The principal message of

TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 21: 28 – 32] is twofold: {i} deeds are decisive, not words; and {ii} we should not become disinterested, critical, bystanders.

However, the foundation for a deep understanding of this very simple parable – together with its personal challenge to “the chief priests and elders” – must be found in the words “a man had two sons ….” the same father saying the same thing to two people. His words resulted in very different responses. Forget about what the sons said in reply and focus on what each one actually did. The words of the same father fell on deaf ears with the son who said ‘yes’ but did nothing while actually opened the ears, mind and heart of the son who said ‘no’ but thought better of it and responded positively. Deeds, not words are decisive.

Then, we hear the priests and elders hearing Jesus’ question, making the acceptable and obvious answer, but continuing in their ‘deafness’. Despite what they saw around them – the real difference Jesus was making in peoples’ lives – they persisted in being bystanders to the unfolding drama. In addition they continued with their carping criticisms.

It is useful to go back over previous extracts from Matthew’s Gospel (remember the angel messenger with which we started this year’s reflections) and have a peep at another which appears in a coming chapter.

“Once more in the picture drawn by Matthew, the heavenly Father can be clearly seen in the traits of the earthly father. God sets the task to be done and calls (us) to his service {20: 1 – 16}. He asks that his will should really be done, a task from which (we) cannot

dispense (ourselves) by making professions with (our) lips

{7:21}. He who hears and does not act has built his house on sand. The rains come, floods pour down, storms rage and bring the house down. The house is built on rock when one hears and acts and so can stand firm {7: 24 – 27}. A little later Jesus will point to the flagrant difference between words and practice as the cancer of Pharisaic doctrine and piety. {23: 3b}. This is the quarter from which comes the greatest threat …”[WOLFGANG TRILLING: The Gospel according to Matthew for Spiritual Reading: SHEED & WARD: Pages 384 / 5]

Various phrases from

TODAY’S PSALM [25 or 24] give a telling outline of the above lesson …. Lord, make me know your ways. Teach me your paths …. he shows the way to sinners …. guides the humble.” We seldom, if ever know it all and have every the answer. WE HAVE TO LEARN – and learning is a lifelong process.

Some of you (I hope because I am an optimist!) will recall that the second half of THIS SUNDAY’S NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [PHILIPPIANS 2: 1 – 11] is a repeat from last week. {This is unavoidable as the Exaltation of the Cross took precedence over the Sunday celebration} So we will, in the main, focus on the first few verses. Paul speaks of any encouragement … incentive of love … being of the same mind …. no selfishness or conceit … look not only to your own interests but also … to others.” The son who actually went off and did what his father asked, eventually found himself of the same mind as the father, his selfishness and conceit evaporated and he incorporated his interests into those of his father. The other son (like the Pharisees) appeared to be virtuous but in practice manifested a lack of love and conceit by following his own interests. The son who acted was the one with the the same mind” – the mind, action and approach we need to have among ourselves.”

So we return to the earlier observation about being critical bystanders. It is so easy to carp from the safe distance of not being truly involved. I cannot change the Church or the Parish by opting out. I must put my shoulder to the wheel. Disinvestment is all too often a self-righteous, knee-jerk reaction. The Church is not perfect – neither is the Parish, the Pastor nor the Parishioners – and neither am I! Much better, as Pope Francis says, to be a Church that grows and makes mistakes in the process rather than be one which stagnates. We learn from our mistakes.

We all have to learn, at different stages of our living, to turn ourselves around (unravel our parables?!) and become involved in helping to turn existing situations around – for the better. Yes, mistakes will be made in the process but we must be trying to DO something positive and constructive. Saint Matthew records a telling observation made by Jesus when he writes of the Pharisees that they make up heavy packs and pile them, on men’s shoulders but will not raise a finger to lift the load themselves” {23: 4}.

THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [EZEKIEL 18: 25 – 28]

is all about the individual’s ongoing challenge to make personal choices so as to turn around – and take positive steps to change direction for the better. Then, we shall surely live.”

Of course, it really helps if I know and accept when I am being a pain in the butt!?