What Does God Want From Us? Obedience To His Will!
Readings: 1st: Ezk 18, 25-28; Ps 24, 4-9; 2nd: Phil 1, 1-11; Gos: Mtt 21, 28-32
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
“…Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15, 22). It is on the note of these very significant words of Samuel to Saul that we begin our reflection on this 26th Sunday of ordinary time. This Sunday, the Holy Mother Church draws our attention in a most special way to the importance of realizing what God wants from us and obediently carrying them out. There is a popular saying that “obedience is the first law in heaven”, therefore, it is this virtue that will help us be who Christ is, and where Christ is. Hence, we are called to celebrate and imitate Christ who obeyed the Father’s will even unto death.
A brief but very interesting story (though with unconfirmed historicity) goes thus: During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, or at times unorthodox, faith. At one point, one of the ministers said, “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.” Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants. Also, let us consider another brief, related and relevant story. Before leaving for work one morning, a father said to his son, “Straighten your room, take out the garbage, and sweep the driveway.” When the father came home, the son explains his approach to the instructions and chore list as follows: “Well, Dad, the garbage can was only half full, and, I figured nobody would see my room. However, I cleaned the driveway, just as you said.” Is this not the way some of us treat God’s command and will for us? We approach Him with rationalizations and arguments instead of submission.
In our first reading today, God through his prophet Ezekiel confronts and responds to Israel’s accusation of his being unjust by allowing them suffer in the hands of their captors and enemies. He condemns their blame shifting attitude and pointed out to them that they are the ones at fault and to blame for their predicaments. The simple reason being: “When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin because of this he dies of the evil that he himself committed.” In order words, God simply means that renouncing of the part of integrity is “capital disobedience” (a grave sin), the effect or consequence of which is death. However, it is not over for the sinner. If we return to the part of integrity in obedience to the will of God, we have life once again. This was Israel’s case throughout their biblical history. Owing to their disobedience, they suffered slavery and deportation to Egypt, Persia, and Babylon. However, when they realized themselves and returned to God with a pledge of obedience, He restores them. In order words disobedience brings alienation from God, while obedience draws us closer to God.
In the second reading and for the second time in two weeks, Christ is emphatically presented to us as the epitome of obedience to the will of God. However, before hitting this point, Paul first of all highlights what God wants from us as a community. He says: “…Be united in your convictions and in your love…God does not want competition among you, no conceit…instead, everyone must be self effacing. Always consider the other better than yourself…” He advances a reason for this. “…That is one thing that will make you happy.” Finally, this is how Paul concluded the first part of our second reading: “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus…” The big question that begs for answer is: “Be the same as Christ” in what way or sense? Simple! Be the same as Christ in obedience and humility period! In other words, we can only be Jesus’ brothers, sisters and parents if only we listen to his word, put them into practice in accordance to the will of God (Luke 9, 19-21).
The gospel of today presents us with yet another popular parable of Jesus. In this parable of the two sons, Jesus tried to distinguish the attitude of the Pharisees and the Scribes from those of the prostitutes, tax collectors and indeed all those they tagged “sinners” towards the will of God. The first son represents the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, while the second represents the Pharisees and the Scribes. Looking at the two sons, one will find that both failed their father in one way or the other. The first failed by vehemently refusing ab initio to accept the will of the father. He did this by his very strong and disappointing words: “I WILL NOT GO!” However, after due reflection, he changed his mind and did what his father wanted him to do. The second also failed his father in both words and action. First, he made a false promise or vow: “CERTAINLY SIR!” meaning, “SURELY, I WILL GO!” Second, he failed his father by not honoring his own words with action. In other words there is no truth in him because, according to Thomas Aquinas veritas est adaequation rei et intellectus (simply put in a layman’s word in this context, truth is, when what we say corresponds with our action). It is a pity that most of us Christians fall into this category. This second son represents most of us who pay lip service to God: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mtt 15, 18); those of us who are fast at making vows of “I WILL” to the God but make no effort to fulfill any of them in obedience to His will as Christ did. He represents most of us who during the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Matrimony, boldly before God and humanity as witnesses, responded “I WILL to every question posed to us, but do not fulfill them. What a negation and negligence of obedience to what God wants us to do!
So, this parable becomes a warning to all of us who show lip service to the Father. We may be regular churchgoers, or even minister, yet do not in the end obey God’s commands and serve Him. Faith we know does not consist merely in a person giving subscription to true doctrine, but also includes something greater and deeper. The hearer is to deny himself and commit his whole life to God in truth, humility and of course, in absolute obedience to His will. Also, this parable is a gift of hopes to those of us who abandoned the part of integrity, but now, are ready to repent and obey the Lord. God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely willing to receive us back. It does not matter what we have been or done in time past. If we repent and come back to Christ then, the old things will pass away, and all things will become new for us (II Cor. 5:17).
The good news my dear friends today is that, in spite of all our failings, there is still ample opportunity for us to return to the part of integrity, to make good our promises to God as the first son did. It is time to say: Oh Lord, I have disobeyed you enough, now, “I am here to do your will”. It is time to synchronize or harmonize the words of the second son and the action of the first son in order to be the best we can in doing what God wants us to do in obedience and humility. Once we realize ourselves and are ready to do this, we like the Psalmist today can cry out to God: “Lord make me know your way, teach me your truth (that I may live in obedience and humility)…Remember your mercy Lord!”
Peace be with you all!!