Proper 21 - Year A [RCL]
What do you believe? This question may seem very simple to answer at first. But if we are being truthful, it is not an easy question to answer unless, of course, we have memorized the answer from catechism or intentionally discerned the answer and have practiced articulating it to others.
The gospel today demonstrates why it is important to know the answer to this question. Without knowing exactly what you believe, you are sure to be caught in the situation that the priests and elders are in as they are confronted by Jesus. It would have served them well if they had been prepared and could answer confidently. But more importantly, they would have brought together the community if their interests were not self-serving, selfish, and without integrity.
Based on where we are in our corporate lives in the church, articulating our beliefs has become essential. But before we can be building blocks for growing a larger community of faith, we must know what it is in our hearts and souls. This is not to say that our focus should remain there, only that it must begin there. In the end, we are still called into a corporate life in Christ where, together with our sister and brother believers, we continue the work of building up the Kingdom of God in our world.
If Paul’s letter to the Philippians has any ring of truth for us today, then there cannot be community without unity in a corporate belief. Paul tells us that we must be of the same mind as Jesus, and the only way to accomplish that is through love, humility, and reconciliation – not through conceit or selfishness.
It is very difficult to be a community in our world today. Yet it is essential for a holistic, healthy, and happy life. The world we live in today causes us to struggle for balance between the individualism that is encouraged by society and our desperate need to belong. We struggle to reconcile ourselves and be at peace in a world that is connected by technology but knows little about anyone outside our circles.
Let us not trivialize Paul’s message – love, humility, and reconciliation are not just buzz words. They are deeply connecting words that speak through our hearts and souls. They are foundational words used throughout the gospels as Jesus models love, humility, and reconciliation for us.
These characteristics are evident in the parable we heard in today’s gospel. The father, who is the owner of a vineyard, has two sons, and he asks them both to come to work with him. The first son refuses to honor his father’s request but he changes his mind, repents, and then goes to work in the vineyard. The son has a change of heart that he acknowledges through his repentance – a sign of humility, love, and his willingness to discern and reflect reconciliation. The second son says he will go to work but he does not. His actions are an example of selfishness and lack of integrity.
Jesus does not just tell the story about the father and his two sons, but further describes community-building to the elders and chief priests in the temple through their own attitudes about John the Baptist. Jesus tells them that they had a chance to hear what John had to say about justice and righteousness, but they chose to remain fixed on their laws and those things that secured their power. He confronted their selfishness and lack of integrity directly while simultaneously demonstrating that this did not build up the community of faith.
Jesus uses the faith of the tax collectors and prostitutes who heard John’s message and changed their ways to show community-building at its best. They model the personal responsibility we each have to change, seek justice, listen, and hear the truth in differences. The prophetic words of Ezekiel say clearly that those who have considered and turned toward a change for justice and willingness to hear truth in difference will live. They will find a new heart and a new spirit.
As we listen to these readings and discern our own hearts and souls, we begin the process of answering the question, “What do you believe?”
Listening and hearing our readings in the context of celebrating our corporate lives is another step. The next step requires that we share our hearts with each other and then with everyone we encounter in our lives. This doesn’t mean that we “evangelize” to everyone everywhere. But as St. Francis is attributed as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
What do you believe? It needs to be evident in the way we live and relate. Living with integrity means that there is no break between our words, actions, and faith. Living with integrity means that we can discerns God’s voice in those expected and unexpected places and that we not only listen but are willing to change as we grow in our personal and corporate faith.
We want to be people who, when asked who we are, can reply with confidence because we know our hearts and souls and live accordingly. We want to be a people who dismantle injustice and practice humility as we listen to the Spirit’s call on our lives. In short, we want to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We just need to begin with knowing what we believe.