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Archbishop Follo: The Conversion of the Heart

XXVI Sunday of Ordinary Time – October 1, 2017

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Roman Rite
XXVI Sunday of Ordinary Time – October 1, 2017
Ez 18: 25-28; Ps 25; Phil 2: 11; Mt 21: 28-32
Ambrosian Rite
Dt 6, 4-12; Ps 18; Gal 5: 1-14; Mt 22.34-40
Fifth Sunday after the Martyrdom of St. John the Precursor.
1) It is convenient to convert
Today, Christ speaks again of the Lord’s vineyard that is used in the Bible to indicate the people of God.
First, in the image of the vineyard it is expressed the care, meaning the love, that God has for his people. The entire story of the old Alliance is the story of a provident God, a God rich in care and in mercy who shares the joys and the sufferings of his people. It is the story of a present God who saves and who, particularly in the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, in the words and works of Christ, and in his death and resurrection, reveals himself as the God with us, the God for us, our Salvation and Redemption. Like the grapes of a grape bunch, God takes care of each one and of all.
Secondly, the image of the vine indicates the need for man’s collaboration in the vineyard of God. That is why, in the Gospel of last Sunday, Christ has taught that the vineyard is the place where we are invited to work and to be daytime companions in order to care for the people of God. «By working in this vine we prepare the wine of the Divine mercy to be poured on the wounds of the suffering people» (St. Gregory the Great). Today, Christ states that this collaboration is not made by strangers in the house of the Father, but by his children. One of these workers at the beginning says yes to the Father who invites him to go to work in the family vineyard, then he does not go. The other worker says no but then goes there because he felt sorry and because his heart has changed. This change allows him to observe the command of the Father. Ii is an obedience that puts him on the road to good life: the road of the unified heart.
Let us pray the Lord to keep our hearts together (see Ps 87, 11), let us seek him with a simple heart that does not have second purposes.
Praying and acting in the obedience of love, we let us live and be the first to receive an advantage gaining a great heart that makes life sprout (see Proverbs 4,23) and that realizes the Father’s will to live. This is the will to have a home served not by servants forced to obey, but inhabited by children free and mature in love and, therefore, collaborators of the Father for the maturation of the world and the fertility of the earth.
The difference between the son who acts as a rebellious servant and the son who recognizes the love of the Father is not so much in the fact that one says yes or no to his father, but it is in what it actually happens in their heart: one does not repent, the other does and converts to work in the vineyard of the Father «with hands that are the landscape of the heart» (Saint John Paul II).
That is why we must repent, namely convert, as it is reminded by today’s first reading in which we read: «If the wicked turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.”(Ez 18:28).
The Greek verb that in the Gospel of today is translated with «repent», means «change of the heart». In fact, the repentance that the obedient son has experienced in his existence, was not limited to the moral level- as conversion from immorality to morality – or to the intellectual level- as change in one’s own way of understanding reality – but it was rather a radical renewal of the heart, similar in many respects to a rebirth. He was reborn in the awareness to be son and not servant.
We will experience the same thing if we will bear the pain of our sin and will accept the grace of God’s love. If we give God our pain, he will confirm us in his love and we will be happy to work in his vineyard.
2) The double meaning of the vineyard.
God is a father, not a master. God loves and invites to work in his vineyard according to his will of benevolent love. He wants all his children to be saved, live in peace and in fraternal communion and work to «improve» the world.
In this sense, we could say that the word vine has two meanings. «It means all the world created by God for man: for every man and for all men. At the same time, it means the small part of the world, the «fragment», which is the concrete duty of every concrete man. In this second meaning, the «vineyard» is at the time same «within us» and «outside of us». We must cultivate it improving the world and improving ourselves. Indeed, one depends on the other: I make the world better as much as I improve myself. Otherwise, I’m just a «technician» of the world’s development and not the «worker» in the vineyard «(St. John Paul II, 18 December 1978).
In this sense the «vineyard», to which I was sent like the two sons of today’s Gospel, must become the place of my work for the world and my work on myself. If it is correct to say that the «vineyard» also means the inner world, it is equally correct to affirm that we must work the vine of our heart to receive Christ Jesus.
The work in the inner vineyard is difficult because it requires renouncing ourselves. It is not astonishing that a son called to work in it says «I will not go». However, the work in the «inner vineyard» is indispensable otherwise man introduces sin and evil in this world, which has been created for him. Then, in the «inner vineyard» the circle of sin widens, and the structures of sin increase in power. The atmosphere of the world we live in becomes morally more and more poisoned. We cannot surrender to this destruction of the human environment by sin. We must oppose it.
At this point, one might ask: «How can we oppose sin and engage in this inner vineyard?” Living in» grace “and committing ourselves to always participate in the divine life grafted in us by Baptism. To live in grace is supreme dignity, ineffable joy, a guarantee of peace, a wonderful ideal and must also be a logical concern for those who proclaim to be followers of Christ.
An exemplary way to live the life of grace is that of the consecrated Virgins. These women, by donating themselves fully to Christ who says «I am the vine, you the branches, who remains in me brings much fruit «(Jn 15: 5), cultivate the» vine of their heart «, giving the primacy of God’s love over all other values. They live in the total availability to listen to the Word and in divine praise offering, with an existence that becomes service of love, an exemplary realization of what the whole Christian community should be serving the world.
Finally, they testify that the pay of their working day is «money», but this «money» is Christ who gives himself totally to each of us, even when we are called at the eleventh hour.
