How many of you keep a to-do list or a honey-do list? We make many commitments throughout the day, and it’s hard to keep track of what we said ‘yes’ to in our head unless we write it down. But how successful are we in completing at least half of the items on the list? There are lots of things that we say we’ll do, and even write down on our lists, that we never do. Don’t we use phrases like, “I forgot,” “I’ll get around to it later,” or “I was too busy”? Some commitments left undone have little consequences; others have grave consequences that reflect back on us, on our reputation and our relationships. Do you ever wonder then, how many to-do items on our ‘never-got-done’ list was something that God asked us to do? Do those ‘never-got-done’ to-dos affect our relationship with God?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a simple story of two imperfect sons to illustrate the way of God's kingdom. The father probably provided for his sons food, lodging, and everything they needed. He probably expected them to show him gratitude, loyalty, and honor by doing their fair share of the daily work. The first son told his father to his face that he would not work for him, but afterwards he changed his mind and did what his father commanded him. The second son said he would work for his father, but didn't follow through. He sought his own pleasure, contrary to his father's will. Now which was really the good son? Both sons disobeyed their father - but one repented, changed his heart, and then did what the father told him.
This particular parable was addressed to the Jewish leaders who prided themselves on their righteousness and piety. The leaders even looked down upon those whose situations in life frequently prevented them from adhering to various prescriptions of the Law. They were like the second son in the parable who said he would obey God, but then did not. The tax-collectors and the prostitutes are those who said that they would go their own way and then later on took God’s way. This parable is not really praising either group. The parable is setting before us a picture of two very imperfect sets of people, of whom one set were nonetheless better than the other. Neither son in the parable was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both were unsatisfactory; however, the one who in the end obeyed the father was better than the other. The ideal son would be the son who accepted the father’s orders with obedience and with respect and who unquestioningly and fully carried them out.
There is part of both of those sons in each of us. When we give our word but don’t keep it, we exhibit a similar non-committal attitude of the second son. When we say ‘no’ to God but later repent and follow through, we exhibit a similar rebelliousness of the first son. God wants to change our hearts so that we will show by our speech and by our actions that we respect his will and do it. If I have committed myself to God’s kingdom, am I doing its work?
I keep a daily checklist which honestly, I often do not successfully accomplish. My list is titled Daily Questions to Myself and it helps me recognize the will of the Heavenly Father for each day.
- Among the persons whom I encountered today, who touched me with their gifts or generosity?
- Among the persons I encountered, did I help them understand their gifts, challenges, and call to action?
- Who did I talk or think negatively about today? What did I not like about the person? What does God say about that person? What can I do to change my point of view to God’s point of view?
- Am I willing to love the person, for where they are now? Am I humble enough to ask God to give me the grace to see the good and to see Jesus in that person?
- What is the beauty of God that is hidden in that person?
- Whom did I annoy or hurt through my words or actions. Whom do I need to ask forgiveness from?
Let’s come back to our to-do list. Is there one to-do item that we can add to our daily routine that can help us help recognize and respond to God’s requests? Certainly prayer comes to mind. I challenge each of you to ask God at the beginning of the day, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening. What can I do for you today?”