The Scriptures this weekend invite us to examine our attitude toward living our faith and how we live it through our actions. We have seen and heard this invitation before, but let’s focus on one particular aspect of attitudes and actions of faith.
This examination is meant especially for for those of us who have been called Catholic and Christian from birth and grew up in the Church. It is easy to confess with our mouths one thing and our actions to enflesh something else.
The Gospel tells us the story of two sons who have different verbal responses to their father, but then have opposite reactions to how they put their words into action. One says yes and never shows up. The other says no but eventually comes to his father’s help.
Most of us can recognize ourselves in the story. We may have been the ones who immediately responded in faith and love and then didn’t show that through our actions. There may have been times in which we were hesitant to follow God’s direction at first, but in the end we followed and it worked out. So we are both of the sons portrayed in the Gospel, not just one or the other.
The act of self-emptying that is conveyed to us in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians takes our mission and this Gospel message to a whole different level. Not only are we asked to do what God requests, but we are asked to do it with full freedom and to give our entire selves.
Jesus held nothing back from anyone. Even those who sinned against Him were given the full gift of His self as free and unconditional love. He chose to empty Himself for the sake of others, not because of how others would respond, but because of His gratitude for us. He didn’t judge whether or not we were worthy. He just lived the mission that He was given.
Would it ever make sense to completely give yourself to those who have sinned against you or who have betrayed you? This is certainly not an invitation to keep falling back into an abusive relationship, but it is an invitation to act in love toward every single person, no matter their attitude toward us. Instead of filtering God’s commands through our wisdom of what’s right and wrong — and what’s deserved or not — we are asked to simply love and empty ourselves as God directs us to, not what makes sense to us.
The instruction to do nothing out of selfishness and to humbly regard others as more important than ourselves is a goal that’s attainable throughout a lifetime but not in each moment of our lives. We grow in holiness and sacrificial living by taking each day as an opportunity to do exactly what God is asking us to do.
As you read these words, is someone’s face or name coming to mind to whom you owe more love and compassion than you’ve been giving? Is there something that you have been withholding — a gift or act of service — that could be valuable to your community or your family, and you have been afraid to give that gift because of what others might think?
Do not let fear keep you from doing what God is asking you to do. Don’t make your own wisdom be the blockage that keeps you from following God’s wisdom. Don’t let an assumption of the future keep you from acting in this moment the way you should. Let us each do as He says, now!
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.