At the conclusion of our reflections and as a community prayer to God, let’s say in faith: «Father, you, who are always ready to welcome publicans and sinners just as they repent in their heart, do promise life and salvation to every man who stays away from injustice: may your Spirit make us docile to your word and give us the same feelings that are in Christ Jesus » (Collect of the XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)
Patristic reading
Golden Chain (On Mt 21, 28-32)
Jerome: Thus much prefaced, the Lord brings forward a parable, to convict them of their irreligion, and show them that the kingdom of God should be transferred to the Gentiles.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Those who are to be judged in this cause, He applies to as judges, that condemning themselves they might be shown to be unworthy to be acquitted by any other. It is high confidence of the justness of a cause that will entrust it to the decision of an adversary. But He veils the allusion to them in a parable, that they might not perceive that they were passing sentence upon themselves; «A certain man had two sons.» Who is he but God, who created all men, who being by nature Lord of all, yet would rather be loved as a father, than feared as a Lord. The elder son was the Gentile people, the younger the Jews, since from the time of Noah there had been Gentiles. And he came to the (p. 725) first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. Today,» i.e. during this age. He spoke with him, not face to face as man, but to his heart as God, instilling understanding through the senses. To work in the vineyard is to do righteousness; for to cultivate the whole thereof, I know not that any one man is sufficient. Jerome: He speaks to the Gentile people first, through their knowledge of the law of nature; «Go and work in my vineyard;» i.e. «What you would not have done to you, that do not you to others.» (Tb 4, 16) He answers haughtily, «I will not.»
Pseudo-Chrys.: For the Gentiles from the beginning leaving God and his righteousness, and going over to idols and sins, seem to make answer in their thoughts, we will not do the righteousness of God. Jerome: But when, at the coming of the Savior, the Gentile people, having done penitence, labored in God’s vineyard, and atoned by their labor for the obstinacy of their refusal, this is what is said, «But afterward he repented, and went.» The second son is the Jewish people who made answer to Moses, «All that the Lord hath said unto us we will do.» (Ex 24, 3)
Pseudo-Chrys.: But afterward turning their backs, they lied unto God, according to that in the Psalms, «The sons of the strangers have lied unto me.» (Ps 18, 44) This is what is said, «But he went not.» The Lord accordingly asks «which of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, the first.» See how they have first sentence upon themselves, saying, that the elder son, that is, the Gentile people, did the will of his father. For it is better not to promise righteousness before God, and to do it, than to promise, and to fail.
Origen: Whence we may gather, that in this parable the Lord spoke to such as promise little or nothing, but in their works shine forth; and against those who promise great things but do none of these things that they have promised. Jerome: It should be known that in the correct copies it is read not «The last,» but the first,» that they might be condemned by their own sentence. But should we prefer to read, as some have it, «The last,» the explanation is obvious, to say that the Jews understood the truth, but dissembled, and would not say what they thought; just as though they knew that the baptism of John was from heaven, they would not say so.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The Lord abundantly confirms their decision, (p. 726) whence it follows, «Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto yon, that the publicans and harlots shall go before you in the kingdom of God;» as much as to say, Not only the Gentiles are before you, but even the publicans and the harlots.
Raban: Yet the kingdom of God may be understood of the Gentiles, or of the present Church, in which the Gentiles go before the Jews, because they were more ready to believe.
Origen: Notwithstanding, the Jews are not shut out that they should never enter into the kingdom of God; but, «when the fullness of the Gentiles shall have entered in, then all Israel shall be saved.»
Pseudo-Chrys.: I suppose that the «publicans» here are to represent all sinful men, and «the harlots» all sinful women; because avarice is found the most prevailing vice among men, and fornication among women. For a woman’s life is passed in idleness and seclusion, which are great temptations to that sin, while a man, constantly occupied in various active duties, falls readily into the snare of covetousness, and not so commonly into fornication, as the anxieties of manly cares preclude thoughts of pleasure, which engage rather the young and idle. Then follows the reason of what He had said, «For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed Him not.»
Raban: John came preaching the way of righteousness because he pointed to Christ, who is the fulfilling of the Law.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, because his venerable conversation smote the hearts of sinners, as it follows, «But the Publicans and harlots believed on him.» Mark how the good life of the preacher gives its force to his preaching, so as to subdue unsubdued hearts. «And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him;» as much as to say, They have done that which is more by believing on Him, ye have not even repented, which is less. But in this exposition which we have set forth according to the mind of many interpreters, there seems to me something inconsistent. For if by the two sons are to be understood the Jews and Gentiles, as soon as the Priests had answered that it was the first son that did his father’s will, then Christ should have concluded His parable with these words, Verily I say unto you, that the Gentiles shall go into the kingdom of God before you. But He says, «The Publicans and harlots,» a class rather of Jews (p. 727) than of Gentiles. Unless this is to be taken as was said above; So much rather the Gentile people please God than you, that even the Publicans and harlots are more acceptable to Him than you. Jerome: Whence others think that the parable does not relate to Gentiles and Jews, but simply to the righteous and to sinners. These by their evil deeds had rejected God’s service, but after received from John the baptism of repentance; while the Pharisees who made a show of righteousness, and boasted that they did the law of God, despising John’s baptism, did not follow his precepts.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This He brings in because the Priests had asked not in order to learn, but to tempt Him. But of the common folk many had believed; and for that reason He brings forward the parable of the two sons, showing them therein that the common sort, who from the first professed secular lives, were better than the Priests who from the first professed the service of God, inasmuch as the people at length turned repentant to God, but the Priests impenitent, never left off to sin against God. And the elder son represents the people; because the people is not for the sake of the Priests, but the Priests are for the sake of the people.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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