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Only One Word Can Save Us

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By Marc Massery (Sep 29, 2017)

According to the readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary time, words alone do not make one a Christian. We must back our words up with action.

In the Gospel reading this weekend, Christ tells a parable about a father who asks his sons to work in his vineyard. The first son says simply, "I will not." Later, he changes his mind and does the work anyway. The father then asks his second son to work in the vineyard. The second son responds, "Yes, sir," but does not end up doing what he said he would. Christ's listeners conclude that the first son, the one who declined at first but later corrected himself, was the only one of the two who did their father's will.

Neither son was perfect. The second son, however, had a greater flaw than the first. He was like the Pharisees at the time. They knew the will of the Father. They said all the right prayers and practiced all the right customs. But their righteous talk did not transfer into behavior that fulfilled the Father's will. Similarly, the second son spoke the right words and even addressed his father respectfully as "sir." In the end, though, he did not follow through with action, turning his back on his father. As the first reading from the book of Isaiah says, this son "turn[ed] away from virtue to commit iniquity" (Ez 18:26).

The first son rebelled at first, but he realized that he was in the wrong, and did the work that his father had asked him to do anyway. As the first reading from the book of Isaiah says, he "turn[ed] from … wickedness [and] … [did] what [was] right and just" (Ez 18:27). This son was like the tax collectors and prostitutes. At first, they lived sinful lives, but they later repented and turned toward Christ, fulfilling their Father's will.

In the second reading, Paul tells us in what ways we must convert our talk into action.

He describes a couple of the most fundamental characteristics of true Christian discipleship — humility and love.

He says, "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 interests, but also for those of others" (Phil 2:3). Anyone can say that they are Christian. To fulfill our calling, we must place the interests of others before our own. We must refrain from judging others, be quick to forgive, hold our tongues from gossip, and pray for those who persecute us. We must devote our lives to not only speaking about God, but doing His will. Otherwise, we end up living double lives like the second son — all talk and no action.

When we are asked to do something charitable, our nature may cause us to recoil at first like the first son. We are a fallen people. But as long as we correct ourselves, as long as we turn from our sins every day toward Christ, God will have mercy on us and give us the grace to follow His will.

In the end, there was a third son whom Christ did not mention in His parable. According to St. Paul, this was the son who, "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; … [who became] obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). This Son, Jesus Christ, did not merely speak about love and humility. This Word became flesh — He became man. He did not merely do His Father's will. He perfected it. He let us nail Him to a Cross, so that He might take upon Himself the guilt of our own sins. As His blood dripped down the sides of the tree from which He hung, He thought of us in our sinfulness. He did not speak words of condemnation, but instead, words of forgiveness. Christ did not have the flaws of either son from the parable. He answered the will of the Father in word and deed.


Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Debbie - Oct 1, 2017

What a beautiful reflection on the Gospel!
Dear Lord, please help me to respond YES to your DIVINE WILL for me.
Thank you, Marians.