Matthew 21:28-32, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Did you do God’s will?
This is essentially the question that is asked of us in the Gospel today. The story is rather simple, and that is why the Gospel reading is short. But we will see later that the meaning of the story is rather complicated. The story goes like this: a father asked his two sons to work in the vineyard. The first son said no, but later changed his mind and he worked, hence obeying his father. The second son responded yes, but actually he did not go, he did not work, hence disobeying the father. Then Jesus asks, which of the two sons did the will of the father.
If you reflect on this story and see yourself as one of the sons, which son would you likely be? And more deeply, if you see the father as God asking you to do something, how will you respond to God? Are you likely to be the first son: no, I will not obey, but later, you will obey. Or will you likely be the second son: yes I will obey, but later, you will not. Will you change your mind toward obedience? Or will you change your mind toward disobedience?
Hard questions, are they not? Difficult to answer. I am sure most of us will be inclined to give the answer that many say as the favorite answer of Jesuits. And the answer is: “it depends.” I do not see myself as the first son, and also, not the second son. It depends. It depends on what God is asking me to do. It depends on my current situation. It depends on whether the task is God’s will or not.
The answer is not easy. It depends.The answer is not easy because of the question. I repeat: the answer is not easy because of the question. And the question is essentially this: Did you do God’s will? This question is a difficult question to answer. Perhaps one of the most difficult questions we would have to ask in our lives. Did I follow God’s will? Did I obey what God wants me to do? Am I indeed following the will of God in my life, or am I simply following my will, what I want to happen, in my life?
In this pandemic era we are having now, don’t we find ourselves asking these questions more often than before? Many of us find more time to think, sometimes to think too much, to reflect, to brood, to contemplate, to search, to go within ourselves, to pray. More time, more space for these during these long and continuing moments of being locked down and locked out, restricted in movement, isolated and alone, forced to have more moments of physical, emotional, psychological distance from others. We are led to ask questions, and some of these questions may very well be these, what is God’s will in our lives, am I doing God’s will? What is God’s will for my family, my relationships, my friends? What is God’s will for my job, my work, my involvements? What is God’s will for my self – my health, my well-being, my feelings, my thoughts, my desires, my actions, my ambitions, my dreams, my plans — many of which are disrupted by this pandemic? What is God’s will? Am I doing God’s will?
The readings today, may help us answer these hard questions.
First, doing God’s will means listening constantly to God and how he moves in our lives. The Responsorial Psalm speaks about remembrance: remembering the mercies of God in our lives, His graces, His blessings, His interventions, His saving us in difficult moments, His gifts of love and joy. All these, we remember as we continue to listen to God’s presence as alive, not dead, at work, active in our lives, past, present, and future. This listening and remembrance help us see God’s will in the unfolding story of our lives. Where He is calling us today can be understood by remembering how He has called us in the past, his pattern of relating with us, his pattern of loving us. Like our long-lasting friends, God is a dear, long-time friend too who continues to guide us today, just as how He has guided us in the past. He is a friend who never abandons. And we should remember that, and not forget, as we are inclined to do so during difficult moments of our lives. We can thus be confident that He will show us His way, as He has done so in the past. Doing God’s will is listening to and remembering God in the stories of our lives.
Secondly, doing God’s will is simply, but profoundly, following Christ and the way of Christ. The Second Reading, the beautiful Letter of St Paul to the Philippians, is all about this. Follow Christ and His way of love, of mercy, of compassion, of encouragement, of unity among people. The opposite is selfishness, self-importance, vainglory. Doing God’s will is to imitate Christ in His radical humility, His obedience, His readiness to give one’s self fully even to the point of total self-offering in death. As the First Reading also says, doing God’s will gives life to others, even if in the process we may lose ourselves.
Aren’t these daunting, difficult, and demanding challenges? Can we actually do these? Yes, they are daunting, difficult, and demanding, but I think St Paul emphasizes the purity of intention, the desire, and the courage to live out these challenges. Doing God’s will is having this attitude, intention, desire, courage, and faith, to strive and to struggle to be like Christ. We will never really be like Christ, fully, but it is in the humble striving each day, and in the humble struggle each day, that we do God’s will.
Third and last, doing God’s will is ultimately seen in what we do, in our actions, which reflect who we are and what we say. The simple Gospel story points this out. We may say this, but we may act differently. Our word and our deed need to be consistent. Ultimately, our obedience to God’s will is measured by the fruitfulness of our lives, in what we do in our lives, how we act, how we behave, how we give ourselves to others. Human beings as we are, we can, and we do change our minds. We can and we do change our ways, let us accept that. But we are encouraged by the Spirit to move and change toward goodness, toward grace, toward God. We are called by the Spirit to strive and struggle toward goodness, grace, and God.
Hence, to answer the question, did I do God’s will, we are led to ask deeper questions:
Do I listen to God and remember His mercies in the story of my life?Do I strive and struggle, humbly, to follow Christ?
Do I act, change, and move toward goodness, grace, and God?
Listening. Remembrance. Striving. Struggle. Action. Change. Intention. Desire. Courage. Faith.
As we do God’s will, and as St Paul said, may the encouragement and comfort of Christ be upon us. Amen.
*image from Pexels