One of the people killed at the World Trade Center on September 11th was Fr. Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest and chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. He was giving the last rites to a firefighter when a part of the building fell on him and killed him. I met many firefighters who knew him and loved him, and on September 14th, I attended his wake. It was a powerful experience for me to pray for peace before his open casket.
Fr. Mychal Judge had a prayer which he wrote out, and which was distributed at his wake. It was a prayer that he would do God’s will, and it went like this:
“Lord, take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet whom you want me to meet,
Tell me what you want me to say,
And keep me out of your way.”
More than anything, Mychal really wanted to do what God wanted him to do.
Our Gospel today is about doing God’s will, not just thinking about it, or talking about it, or pretending to do it, but actually doing it. Jesus is talking to the religious authorities who followed the law of Moses and pretended to do God’s will, but actually were not doing it. Instead, they cooperated with the Roman empire to control everyone and keep power over everyone. Eventually, they will order the execution of Jesus.
Jesus tells them this parable about a man who had two son, who asks the first son to go out and work in his vineyard. The son says, “No, I will not,” like any rebellious teenager, but then he changes his mind and goes to work in the vineyard.
The man goes to the second son and asks him also to go to work in his vineyard, and this son says, “Yes, sir, of course, Dad, I will go to work in your vineyard, whatever you say,” but he does not do it. Then, Jesus asks the religious authorities, “Which of the two sons did the father’s will?” They answer, the first son. Jesus then goes on to say that all those people they look down on, all the people they put down, all the people they ostracize and hate and marginalize and persecute, are probably actually doing God’s will, while they, the religious authorities, just talk about it but do their own will.
The point is that Jesus wants us to stop judging others and start doing God’s will here and now, to live in God’s reign of peace and justice. So we have to ask ourselves, Which son in the parable are we like? Do we pretend to do God’s will, saying, “I go to church, I’m politically correct, I’m a good Christian,” but have hearts full of violence and judgment that do whatever they want, OR are we actually trying to do what God wants, not only going to church on Sundays, but living the Gospel every day, loving God, trying to serve God, seeking God’s reign of justice and peace, resisting evil, practicing the nonviolence of God, praying with God?
The good news is that Jesus really wants us to be part of his reign and to do God’s will, and that means it is possible for us to do this. The problem is that while we may agree with much of God’s will, usually we do not do it, and sometimes we actively oppose it. Both of the sons in the parable have to change their minds according to the story. If we want to do God’s will, that means we too will have to change our minds, set ourselves to the task of working in God’s vineyard, and doing God’s will. If we want to do God’s will, if we dare do God’s will, that means we have to look to Jesus to find out what to do, to see what he did and then go and do likewise.
We have to say, “Ok, from now on, I’m going to love everyone I meet. I’m going to help everyone who needs help. I’m going to forgive everyone who ever hurt me. I’m going to visit the sick and the imprisoned, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. I’m going to be peaceful and nonviolent toward everyone in my family and around me. I’m not going to put others down or be selfish or hurt anyone ever again. I’m going to take quiet time every day to be with God, to seek God’s reign, and to discern God’s will. And as St. Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians, we have to put on the mind of Christ and have the attitude of Christ, and love the whole human race, which means we can no longer support war or bombing raids or executions or nuclear weapons or any form of violence or injustice, no matter how just the cause. From now on, we are a people who love our enemies, because that is what Jesus did and that is the will of God for us.
St. Paul writes that the more we show love, compassion and mercy, the more we renounce our selfishness and try to serve others and take the same attitude as Jesus who became a slave of humanity, the more we let go of ourselves and our selfish desires and try to serve God and do God’s will–the more joy we will feel, because like Mychal Judge, we will be doing not our own will, but God’s will, and we will be greatly blessed.