List” the Nazi exploiter of Jews ends up rescuing lots of Jews -- and that wasn't even fiction.
This is also true in our own lives, meaning that there could well remain some twists and turns yet to occur in our own future and in that of those we love, some of which may also be very unexpected. In Jesus' parable a man has two sons whom he tells to go out and work in the vineyard. The first son is belligerent and disobedient. He refuses to comply, right to his father's face. I’ll bet we all know teenagers like this -- they have a bad attitude, and this makes life miserable for everyone, especially for themselves. And then by the grace of God, some of them do finally come to their senses -- just like the man in Jesus’ story. They realize how miserable their bad attitude has made them and they decide to turn their whole life around and thus begin a whole new – positive -- chapter in their life and begin to live the way they know they should. Yesterday's sinner becomes tomorrow's saint.
The other son in Jesus’ story, unfortunately, does the opposite. He had been the so-called “good kid,” always going along with whatever his father said, but now his life has turned a page and he's not such a good kid anymore. In this new chapter he decides not to follow through on his commitments and his life is now -- at least for the moment -- on a collision course with disaster. Probably we all know people like that too -- the good kid turned bad. We might even be that kid ourselves.
What is Jesus saying here? In the context of our Gospel, the chief priests and elders -- the respectable people of his day -- say all the right words, give God lip service, but are in fact not doing God's will. They rejected John the Baptist even though God was clearly speaking through him and now they are rejecting Jesus.
On the other hand, the people you'd least expect -- traitors, swindlers and prostitutes -- who up to now have been doing everything but God's will are now coming to their senses and turning their lives around, including Matthew the tax collector and Mary Magdalene. The Good News is that once they begin to follow Jesus, their lives take a decisive turn for the better and from now on they become more and more faithful and obedient to God. The Good News is also that Jesus' adversaries can turn their lives around too. But if they want to change their lives, they'd better start writing that positive new chapter right now while there's still time. And he says the same thing to you and me and those we love. No one still alive is so lost that they are beyond the point of being able to turn their lives around.
The Good News is that you can be happy. But it doesn't happen automatically. You're writing the book and you're the one who decides what the next chapter will say.
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