TO LISTEN TO AUDIO OF THE ENTIRE MASS:
Ultimately if we thought about it - whatever our wish would’ve been - money, success, health - they are all ways that each of us deep within tries to satisfy that longing for happiness. And it’s a safe bet that tonight on your way home you won’t encounter a genie to grant you a wish (sorry) to help you achieve that goal. But when we think about it - isn’t that why we’re so often tempted to do things that we know aren’t good for us?
- or things that don’t seem right
- or even things that we know deep down inside are sinful – that’s a hard concept to deal with. Sinful things. We know certain things are sinful, or they don’t feel right or maybe we were taught that about things(and don’t want to believe it) But this desire for happiness can open us up to being confused, easily swayed - tempted by short cuts.
“I wanted to write a good term paper, but that genie never appeared – I’m so busy, I got work, I got other classes, I had no choice but to plagiarize... and what’s the big deal anyway, who cares, no one will read it, everyone does it...” That’s not limited to the classroom either... People use alcohol, drugs, sex all out of this belief that if I take this, if I do this - that will be fun, that will be pleasurable - that will lead to happiness. And when the momentary feelings of pleasure disappear, there’s that choice to keep trying, keep doing those things to try to feel more pleasure, have more fun, experience longer-term happiness. It becomes an addiction. Questions about whether we should do something or not - whether something is sinful or not become harder and harder to answer when our motivation is about making ourselves happy.
Today, Jesus gives us a pretty straight forward parable. These two sons, their Father has asked them to do some work in the vineyard. One says No and then has a change of heart and decides to go do it and the other says Yes but never shows up. Jesus asks, who did his father’s will? And we look and say, well that’s easy - it was the first one.
But we have to look deeper at what Jesus is pointing out to us. This gospel isn’t about easy answers to straight forward questions, like, is it ethical to cheat in a class to get a good grade? Jesus is telling us that he knows it’s hard to do the right thing. We give ourselves reasons, explanations, things that make our own particular case different. In a way, we can relate on some level to both of these sons in this parable:
On the one hand, – It’s hard to choose to do the right thing. We want to do the right thing on one level - the level that identifies right and wrong, ethical or not immediately - instantly, we know it in our bones. So we say "Yes" to the Lord with our lips, we are going to turn away from the bad choice and turn towards what the Lord is asking of us - but then we struggle finding our way out there to the vineyard. It’s kind of hard to do what the Lord is asking me to do, when I got so much else to do, so many other things weighing on me. We become weak and self-serving. We allow ourselves to sit on the throne in our lives and move Jesus aside.
But truth be told, there are probably times that we know what the right thing is and we’re like the other son. We’re a bit more honest and say "No" - I know what I’m being asked to do, I know what the right thing is, and I know it’s difficult - so "No" I’m not interested - I don’t want to do it. Because we’ve bought into the lie that "the right thing" is a nice ideal and nice guys finish last. We don't want to be fooled or cheated. The challenge that Jesus presents to us is this. Can we look at him and see beyond the here and now? We use our human senses to say what is true. Jesus’ mission is to make God so real and present to us here and now so we will look for Him and be pointed towards eternity. To realize all of the decisions and choices we make on a daily basis contribute to whether we want to be with Him or not - whether we want to be a part of his Kingdom, his vineyard - or not.
We start to realize that these daily decisions, battles, internal struggles we have over the right thing versus the wrong thing are all part of demonstrating what road, what path am I traveling on? But this isn’t about a "follow the rules or else" type of living - it’s about Jesus reaching out to you and me and showing us the bigger picture. The promises of this world, the pursuits of these things don’t lead to the happiness we seek. The happiness we seek will only happen by keeping our eyes focused on Him. Living for Him. Following Him. And yes, that’s hard to do.
Which is why it’s always struck me as profoundly beautiful that in this parable, the one Jesus holds up as an example for us is the son who said "No" to the Father’s request but then changed his mind and went. Think about it – Jesus doesn’t use examples of people who never stray, who never doubt or question. In fact it’s quite the opposite – The gospels are filled with examples of people who struggle, who disappoint, who fall away. People just like you and me. And consistently, Jesus rejoices in the moment of conversion, holds up as an example the time when the person realizes they’ve messed up and turn back to him.
As we are bombarded on a daily basis with decisions and choices to make, it is difficult to navigate through them all, to consistently make the "right" choice. Pope St. John Paul II once gave an incredibly beautiful explanation on the pursuit of happiness: “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
May you and I engage in that difficult, but eternally rewarding task of engaging in the pursuit for true happiness - living for Him, following Jesus.