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They realized that He was talking about them

By 29 September, 2017January 2nd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasús, General Superior of Idente Missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 1-10-2017, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Book of Ezekiel 18:25-28; Letter to the Philippians 2:1-11; Saint Matthew 21:28-32)

What is the first relevant trait a psychologist studies through a personality test? Openness.

Look at the Eugène Burnand’s drawing: avoiding the gaze and crossing the arms are two signs opposed to openness to the person who is talking. This was the attitude of the first son in the parable. But openness or close-mindedness or the other personality traits represent only the surface of human soul. The divine Providence has many tools which can switch our attitude, our prejudices and all our habits. This is one of the lessons of today’s Gospel.

God has a plan for each one of us and, of course, discovering God’s will in our lives is not easy. It involves so many things like a receptive listening to the word of God and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given to us by God, as well as the diverse social and historical situations in which we live. But the good news is that God is omnipotent, and sooner or later his plan will be fully carried out, in the next second or at the end of my life. We can be sure that Jesus did not fail with the Young Rich Man or with the people who abandoned Him… and He will not fail with you and me.

The normal tendency is to think of people like Abraham, Moses, Peter, John and others as always being saints. Because they are always son revered and so honored, it is easy to look upon them as a sort of “super-believers”, thinking that they were paragons of perfection who always automatically did what God wanted them to do. But when we begin to take a look at their lives, we realize that they were very much like us. They experienced times of growth, times of failure and even times of slipping back in their relationship with God. However, there is one thing they all did. They responded to God when He came their way. They said, Yes.

As our father Founder, Fernando Rielo, states:

We need to bear in mind that in everything the grace is required and sometimes a true extraordinary grace is requires, for instance to modify a habit, because it does not lie in our hands modifying our dependences or deeply rooted customs, whether for cultural reasons, or due to given traditions and practices learned during our childhood, adolescence or youth. (Concepción mística de la Antropología).

God is not expecting to find those who are born good. He knows full well that they are not to be found. But God chooses ordinary people, like you and me, who are willing to respond His call, to be changed into His likeness and to fellowship with Him.

This was what Ezekiel was telling the people in the first reading: When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.

Last Sunday’s Gospel reminded us that some last will be first. Today, with the parable of the Two Sons, Christ gives us a vivid and powerful example of this situation. This happens much more frequently that we can imagine, because the necessary time for a conversion may span…a lifetime. This is why Saint Paul recommends us today: Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.

We forget that God loves us more than we love ourselves and that He knows us better than we know ourselves. St. Augustin made a Latin remark: Deus est intimior intimo meo. His celebrated remark means that God (Deus) is closer to us (intimior) than we are to our internal organs (intimo). God is omniscient. He knows our whole life and the needs of the society. He understands our past and foresees our future. With Him overseeing everything in the universe, we can be sure that only He knows what is best for us.

This parable helps us take a second look at our very relationship with the Father. As expressed in the Collect of the Mass: Bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us and make those hastening to attain your promises heirs to the treasures of heaven. We are invoking His blessings for us to be worthy heirs in His Kingdom. To be uttering as worthy heirs, isn’t it important to establish and recognize the very foundation of which is our relationship to Him? Let us take a step further by considering too our relationship with each other as children of our Heavenly Father. When we pray to be heirs of our Heavenly Father, it is not just for our personal good. Let us look around us and invite others to be heirs of our Heavenly Father as well.

Who is the ideal son? Neither of the two sons mentioned in this Gospel story. The narrator of this story is the son par excellence. It is the son who says “yes” and also acts correspondingly with great attitude and meaning. His whole life is a story of a meaningful “yes” to the will of the Father. The expression Here I am to do your will applies to Him well. In fact in the Garden of Gethsemane, He had this famous expression: Not my will but your will be done (Mt. 26:42). As followers of Jesus, should we not follow His example then? In the Spirituality of Stewardship, we need “sincere stewards” in the vineyard of our Father.

There must not be any break between our words, actions and faith. We must be able to discern God’s voice in those expected and unexpected moments. We must not only listen but be willing to change as we grow in our faith. This is why we have a point called Formulative or Didactic Union in the Examination of our Prayer: Do I continuously take the Gospel, the life of Christ as a practical model?

When we believe ourselves to be good and righteous people, then we ignore a large part of who we are. We overlook our dark side, what some psychologists call the shadow. The shadow then acts on its own, swallows us up, and takes others along with us. This can happen without us even recognizing it:

A hermit was visited by three young monks. All three had gone out into the world to spend a year doing good deeds. But when they returned to their monastery, they found that they weren’t any holier than before.
What did we do wrong? -they asked him.
– Bring me a bowl of water, -he said-. So they brought in a bowl and filled it with water.
– Now throw some dirt in it -he said.
The monks frowned at one another but did as commanded.
– So? What do you see?
A bowl of muddy water.
– Keep looking. Now what do you see?
– We still see a bowl of muddy water.
– That’s right –he said-. But look more closely. Keep watching. Don’t say anything. Just keep watching.
Then he left the room.
A day later, he returned. The three novices were still staring into the bowl.
– What do you see now? -he asked them-.
– The mud has settled –they answered-. Now we see our reflections.
Exactly –said the hermit-. You’ll never be holy until you know yourselves. And you’ll never know yourselves if you keep stirring things up. Be still. Let the mud settle. Only then will you have something to offer the world.

Those who are sinners and know themselves as such, just like the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, often stand a better chance of being converted. For deep in their hearts, they know that they are living a sinful life. Deep within them, they know that they are not happy and that they are living under the bondage of sin. They want to change, but are too weak to live a righteous life. They are like the first son in today’s parable, saying NO to God, but when given the grace of repentance, they turn to Him for forgiveness. Their repentance is often radical. Many are wounded, deeply caught in the web of sin and unforgiveness, confused and have lost all meaning and purpose of living. But once they hear the Word of God calling them to repentance, they believe. As a consequence, they are given a true experience of having Christ born in their hearts again, because of their humility to repent.

However, the category of sinners that most need to repent, but are most resistant to repentance, are the so called holy ones of God, the self-righteous ones. Such were the scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ days. Hence, the parable of the Gospel was targeted at the arrogant and self-righteous attitudes of the religious leaders of His day. They are the second son in today’s parable who said YES to God but never lived accordingly. And when challenged to repentance, they rationalized and sought all ways to reject the message.

We are not far from them, especially those of us who think we are the holy ones, priests, religious, active church workers, volunteers and ministry members. Whilst exhorting others to change their lives, to be honest, to live a life of integrity, to be forgiving, not to hold resentment in their hearts, to give up sin and addictions, dishonesty and greed, we never take what we preach to others seriously in our own lives. Worse still, we do not willingly accept the corrections.

Are we prepared to examine ourselves in full honesty before God so that our shame can be taken away once and for all? Hidden shame will only cripple us because we know we are living a double life. We are not free. Only those freed from shame, from their past, from their sins feel truly free to boast about their past mistakes and what God has done for them today, making them a new creature. If we allow shame to control our life, then we remain slaves of the past, of the future and we remain slaves. With the psalmist, we pray: The humble shall hear and be glad.