Scripture reflections for Oct. 1, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Phil 2:1-5 (alternate)
This Sunday's Gospel offers us an idea a lot of us need to hear: "It's not too late. Any of us, if we choose, can follow another path."
Telling the story of two sons who made two different choices, Jesus essentially told the chief priests and elders: If you think you have it figured out, think again. Take another look at what you think is important. And consider following another path.
We can change our minds -- and change our hearts.
"Change," in fact, is a significant word in this Gospel. It pops up twice: describing the son who does change, and describing the chief priests and elders who don't.
Some commentators have compared this passage in Matthew to the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke; both stories revolve around two sons, and a choice and a change.
It is clearly a theme that Jesus wanted to drive home again and again to his listeners. It is one that has echoed down through history as the Christian faith has been passed on: the notion that there is another way, a better way -- the Father's way. The Father's will.
He is calling. What does he want? Among other things, he wants us to be open to the possibility of change.
St. John Henry Newman -- himself a Catholic convert, with a profound understanding of what it means to choose another path -- put it this way: "To live is to change," he wrote. "And to be perfect is to have changed often."
And each of us, he wrote elsewhere, has been called by God to something extraordinary -- to live out his will for our lives. "God has created me to do him some definite service," he wrote. "He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do his work."
It isn't always easy. But if we listen to what God is trying to tell us, follow the direction he's trying to take us and trust in his will for our lives, we may be amazed at where he leads us. Countless saints and holy people -- from Ignatius to Francis of Assisi to Dorothy Day -- give testimony to that.
But what about us? Are we open to change, ourselves? Are we open to changing ourselves? Are we open to God's work in our lives?
This Sunday's Gospel is nothing less than a call to continuing conversion. It asks us to reconsider the choices we have made.
If we haven't taken our faith seriously, to take another look.
If we've thought, "I go to Mass now and then, that's enough," to think again.
If we think we're fine the way we are, and don't need to do better, to consider that maybe we need to listen more closely to what God really wants.
The passage from Exodus puts it bluntly: "Turn away from wickedness." And if we need some guidance on how to do that, St. Paul offers a good place to start, the first steps toward holiness: "Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory," he writes, "rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others."
Ultimately, this Gospel calls on us to be people who give more than lip service to God (and, by extension, our neighbor); it challenges to live as we are called to live, and not say one thing while doing another.
God is calling us, inviting us -- just like the father did with the two sons. He is asking us to labor in the vineyard, to do his work in the world and live according to his will, not ours.
This scripture reminds us of something we might easily forget. Like the son who changed his mind, we can reverse course, and go another way.
Want to change direction? Follow the signs toward the vineyard. It's not too late!
- Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, "The Deacon's Bench."