[26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, Sept 28, 2014/Ezek 18:25-28/Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9/ Phil 2:1-11 or 2:1-5/ Matt 21:28-32]
In today’s Sunday gospel Jesus gives us the interesting example of the two sons. When asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard the first one replies “I will not,” but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The other son was also asked to go and work in the vineyard and replied, “Yes, sir,” but did not go. Jesus then asks the question, “Which of the two did his father’s will?”
We would all agree, as did the listeners 2000 years ago, that it was only the first son who did the will of his father. Jesus uses this example to explain that many people such as tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of heaven because they changed their ways. They believed in the gospel that they heard and had a change of heart and mind. In this sense, by their lives they first said no to God but later changed their ways and said yes, like the first son in the parable.
The so-called righteous ones, however, are those that say yes to God with their lip service but their heart is far from God and in their lives they give a big no to his presence and to his love. Like the man who sang in the choir every Sunday, “Yes Lord!” but away from the church his life was a big no to the Lord.
God does not just want a blind yes from us, a yes given out of fear, a yes out of conformism. Many times today the yes we Christians give is very mediocre. It is a Christianity of “cheap grace,” a yes that does not cost anything. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German protestant pastor who was executed by the Nazis in World War II, wrote about the grace offered to Christians. It is a grace so powerful that it enables the Christians to grow in faith and love, even to the point of living exemplary and holy lives, to live a life that stands out in the crowd. This grace has been bought at a price – the cost of the life of Christ. When we modify our way of following of the Lord and water down our options, we are living a life of cheap grace. Our yes does not cost us anything. Very soon that yes will become a maybe and then a no.
Jesus also criticizes those who did not believe the example of John the Baptist. They see but they do not believe or change their ways. Often what they see can make them lose faith. Many today lose faith in the Church because they say it is rich. Once I came to Mass on my bicycle to serve as deacon. There was a man standing outside the church and I asked him if he was going to the service. “No,” he said, “I don’t have faith anymore. How can I believe when the Church is so rich?” He then proceeded to tell me a friend had heard that a Bishop was leaving the Vatican in a sports car!
I started to laugh because instead of noticing the bicycle in front of him he had decided to believe this story. Often we believe what we want to believe, and many times it is to justify our own mediocrity! He could also believe in many examples of religious men and women who leave everything behind and dedicate their whole lives to the poor such as the brothers and sisters of Mother Teresa who have as their specific charism to go to the poorest of the poor.
It is true that it is not easy for us to change. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks! But Jesus is patient. His patience is our opportunity for salvation. Even if we say no at first, with the help of his Spirit we can give a big yes. In many quiz shows they announce, “I’m sorry. We can only accept your first answer.” Luckily for us Jesus gives us a second chance and our initial no can change when we see it is not the right answer, when we see that the way of life we have chosen is not making us happy. We don’t need to be stuck in a rut or complain that God is not fair. Like in the first reading of today: “You say, ‘The LORD’S way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ezekiel 18:25).
God’s grace makes it possible for us to live a truly Christian life. Jesus became man, emptying himself of his divinity so that we could become divine! (Philippians 2:1-11). This is an admirable exchange.
Perhaps we can only become holy little by little. This is our hope that each day our little options can make us grow more in love with Jesus and our neighbor. We try to live our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Let us give thanks this day for the opportunity offered to us in Christ to grow. Let us put our roots deep in Christ and remain united to him and we shall bear much fruit. Let us ask Mary to strengthen us, to help us when we say no, and to make our yes a real “YES Lord!”