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The problem with being so sure

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 01 October 2023
Ezekiel 18:25-28 ><}}}}*> Philippians 2:1-11 ><}}}}*> Matthew 21:28-32
White roses for devotees of St. Therese whose feast is today, October 01; may she intercede for your much needed miracle!

American writer Anne Lamott wrote in one of her books that “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” This is most true in our gospel this Sunday as we shift scene when Jesus finally entered Jerusalem and preached in the temple area among his enemies, the chief priests and elders of the people.

Again, we are familiar with today’s parable of the man who had two sons he asked to go and work at their vineyard. The first son refused but later changed his mind and obeyed the father; the second son said “yes” but did not go to the vineyard. Like the chief priests and the elders, we too can easily answer Jesus Christ’s question, “which of the two did his father’s will?” Of course, the first son – but, Matthew’s story did not end there as he recorded the Lord’s words to his enemies that say a lot to us too today:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Matthew 21:31b-32

Photo by author, 2019.

Keep in mind that Matthew insists in his gospel account the matching of our words and actions because “not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 7:21).

In the next three Sundays, we hear parables having this as its theme: the two sons today, the evil tenants next week and the wedding banquet after that. Notice too that although we still have nine weeks to go before Advent Season in preparation for Christmas, our gospel setting beginning this Sunday will be at the temple area just before the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. That means Christ’s teachings are getting more intense and challenging to everyone as well.

The sin of the chief priests and elders that Jesus mentioned today – “you did not later change your minds and believe him” – was their refusal to change their minds to accept him as the Christ despite the overwhelming proofs and evidence they have heard and seen, even experienced. They were fixated with their own beliefs and interpretations of the Laws and scriptures; nothing and no one, not even the Son of God Jesus Christ could change their minds, perspectives and opinions.

The same is true with us Christians today! Many times our faith has become so static, could not be changed anymore to become deeper and stronger and vibrant to recognize God present in the changing times. The danger we have today is not only many people are losing their faith but a greater number of us faithful have come to believe more in ourselves than in Christ and his Church led by the Pope! How sad that since last year, there have been so many people, including clergymen casting doubts and refusing to recognize the synod of bishops set to begin this month in Rome.

Photo by author, 2019.

Faith in God is a process that grows and deepens through time. It calls for openness to God in his daily coming to us even in the most unusual people and circumstances. Faith is a daily process of conversion, of kenosis or self-emptying like Jesus which Paul beautifully expressed in our second reading today:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interest, but also for others. Have in you the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.

Philippians 2:3-7

Here we find faith is about relationships and commitment, both to God and to one another. It is never static. That is one of the lessons Jesus is emphasizing in his parable today about the father and two sons. Obedience to their father is an expression of their relationship with him. Many times, we are either like the first or the second son. God our Father gives us all the chances and opportunities to make up for our lapses and sins.

That is why in the first reading, God reminds us through Ezekiel that his ways are not unfair because he gives us all every chance to change and become better, the very same principle we have heard in the three teachings of Christ recently about fraternal correction, forgiving, and generosity.

Have you noticed how often people seem unreasonable when they tell us we have changed or have not changed at all? I find those comments insane, even stupid because only change is permanent in this world. We always change. And we must change for the better.

One of my favorite series in the 1980’s was the American comedy “Newhart” starring Bob Newhart. In one of its episodes, Bob and his wife celebrated their anniversary amid so many mishaps and quirks. As usual, Bob saved the day at their renewal of vows when he told his wife that indeed, he had changed through their years of marriage as he had come to love his wife more than ever. So sweet and beautiful, and true!

Many times in weddings, I tell newly wed couples this prayerful wish, “May this day be the least joyful day of their lives.” Weddings and ordinations call for a lot of daily conversions, of growing and maturing, of finding Jesus in our loved ones and people we serve, and in new directions in our lives and ministry.

Photo by author, La Trinidad, Benguet, 12 July 2023.

Every relationship with God and with others can never be fixed for it must grow daily. Don’t worry, we will never run out of space for maturity and deepening of faith and commitments with God and with others. The more changes and flexibilities we go through no matter how difficult they may be physically, emotionally and spiritually, the more surprises and joys and fulfillment we shall experience.

Everyday, ask yourself, “Where did I see God today?” And, what does it mean to me?

Our answers to these two questions will determine how we live differently each day as Christ’s disciples because of what God has revealed to us! Amen. Have a fulfilling week in Jesus this start of October!

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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