Today's parable was addressed to the chief priests and elders. Its purpose was to highlight Jesus' invitation and acceptance of sinners and outcasts. In this sense it serves as a wake-up call to men and women who have publicly said yes to serve the Lord as priests and religious.
More than that: it invites us to pay attention to two words that govern or direct our lives. These two words are 'yes' and 'no'. They, in a way, sum up our lives.
What makes the difference in our lives is not the words themselves but the spirit in which they are said. They can be said without thinking or be said thoughtfully. But what really matters is whether or not we have acted upon them.
This parable is not foreign to our family life experience. This happens over and over again. The first son, at the request of his father, declared spontaneously, "I will not go."
The truth is we do not know why he refused. He could have been a lazy person, had other plans to go out or felt that he was constantly being asked to do things. However, time passed and he reconsidered his response.
Why did he change his mind? Was he a person given to reflection? What we do know is that at some point he began to reconsider his decision that eventually led him to change his mind. There is always time to reconsider one's decision.
The second son must have said a powerful 'yes' but never acted on it. Again we do not know why he did so. Did he forget? Did he really intend to do it? Or did he think that it was not an urgent matter? What we do know is that his 'yes' gave way to a resounding 'no'.
There is a part of each son in us. Sometimes our actions do not always match our promises. We give sometimes give our word but do not always keep it. Extramarital affairs, breaking the evangelical vows, not complying with our job description, point out the first son in us. We turn our 'yes' to 'no'.
Think of our many families that been destroyed because of spouses to have failed to honour his word that 'he would take the other as husband or wife until death'. The sexual scandal that is rocking the church is another painful example of being unfaithful to our word.
It is easy to say yes because we do not always know what is what is involved in the task to which we are committing ourselves. Doubts, panic, fears begin to overwhelm us and so it is easy for us to change our 'yes'.
The opposite also happens. We my initially say no but as the day goes by we begin to see things differently and so change our minds. In order to fulfill our promises we must hold on to our yes.
A person may make a mistake and redeem himself or herself by the grace of God. Many of the saints in the Church were sinners who had said no to God and then later changed their minds and became heroic men and women. St. Augustine is a classic example. A person will not be judged by a single act or some stage of his or her life, but by the whole of his or her life.
So you, the reader, how does today's parable challenge you? With which son do you identify? Do you strive to keep your word come what may? Do you find yourself constantly changing your 'yes' to 'no'?
We must remember that God gives us the freedom to say 'yes' or 'no'. Sometimes we say yes to God with words and no to him with our deeds. Words can never be a good substitute for deeds. We must constantly examine ourselves. We must try always to fulfil our promises and put our words into action.
Every 'no' of yesterday or of this morning can be turned into a 'yes' now. We must say what we mean and mean what we say.