Today we pray with the Psalmist, “Remember your mercies, O Lord” (Psalm 25:6).
We beg the Lord to remember his mercy toward us because we are all too often like that second son of whom Jesus speaks (cf. Matthew 21:30). He said that he would carry out the wishes of his father, but he did not.
We hear the voice of Jesus every day, urging us and telling us how to be faithful to him. Each day of our lives he says to us, “go out and work in the vineyard today” (Matthew 21:29). Sometimes we do the work of the Lord, and other times we do not.
What is this work that the Lord asks us to perform? What does it mean to labor in his vineyard? It means, first of all, that we must turn from our wickedness and do what is just and right (cf. Ezekiel 18:27). Having done so, we will have in us “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:6).
But some will surely say, “I have not done anything wicked; I am basically a good person.” The second part may well be true, but not the first. Each of us has committed – and even still commits – wicked deeds, for whenever we fail to carry out the Lord’s work in his vineyard that he has given us to do we turn to wicked deeds. Whenever we fail to love we surely do not do good deeds, but wicked.
The Apostle Paul says to us today, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing” (Philippians 2:2). The one thing of which Saint Paul begs us to think is Jesus Christ.
It is Christ himself that we are to imitate and follow, for “he shows sinners the way” (Psalm 25:8); it is he who shows us what is just and right.
We know that by virtue of our Baptism we have become one with Christ, members of his Body, the Church, and we are therefore united with each other and with every member of the baptized. This is why the Apostle says to us, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves; each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
But how are we to do this? How are we to have in us that same attitude that is in Christ? It is only by listening to him and by being obedient to Christ Jesus – as he was obedient to the Father – that our work in the vineyard will bear fruit.
It comes down to a question of obedience. Will we listen to the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:27), who “guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9)? Or will we be like that second son, who “turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies” (Ezekiel 18:26)? Will we be a faithful son or no? The choice is ours; we need only “listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).
How then are we to grow in virtue and grow ever more obedient to Christ so that we will live and not die? We need look no further than where we are, here, at the altar of the Lord, gathered as we are for the celebration of the Holy Mass.
When he was in France last week commemorating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us:
The Mass invites us to discern what, in ourselves, is obedient to the Spirit of God and what, in ourselves, is obedient to the spirit of evil. In the Mass, we want to belong to Christ and we take up with gratitude – with thanksgiving – the cry of the psalmist: “How shall I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? (Psalm 116:12).”
Yes, how indeed shall we repay the Lord? We must first consider again how it is that the Lord has shown his goodness to us.
Here, at the altar of the Lord, in every celebration of the Eucharist, we know that these words of Saint Paul are true, that Christ Jesus
emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8).
Here at this altar the Lord Jesus continually empties himself for us as he gives himself to us in the Eucharist. He humbles himself for us and makes himself present under the appearance of bread and wine. His goodness toward us is shown in his giving of himself for us.
Here at this altar the death of Jesus Christ is re-presented to the Father and we who have been baptized into his death and resurrection are invited to partake of his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, all because Christ Jesus continually humbles himself and comes to us.
It is here that we learn the attitude that is in Christ, the attitude of humble and faithful love that gives itself completely and entirely for the other. It is this same attitude that you and I must have in us.
In the presence of such great love, how can we not listen to Christ Jesus? How can refuse to carry out his will for us? Looking upon the Crucified Lord do we not know that we must give ourselves to him as he has given himself to us? Yes, let us love the Lord Jesus by taking upon ourselves the same attitude that is his so that we might love our neighbor as well.
To do so we must humble ourselves and listen to the Lord, trusting that he knows what is best for us. It may at first seem to us that the work he asks us to do in his vineyard is toilsome, but if we place our hand to the plow he sets before us we will find his work brings great delight and satisfaction. Indeed, he knows well what will satisfy the deepest aspirations of our hearts and it is this that he sets before us. To carry out the work of the Lord is to find our peace and to belong to Christ.
Let each of us then be like that son who carried out his father’s will. It is true that at first he said, “No,” to his father, but it is also true that the Lord shows we sinners the way.
The son’s love for his father kept tugging at his heart and he humbled himself, he set aside his own desires and set to work, in the end obeying his father. We, too, must let our love for the Lord direct every aspect of our lives that we might work well in his vineyard and, with his grace, bring about a rich harvest and live. Amen.