Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the Gospel this weekend, once more we are in the vineyard. As I reflected on the parable about the two sons being asked to go out and work, I thought about which son I was when my Dad would ask me to accomplish some task. I decided I was somewhere in the middle. I can’t imagine simply saying “no.” But there were times when my “yes” was preceded by excuses or followed by interior whining and foot dragging. But eventually I would head into the task. And I always found things worked out best when I had some strategy, I looked at the project and began to break into manageable pieces. And it worked better when there was a brother to work along with me.
As in many of Jesus’ parables He addressed a particular historical situation. The son who said yes but didn’t go to work represented those people who thought they were in a good place spiritually, the scribes and Pharisees. Because they were the religious leaders they thought everything they were doing was what God wanted. Their yes was an illusion, it was an attitude of self-satisfaction that prevented them from hearing the real call of God, through Jesus, to reform their lives and enter into His kingdom. Those who said “no” but went to work anyway represented those who knew they were separated from God because of their choices that were contrary to God’s law, but then were open to God’s call and were converted by Jesus and His message, such as the prostitutes and tax collectors.
The lessons for us are to be attentive to the call to conversion in our lives and recognize that actions are more important than intentions. Actions do speak louder than words. And as the first reading noted conversion to good action can override the bad actions of the past, while present or future bad actions negate the good of the past. Entry into the eternal joy of heaven is not about an average score of the whole of one’s life, it is about the current state of one as being a son or daughter actively working in the vineyard of God’s kingdom on earth, the Church, the Body of Christ.
Conversion is not only about the moment of change from a state of disbelief to full faith in God, Jesus and His Church. Conversion is not just about a dramatic change in behavior by setting aside serious past behaviors that are contrary to God’s love and destructive of self and others. Conversion is about the ongoing attitude and effort of trying to do better with God’s help. It is about wanting to be a more effective worker in the vineyard, so that our actions are not only louder they bring about greater knowledge of Jesus and the value of following Him. Ongoing conversion is about responding to Jesus call that we grow in perfection. We can be better prayers. We can be better spouses, or parents, or children, or brothers and sisters or friends. Some of us can even be better priests. We can be better responsible members of the great community of the human race, calling us to love the stranger and even the perceived enemy.
How do we move forward on the task of ongoing conversion? Well it starts with humility. It starts with the willingness to realize, unlike the scribes and Pharisees of the Gospel, that we haven’t reached the pinnacle of human and spiritual perfection. It starts with the ability to hear God calling us to live better lives. It’s the call that comes through learning Jesus’ teaching from the scriptures and the Church and applying them to our own lives.
And in any one of the many areas where we see the need for improvement, like the tasks laid out for me as a child, we should approach each improvement task with strategy (there are always specific actions to take to improve), gradualism (sometimes it helps to take improvement in small attainable steps), and often we will find the tasks of Christian improvement are lightened by enlisting the help of others.
For example: in confession, people may speak of the need to pray more. I counter with the prescription that more prayer requires a concrete decision to schedule a time to place, determine a particular place where one will pray and then identify the tools one will use for that prayer. Then I note the gradualism. That special time of daily prayer might begin with ten minutes and then grow and expand. Our efforts to grow in prayer can be enhanced by finding someone to pray with us: our spouse, our family or some group in the parish.
Maybe the issue is relationship with a spouse. Perhaps there is no need for professional counseling, but there are some Catholic resources that can help an individual review the behavior within their own marriage, and identify little ways to change, one step, one piece at a time. Maybe it starts with identifying one bad habit and making the effort to correct it.
Maybe the issue is our use of the internet, either using too much time in a way that prevents us from fulfilling other responsibilities or going to sights for entertainment that devalues the precious and powerful gift of our sexuality. Once again, I always suggest a strategy to accompany any intention. I suggest a clear recognition of why one is going on line, what is one’s specific purpose, what is the information one is searching for. And then one should resolve that as soon as they start to wander from the original intent, even if something is benign in itself, to leave the computer.
Those are just several examples, but I hope you get the idea. Every morning when we awake, we should imagine Jesus sending us out to work in His vineyard. Then we resolve to take the day, one step at a time, one choice, on action, always attentive to the doing that should match our believing.
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time