Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 27/28, 2014
PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.
When I first entered the Oblates, I was quickly introduced to a beautiful prayer: the direction of intention.
Although there are numerous variations, the prayer goes something like this:
My God, give me the grace to perform this action with you and through love for you. I offer to you now all the good that I may do and I promise to accept for love of you all the difficulty I may meet therein.
It’s a great prayer, isn’t it?
Now this prayer has been recited in many of our high schools for generations. Each year, students begin class by consciously choosing to give the best of themselves to God in that moment.
How awesome is that!?!
I mean, what more could you want from students? With that kind of start to each class, teaching Salesian students must be easy.
Or so I thought…
Until I actually taught them. And realized that there was a disconnect between the words they were saying and the actions I was seeing.
This became painfully obvious my second week teaching when in the middle of the prayer, I noticed a projectile flying across the room. As the class said, “Amen,” the spitball splattered across the smartboard. Right in the middle of my PowerPoint presentation.
See, somewhere along the way, my students had missed the message.
The message of the Gospel for today.
That our lives must reflect the words we say, the prayer we utter, the promises we offer.
But if I am honest with myself, I am just as guilty of missing the message as my students.
How often do I pray these words to start a class and then find myself judging a colleague, losing my temper with a student, or ignoring the signs of someone who wants to talk because I don’t want to be bothered at that moment?
How often do we say the words “I’m sorry”, when we have no intention of stopping what we are apologizing for. When we don’t believe we’re wrong. When we feel the other person is overreacting.
How often do we tell someone that we forgive them when we don’t? When we have every intention of getting even. When we are just waiting to drag this situation back up and use it against them in the future.
How often do we tell someone that we are okay, when we’re not? When we are overwhelmed, but refuse to ask for help. When we are hurting, but refuse to allow someone in.
How often do we pray for God’s will to be done, but then simply choose to follow our own will? Refusing to allow God to shake us out of comfort zone. Refusing to accept that our own perspective may be wrong. Refusing to allow the teachings of the Gospel to change us.
How often do we say Amen to Christ, forgetting that we are also saying Amen to his body, to all of us? How often do we say Amen, while still clinging to our prejudices, our judgments? How often do we say Amen, and then blissfully ignore the needs of those crying out all around us.
This Gospel is hard my friend. For it reminds us all of the disconnect that exists in each of our lives between the words we say and the actions we take. And in reminding us, it calls us to action.
It calls us to close the gap. To walk the path that will make us authentic human beings, true Christian disciples.
And like all paths, it must be walked one step at a time.
I think Jesus understood this, which is why Jesus offers us the contrast that he does in the parable from today.
There is the man who knows all the right words to say, but refuses to act on them.
And then there is the son who grapples with what he is asked to do. Who doesn’t make this decision lightly. Who refuses, who stumbles, who stalls, but who ultimately gets there in the end.
There is no third choice, my friends. There is no perfect third son.
We can either give lip service to the faith we profess, to the words we say, to the promises we make.
Or we can do the hard work of admitting that we are works in progress.
Admitting that we want to forgive the other, but that healing the wounds will take time. That it will be harder to trust. That we are still angry.
Admitting that we are not perfect. That we are stressed or frightened, hurting or overburdened. That we need help, even if we don’t like asking for it. Even if we don’t know exactly what help we need.
Admitting that we want to follow Christ, but don’t always know how. Admitting that we are hesitant to take the leaps of faith that will call us to change.
Admitting that we want to love our neighbors as ourselves, but that we are still caught in our prejudices. Admitting that we struggle to see God in the homeless or the in-law, the addict or the liberal in our midst.
The choice is ours my friends.
May our lives proclaim the truths that we profess.
May God be Praised