In Sunday’s Gospel, The Parable of the Two Sons, we see two young men and a father who ask them to work a day in the fields. The first son tells his father he will not work the fields but changes his mind and goes. The second son tells his father yes, he will work in the field but does not.
To be fair to the second son, we do not know why this is so. My traitorous human heart tells me it was probably because he didn’t want to.
Maybe a group of friends came along, and he decided he’d rather hang out with them. Maybe he felt like cooling off in a local stream instead. Maybe a pretty girl walked by and distracted him.
But maybe he remembered another promise he’d made earlier and had to keep that one or maybe he had a sick child who needed tending. Maybe something really did come up that prevented him from going.
But I doubt it.
In fact, some times, when I’m feeling especially judgmental, I wonder if this young man had ever intended to work in his father’s fields or if he had just told him yes to get his father off his back.
Why is it that I assume the man didn’t go because of something negative inside of him rather than because God called him to do something even more pressing?
I’m guessing it’s because of something negative inside of me.
Because I know what I am capable of as far as saying what I will do and then following through. If I break a promise, it is probably because I was lazy or forgetful or self-centered and put my own desires ahead of the promise I’d made. Very seldom do I have a really good excuse for not doing something I say I will do.
Fortunately, very seldom do I say I will do something and then not follow through, even when it’s difficult to do so.
The importance of keeping one’s word, whether it is in marriage or parenting or just being friendly to those in the neighborhood, cannot be underestimated. God asks, “If I cannot trust you in little things, how can I trust you in big things?”
Tending the fields may not seem like a big deal in our urbanized society, but failing to work the fields could mean starvation and death in earlier times. Even today, it can mean death in many societies and the loss of a generational family home in others.
I wonder if we put too much emphasis on saying what is right, in being politically correct, in trying not to hurt other people’s feelings and not enough emphasis on doing what is right. If you say you will do something or intend to do something, but fail, is that good enough or should you have said you couldn’t do it and left the job to someone better qualified?
If we say we believe in what the church teaches, in what all Christian churches teach, regarding things like marriage, sex, abortion, giving to the poor, caring for the least of these, and more, but then find exceptions and reasons the Commandments do not apply to us or ways to justify our own behavior or excuse our lack of doing because we compare ourselves to those who do less,
are we no better than the man who said yes to his father but who turned away?
What does giving your word mean and how important is keeping it to you? If you must break your word, do you have a really good reason for doing so or are you searching for excuses to justify your excuse? Are you finding friendships with others also looking to justify actions or are you seeking the brother in the field, those who may not always say the right thing but who keep their father’s word, who fulfill the father’s wishes, who labor even when they’d rather do their own thing?
For those who have been divorced, this is especially important as new friendships are chosen and the post-annulment dating world opens up with its temptations of new and wonderful choices. If you have given your word to God to follow His plans better than you had before, will you keep your Word and His plans? Will you form friendships that support God’s plans or will you turn to those with limited understanding for comfort and companionship? Will you join your brother in the field or the one speaks glibly but doesn’t respect the Father?
Which son (or daughter) will you be?