Monday, September 29, 2008

Reflection on Sunday's Gospel

Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
By: Sr. Anita Louise Lowe, OSB

Matthew 21: 28-32

When asked to do something, what is our response? Do we say yes or no? But more importantly than what we say, how do we act?

In this Gospel passage, we hear Jesus asking the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the people: “Which son obeyed his father? The one who said yes, but did not go to work in the vineyard, or the one who said no, but later had a change of heart and went to work?”

To obey, as we know, means to listen—to listen for God’s voice in the myriad of ways God can speak to us and to the depths of our heart—and then to act on the message we hear. It sounds easy, but we all know better. First, we have to sift through the various voices and messages to determine which might be coming from God. Then, we have to choose to act on that message…or not.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, in commenting on this Gospel story, notices a theme of wrestling with God similar to the wrestling of Jacob with the angel and of Job as he dealt with suffering and hardship. He says that such a wrestling invites us to a certain type of prayer: “Prayer isn’t meant to be a simple acquiescence to God’s will. It’s meant to be an acquiescence, yes, but…one that comes to us at the end of a long struggle.” He continues, “God expects that, at some point, we will kick…and offer some resistance.”

The son who said no but later went to work in the vineyard must have done a bit of inner wrestling. We can all imagine the dialogue that might have taken place within him before he had a change of heart and went to do that to which he initially had said, “No.”

Jesus’ story and questioning of the religious leaders is a sort of indictment against them. They have said yes to doing God’s will but now refuse to submit to John’s baptism of repentance and refuse to see the work of God in Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus’ followers, on the other hand, are a “rag-tag group” composed of sinners—even prostitutes and tax collectors—the worst of all! These initially said no and chose to do other than God’s will. Yet, they listened to John, and they listened to Jesus. They were open to change.

And what about us? This Gospel story is a call to each of us to examine ourselves and our responses to requests and calls. When asked to do something by the community, do we say yes but proceed to do our own will? Or do we say no at first, but then wrestle with ourselves and with God until we have a change of heart? How well do we listen and obey?

As Jesus said in another place, those who have the closest relationship with him are “those who hear the word of God and do it.” May it be so for each of us.

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