“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. We recite these words each time we say the prayer that Jesus himself has taught us.
The theme of today’s readings is the call to do the Father’s will in our daily lives. Today’s readings emphasize 2 key points that we have to keep in mind when discerning what God’s will for us is.
The 1st point is that doing God’s will is about making a choice. This should not surprise us since this is what Jesus had to do. Jesus’ choice is clearly outlined in the 2nd reading. In order to be faithful to the Father’s will, Jesus decided not to cling only to his divine identity. He chose to assume a human identity as well. Jesus just did not “pretend” to be human. He truly embraced all aspects of the human condition including death. Furthermore, he willingly surrendered himself to the most difficult death possible – one that involved humiliation, torture, pain and execution. Because Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will was so complete and perfect, Paul acclaims that “Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.
We see the same principle that doing God’s will involves a choice in the Gospel account. The father in the parable of the two sons calls both sons to work in the vineyard. Each son gets the identical invitation. The first son refuses, then changes his mind and decides to obey. The second son agrees, then changes his mind and chooses to disobey.
After the conclusion of the parable, Jesus makes shocking comments about entering the Kingdom of God. He makes strange references to tax collectors and prostitutes. These individuals were public sinners and thus, were considered to be the outcasts of society. But Jesus speaks highly of them.
Upon hearing John the Baptist’s preaching, they are like the wicked person in the 1st reading. They deliberately change their minds and turn away from sin and evil and turn to what is right, good and just. The implication is that the wicked person, the first son, the tax collectors and prostitutes are making the correct decisions and are the ones doing what the father desires. Thus, they are entering the Kingdom of God.
The same is true for us. Just as the two sons were asked to work in the vineyard “today”, God calls and invites each of us to do his will today. No one is excluded from this call. But God’s call demands a response. Accepting the call means that we all need to let go of the things that stand between God and us and to turn more and more towards God.
I recall reading about an incident in Mother Theresa’s life. She was celebrating a milestone in her life (30th, 40th, 50th anniversary(?) of her profession to the Religious Life). The interviewer asked her: “When did you decide to become a nun?” Her answer was: “This morning”. This was not a flippant response. What she was saying is that living as a disciple requires a daily decision. Choosing to say “yes” to the Lord requires daily commitment and daily renewal.
Today’s readings challenge us to take an inventory of our lives. Each of us must ask ourselves these questions: “What attitudes, values and habits must I turn away from in order to do God’s work today? What attitudes, values and habits must I turn to in order to follow God’s will today?”
The second point is that, in the choices we make, words are not enough; deeds are required. What types of actions are required? Once again, looking at what Jesus did can help us in this regard.
Jesus humbled himself to take on our humanity. He did not hold back anything of himself, but gave himself totally to us. Christ, the 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God, did not come to be served but to serve.
St. Paul pleads with us to imitate Christ the servant when he says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit; but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”.
Jesus emptied himself and poured out his life for others. He not only preached love; he lived love. For Jesus, there was no difference between saying and doing.
The call is to accept the Gospel as our way of life and Jesus as our model.
Therefore, like Jesus, we need to be selfless. We need to empty ourselves and pour out our lives for others.
Bishop Robert Baron puts explains the meaning of the sentence, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” as follows: “The call of Jesus addresses the mind, but it moves through the mind into the body, and through the body into the whole of one’s life, into the most practical decisions. The message is to walk as Jesus walks; think as Jesus thinks; choose as Jesus chooses; see as Jesus sees. Discipleship entails an entire reworking of the self according to the pattern and manner of Jesus”.
St. Athanasius said, “God became human so that humans could become more like God”. Every day there are multiple opportunities in our families, in our communities, at work or recreation to imitate Jesus’ loving kindness, compassion and forgiveness.
The righteous person in the first reading, the second son and the religious leaders in the Gospel talked the talk, but they did not walk the talk. It is for this reason that they fail to do what the Father desires and consequently, do not enter the Kingdom of God. As Fr. Richard Rohr states: “What matters is not those who say it ‘right’. What matters is those who do it ‘right’.”
I recall a time when Fr. Kirwan, who died in April 2014 after having served as a priest for 70 years, was preaching a homily in this church. The story he told to make his point had such an impact on me that I still remember it 25 years later: “Mr. Christian went to church every Sunday, but Mr. Christian went to hell…for what he did on Monday”. Actions speak louder than words. The challenge is to do outside these walls what we say inside these walls.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. We are not passive recipients of God’s will; we are active participants in bringing out God’s will right now on this earth. We have an important role to play. As we say these words during this Mass, let us ask God for the courage, strength, perseverance and grace to choose to say “yes” to him on a daily basis and, more importantly, to translate that “yes” into good deeds.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
September 26-27, 2020.