Sunday Sermon for September 25, 2011, the Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
In the second reading St. Paul tells us that we need to have the same attitude as Christ. When we ask what this means he highlights our Lord’s humility and charity. Jesus is God, yet He was willing to take the form of a slave and to be obedient even to the point of death. This, of course, He did freely and willingly out of love for us. Perhaps what is most astounding about all of this is that He did not gain anything for Himself from His condescension or from His Passion; everything was for us.
In the Gospel our Lord tells the parable of the two sons asked by their father to go into the field and work. The first says “yes” but does not go; the second says “no” but then goes out to the field. We can certainly understand where this applies to us but we first have to see it in light of our Lord’s disposition toward His Father and toward us.
Regarding His Father, Jesus was perfectly in union with the will of His Father and, therefore, did not hesitate for a moment to carry out the will of His Father. Unlike the first son in the Gospel story today, Jesus did not accept and then turn back. The earth is the field God asked His Son to work in, but the work would entail the acceptance of a nature infinitely lower than that of His own and then demonstrating His divine love through His human nature by dying on a Cross for us. As St. Paul stated, He was obedient, even to death on the Cross.
God the Father asked something of His Son that He would never think of asking anyone else. The reason for this is because He wanted to show us how much He loves us; we still have trouble believing in His love even with such an extreme demonstration. If we are to have the attitude of Jesus, it does not mean becoming something less than what we are. Instead, as partakers of the divine nature, we have become more than what we are according to our human nature. However, sharing in the divine nature allows us to adopt the disposition of the Lord Whose nature we share.
This means that in and through our human nature we can love in a divine manner, like Jesus. It means that we can be truly humble, like Jesus. It means that we can serve God and neighbor, like Jesus. It means that we can be obedient to the will of God, no matter how difficult that may be, just like Jesus.
How many times have we said “yes” to God only to change our minds, for whatever reason, and fail to do what we have promised to Him? Not only are we like that first son in the Gospel, but we are also among those mentioned by Ezekiel in the first reading. Our Lord has called each of us to turn from our wickedness and to act virtuously. The promise He makes with this conversion is that we will be forgiven of our past sinfulness and we will live.
However, if we turn from the path of virtue and give into sin, once again, we will be held more responsible because we know the Lord Who has saved us. We will have no excuse on the Day of Judgment. For this reason, our turn to virtue must be complete; at least we have to be trying to make it more and more complete every day.
This brings us right back to St. Paul when he instructs us to do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory. Instead, he says, we are to be humble and regard others as more important than ourselves, leading us to look out for the interests of others rather than seeking our own interest. This is what real love for God and neighbor looks like.
Needless to say, this is not easy for us, but it is the fullest meaning of turning to live a life of virtue. More than that, it is exactly what Jesus did for us. That part is mind boggling because He truly is the most important and the highest of all persons, yet He was willing to make Himself lower than the rest of us, that is, to look at us as being more important than Himself, and to look out for our interests.
If He Who is God can do this, why is it so difficult for us sinful creatures? There is no sense in the typical competition to see who is better or greater than whom. We need to have the attitude of Jesus, turn from our sinfulness, say “yes” to God, and live a life of charity and humility.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.