Positive Transformation

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Ezekiel 18:25-28 – Philippians 2:1-11 – Matthew 21:28-32.

There’s a North East saying: “things nivver stay tha’ same”. Change is the only thing that is permanent! Heraclitus declared that no one puts a foot into the same water twice. Everything in the world keeps changing – the seasons, generations, relationships, and so on. The focus of today’s word of God is upon this question: in what direction are the changes we personally experience going? Are we growing through the changes we experience, or are we not? Are we being transformed each day for the better, or are we not? The word of God is about positive transformation of ourselves over against negative stagnation. Our aim should be to live out tomorrow better than we are doing today. I urge each one of you to make your life, your faith, your love of God and neighbour, even greater tomorrow than they are today. We must all do our utmost to grow in goodness, in obedience to God, in tenderness and compassion, in love of God and of our neighbour, in our spiritual life and in holiness.

In the first reading, the Lord reminds us that – in His justice – He accepts people who are making the effort to move from bad to good & from good to best with every day that passes, and He rejects those who sink from good to bad to worse. “When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live.”

As a practical instantiation of this, Jesus (in the gospel reading) presented two sons whose father instructed them to do some work for him. The first son answered “no” but changed his mind and did his father’s bidding, while the second answered “yes” to his father’s face but didn’t do what he was told. Both the sons experienced a change of heart. Everyone listening to the story praised the first son who, having answered negatively, acted positively, rather than the second son, whose change of heart was the other way round. This is the first message we need to take on board today: that instead of allowing ourselves to turn away from good to bad, we should make a firm decision to turn from the bad in our lives towards good, and to make the good in our lives better and better. If we make the effort, we can really change the direction of our lives for the better each day in our relationship with God and with our neighbour.

You’ll be familiar with the saying, “actions speak louder than words”. This is why the first son was praised … because he acted upon his father’s request. If he had promised his father from the outset that he would go and work in the vineyard, we can presume that the father would have relied on him to oblige. If so, it can be argued that it was the first son’s verbal refusal that prompted the father to ask the second son, who promised to go and do the work but didn’t. Imagine what an embarrassment it would have been if the first son hadn’t changed his mind and done his father’s will. Why? Because no-one would have done the work in the father’s vineyard, which was a symbol of God’s precious planting of Israel! Jesus used that parabolic tale to criticize the religious leaders of His day, especially the high priests and the ‘elders of the people’ (cf. Mt 27:25), because their religious life was limited to outward show. They claimed they were doing what God wanted, but they weren’t listening to Him, and consequently were not progressing spiritually. On the other hand, among the underclass of Jewish society (Mt 9:10f; 11:19), who acknowledged their need and changed their direction to accept the Baptist’s call to repentance, there was a more honest personal relationship with God. In the light of this, we can deduce that the best thing for us to do in order to please God should be to confess our faith and to live it out to the best of our ability. Thus, Jesus tells us, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Mt.5:37). Each one of us is responsible for what we do in word and action every day of our life, and we are gifted with free will to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God. What do you say to God if He tasks you personally with working for the ‘kingdom of God’, as did the father his sons in the parabolic story?

Because there are always going to be some aspects of God’s Law that we find difficult to fulfil, in our human frailty it’s fair to say that each one of us is guilty of seesawing between the behaviours of those two sons. For example, we may grapple with the difficult aspects of the Law but, by the grace of God and as time goes on, we accept them and move to living them out. Conversely, we may start out by being thoroughly convinced that we are doing God’s will, but as time goes on, it becomes too challenging for us and we give ourselves reasons not to continue. In so doing, we break the promises made to God and to His people made in the image of God (Sol 2:23). When we lose our self-mastery, not only do we lose the profitability of doing the Father’s will “Thy will be done on earth” (Mt 6:10) but we also disappoint other people.

When this happens, how can we become strong Christians and behave better towards God and our neighbour? How can we remain true to God and to one another? The remedy is that we should pray for God’s graces of perseverance and endurance and work continually on our weaknesses. We should make time each day for an examination of conscience to ascertain whether we are still on the right path towards the fulfilment of our ultimate desire. St. Paul admonished us, “if our life in Christ means anything to you … then be united in your convictions and in your love with a common purpose and common mind” (Phil 2:1ff; cf. 1Cor 1:10). Make a resolution to make the very best of God’s gift of your life by growing each day in the right direction, by growing in your relationship with Christ. May God’s grace help each one of us to overcome our weaknesses and to live out our faith every day without going back on our word. Amen. God bless you.