Gospel reflection for Sept. 27, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Koch: We can easily say “yes,” but can we live that “yes”?
The parable that Jesus tells us this weekend about a man with two sons, one who does what the father asks despite his earlier refusal and the other who says “yes” but then does not follow through, is thematically reminiscent of the Parable of the Prodigal Son as recorded by St. Luke.
We all know that we can quickly respond either “yes” or “no” to a request and then rue our response almost immediately especially after thinking through the consequences. To say “yes” to everything can make us easy marks in difficult circumstances. The one who constantly says “no,” while perhaps protecting their own space or their own time, can get to a point where people stop asking anything of them, and then they feel like they are being left out of everything.
These two sons are undoubtedly asked frequently to do something by their father. The father also likely knows the level of responsibility of each son. He likely would know how each one will respond to the request and what each one will do in this situation.
As with all of Jesus’ parables this one hits each of us where we live. The basic question that each of us has to ask ourselves is which “son” am I? It is true that we are often pulled in many directions each day. Yet the reality remains that there are certain obligations to which we said ‘yes” and often the response was made in a very public way. In matters of faith this is especially true when we think of our reception of the Sacraments.
Ours is a public and communal faith. What we celebrate is within and essentially for the community of believers. We are called upon to make public our statements of faith. Going beyond the weekly Profession of Faith at Mass as we affirm our belief in the Triune God and commitment to the life of faith through the Church, we all also make clear statements at various junctures of our lives.
In the celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony the couple is asked: “Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?”
As they celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism for their children parents are asked: “In asking for Baptism for your child, you are undertaking the responsibility of raising him/her in the faith, so that, keeping God’s commandments, he/she may love the Lord and his/her neighbor as Christ has taught us. Do you understand this responsibility?”
At Confirmation the candidate is asked: “Do you understand what this Sacrament means to you and to your sharing in the life and mission of the Church?”
At the ordination of deacons (and repeated in priestly ordination) the ordinand, kneeling before the bishop is asked, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”
On the day of his priestly ordination in this final question, which serves to summarize the questions which preceded it, the candidate is asked: “Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure Sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all?”
On the surface the questions seem simple and straightforward. Those receiving the Sacrament are instructed – though they need not be – that the answer to each question is an affirmative: “yes” or “I do.” Yet we all know that very often those affirmations are not followed through. Parents choose not to raise their children in the ways of faith. Teenagers choose to abandon the practice of the faith into which they have been confirmed. Married couples choose not to live together in a faithful and mutually exclusive commitment. Deacons and priests choose to abandon the promise of obedience for the life of the Church and the salvation of souls. Publicly and boldly they all said yes, but they lived the no.
We see many who never said the “yes” in the formal way, but who live that “yes” each day. I have a friend who did not have his children baptized but brought them up to love God and to live the Commandments, hoping that they would choose to say “yes” themselves. I know many couples who were not married by the law of the Church, but who live faithful committed marriages. They chose not to say “yes” as expected but live that yes.
Of course, there are many – indeed we trust even most – who say both “yes” and live “yes.” This is the ideal that Jesus calls us to, and this is the message of the Gospel. So, while the answers to all of the above are affirmative, are we truly living the father’s will for us?
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.