There was an elderly man who was confined to his bed at home. One day a priest came to see him. At the end of the visit the priest said, “I’ll pray for you.” The man looked up from his bed and said, “Father, I can pray for myself. If you want to help me, you can take out the garbage and do the laundry.”
Not too many of us talk to a priest this way or say such words to a well-intentioned person who says they are going to pray for us.
In today’s Gospel (Matt 21:28-32) Jesus tells us about a father who asks his son to go and work in the vineyard. The son says, “I won’t,” but later changes his mind and goes. The father asks his other son to go and work in the vineyard and the son says, “Yes, sir,” but he never goes.
Jesus tells us this parable to teach us that promises can never take the place of performance and fine words are never a substitute for fine deeds.
We are told that this was the last parable Jesus ever taught. It was probably delivered a couple of days before he died. So Jesus was telling it like it is. The first son said no to his father, but then went out and did what his father wanted. It is a prime example for us sinners who say NO to God, but have a change of heart and then go and do what God is calling us to do.
The second son says YES to the father but does not go and work in the vineyard. Jesus used this second son to refer to the religious authorities of his day who were long on words but short on deeds. It is the deeds we do that really prove who we are.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the first part of the newspaper he read each morning was the sports section. He said he wanted to read about people doing something rather than about politicians promising something.
Walker Percy, the famous novelist joined the Catholic Church because he watched his college roommate get up early every morning and go to mass.
It is said that Jesus is not a psychologist, he is a cardiologist. Jesus does not listen to words, Jesus listens to hearts.
I have listened to and told many stories over my 51 years as a priest. I cannot think of a story that has grabbed me more than the following story that I heard some years ago. I retell it in my mind falling asleep or waking up in the morning. It has such vivid images, words and sounds that give me much pause for reflection and prayer……
There was a cab driver who got the call to pick up a woman at 2:30 AM in a quiet part of town. The cabbie imagined that he would be picking up a hung-over party-goer or someone on their way to the airport.
The cab driver arrived at 2:30 AM and the building was dark. He honked his horn and waited several minutes. Most drivers would have honked their horns once or twice, waited a couple of minutes and then driven away. But this cabbie was different.
He got out of the car, walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute,” a frail, elderly voice called out. He could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long wait, the door opened.
A small woman in her 80’s wearing a faded blue dress appeared. She looked like someone from a 1940’s movie. At her side was a small, nylon suitcase. He got a glimpse of the apartment. The furniture was covered with sheets. In the corner were a couple of cardboard boxes filled with photos and glassware.
“Would you please carry my suitcase to the car?” she asked softly. He took the suitcase to the car and returned to assist her toward the curb. When they got in the cab, she gave him a torn piece of paper with an address that had been written with a shaky hand. She then asked politely: “Could you drive through downtown?”
“It’s not the shortest way,” he answered. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to hospice,” When he looked in his rearview mirror, he could see her eyes were glistening. “I haven’t any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.” He reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” he asked.
For the next two hours they drove through the city. She showed him a boarded up building which was once an office where she worked. She pointed out a warehouse which was once a ballroom where she had loved to go dancing. They paused in front of an old three-story flat where she said she lived as a newly-wed.
Sometimes she asked him to slow down or to stop in front of a building or an empty lot. She just sat there and stared in silence into the darkness of the night.
At the first hint of dawn, she suddenly said with reluctance, “I’m tired, let’s go.”
They drove in silence to a small, one-story convalescent home. Two orderlies came out of the door. They were expecting her. They helped her get of out of the cab. The cabbie took the small suitcase to the door. She was now seated in a wheelchair.
“How much do I owe you?” she asked as she reached for her purse. “Nothing,” he said firmly. “You have to make a living,” she protested. “There will be other passengers,” he replied.
Without thinking he bent over and gave her a hug. She held him tightly. “You gave an old woman some moments of joy,” she said. “Thank you.” He squeezed her hand and walked slowly by the dim light of the rising sun back to his cab.
He could hear the door shut behind him. It was the sound of the closing of a life. He just sat there in his cab for the longest time.
He didn’t pick up any more passengers that night. He drove through the city, lost in thought.
What if she had gotten an angry driver or one who was impatient? One who had honked once and had driven away? He sat there thinking that he had not done anything more important in his entire life.
Every time I think I have exhausted every aspect of this story, I find something new to think about and to absorb. I hope it will feed you as it has fed me over the years……
I asked God, “Why Are You Taking Me Through Troubled Waters?” God Replied, “Because Your Enemies Can’t Swim!”