Where do I stand in response to God’s invitation

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:25-28

Thus says the LORD: 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? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Philippians 2:1-5

Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. 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 for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 12:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not, ' but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, 'but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."

In this Sunday Gospel reading, Matthew 21.28-32, Jesus begins with a parable of a man with two sons. The father says to the first son to go out into the vineyard and work. At first, the son says no, but after a reconsideration, he obeys and goes to work. The father gives the same order to the second son, and the boy promptly responds and says yes, but then fails to go. The story is simple, but it has a very important spiritual insight. It represents God’s invitation to each one of us in the depth of our hearts, the very source of our beings, the level of souls. He says, “I have got some work for you to do in the vineyard,” which symbolizes the “go” of our mission and the fulfillment of our purpose. It is not simply questions of decision for a family, work, or education even though they are also important, but rather it is a question of who we are at the most fundamental level. When the question echoes in my heart, and I hear the invitation to go for a mission in my field, this is the moment of truth, and that is the moment when I have to separate myself from the rest. Not being a victim nor taking any credits, I stand before God, and say here is what I am going to do.

The parable continues with different options regarding the human response to this fundamental invitation. The first son, as we see, says no, but then he repents. Please do not underestimate the spiritual importance of it. When we are addressed by God and we turn Him down, something “breaks” and is terrible. It is not that God is being cruel and capricious, but rather it is a spiritual physics: God has addressed me and I have said a “no” in a fundamental way, it is nothing more drastic, more important in life than something that has gone dramatically wrong. If I press that “no” all the way, we will understand what Jesus calls in the parables, the prostitutes and tax collectors, representing those who have been very morally corrupt. In today’s world, the “no” to God gives rise to rampant secularism and spiritual indifferentism, which leads eventually to destructive sins. What is the good news? The good news is that repentance remaining in those who say “no” is truly possible. Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). He is signaling the possibility of real repentance. He says, prostitutes and tax collectors, whom in His time would have been the worst sinners, had said no, and they followed that “no” into serious sin. But when they heard the preaching of John, they repented and said yes. The spiritual lesson for us is never give up! Please do not ever say it is too late for you, because even the most hardened hearts can turn a “no” into a “yes”! It is the same with the stories of many saints. Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. This is a good spiritual lesson.

On the other hand, however, the second son said yes very readily, but he treats it lightly as simply a “lip service”. Please remember that if we can muster the energy to say yes to God, it is not a small trivial response. There is a famous Aristotle’s quote which says, “Do not listen to what people say, but watch what people do” (Nicoachean Ethics 10.7). The second son represents someone who would “talk the talk”, but not “walk the walk”. Therefore, when every time we pray, every time we enter into the liturgies, participate in the sacraments, and we stand before the Lord saying our “yes” to Him, it is a pledge even more sacred than the pledge between husband and wife. If we say to the Lord, “I am going to go into your vineyard and to serve you”, we get to say yes, as a member of family or community, rain or shine, in good times and in bad. Once we have gathered ourselves and say yes, we let ourselves be sent without reservation.

So here is a spiritual question I will leave you with: Where do you stand with regard to God’s invitation? How are you taking spiritual responsibility right now? God bless you all.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “Taking Spiritual Responsibility”, “Let Go Rather than Grasp”, and “In The Form of God”. For more information, please visit WordOnFire.org.

Posted: September 27, 2020

Ben Cheng


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