Gospel reflection for Oct. 1, 2023, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
With all the noise in our lives today, discerning God’s will for one’s life is even more challenging than it was in years past. It is even more likely, given the increased secular notion of society, the desire to discern God’s will is deeply muted. The parable we hear in this Gospel about the son who says “yes” and then refuses to act as compared to the son who refuses the request of his father and then regrets his decision and does as his father had requested anyway, speaks to each one of us as we make those decisions which affects each of our lives.
Typically, we use the language of discernment around discovering a diaconate, priestly or religious vocation. And this is certainly is true. However, there is a call from God for each one of us, for we are all created in God’s image and likeness, and we all live life with a purpose within the order of history. This does not mean that our lives are predetermined; we have the freedom to respond either affirmatively, negatively, or even apathetically to the call that is within each one of us.
Doing the “right” thing for the “right” reasons is often very difficult. While it is true that many of the decisions we make we believe to be of little consequence or value, even the small things add up over time and can subject us to serious unintended consequences. While we must avoid scrupulosity and the paralysis of indecision, we do need to carefully consider the many decisions we make in the course of a day, much less of our lives.
The parable that Jesus uses here is somewhat reflective of the parable of the Prodigal Son as found in Luke’s Gospel. While some of the lessons we derive from the one are not identical to those of the other, both parables draw our focus to doing the Father’s will.
The failure to do the Father’s will is the very heart of sin itself. Once one has heard the call or discerned the will of God, to do otherwise is to freely choose to reject the will of God for one’s life. An ancient commentary on Matthew makes the following observation on this parable: “How did he say, ‘I will not.”? He said it in his thoughts, for whoever understands the difference between good and evil and abandons the good to follow evil seems to be rebelling against the Lord in his thoughts; for ‘I will not’ is spoken against the faculty of the intellect, which was created by God for himself. No one would have been able to sin unless he had first said in his heart ‘I will not,’ as the prophet indicates” ‘Injustice speaks within him that he might sin.’”
Now while every decision that we might make against the will of God in our lives might not be objectively sinful, the desire to not align with the will of God is itself first a sin. In a real sense this stands to negate whatever good might flow from the decision we made,
This might sound complicated and perhaps even a bit convoluted. Unlike the sons in the parable the voice of the Lord is not always clear. Like each of the sons it takes some time to go from the verbal response (“yes” or “no”) to the point of acting (“no” or “yes”). It also takes much time and prayer to clearly know what is God’s will for one’s life.
Jesus warns the elders and the chief priests that “tax collectors and prostitutes” precede them into the kingdom. We ask, how can this be? These are people who have sinned and rejected God’s call for their own lives? Yet, there is something deeper here.
We have been hearing over the past few weeks about the call to conversion and forgiveness. Jesus has called us to a deeper sense of wholeness and holiness manifested in our relationships with others.
We all have the opportunity to seek the Lord’s healing and mercy, to change the “no” which we might have hastily uttered to become a “yes” by our actions and the transformation of our lives. This is the call of Jesus to us. The words we speak “yes” or “no” are not final -- finality comes through how we act in response to God’s call; how we act in response to charity and; how we forgive from the very depth of our souls.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.