"It's not enough at the beginning to say yes" 26 Sunday A 2017

Friends, it's not enough at the beginning to say yes. One cannot say yes to God once and for all time. Of course, we cannot take our entire life at once and put it into God's hands. Again, we are faced with situations where we have opportunity to renew our original yes. This is my experience as a priest and servant of God and his people. Every day, I must choose to be human, to be Christian and to be a priest. Today, people in the world do not want to hear or follow God's commandments. We should understand that the mathematics we use in our relationships with each other does not match the kingdom of God. When a person begins to love God with all his or her heart and all his or her strengths, his or her tenderness and compassion grows for others. The person begins to live in love, humility and putting others higher than self. It is God's love in a person that makes one not only think of his or her own best but also of others. Such a person is free of self-centeredness and vanity. "As much as heaven is higher than the earth," says God, so much are my plans higher than your plans "(Isaiah 55: 9). Some even think that God does not care about our world and what is happening here. Therefore, many give- up and give way to sin and injustice. These people prioritize power, money before the kingdom of God. People in our day tend to try to make being Christian according to their own measure and whims. He who says, "I know him, but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (John 2: 3-4). Jesus proclaims words and above all with his life, that God loves us and is with us. Faith must grow and deepen in us. A Yes that lasts, is the only thing that stands before God! It is the outcome in human life that matters. God has endless patience with all of us and shows understanding of our first "no" on our way to our final, definitive "Yes." Dear brothers and sisters, do not be ashamed of your faith and hold firm to the end. God does amazing things, even in our day! Do not do to anyone what you would not done to you (Tobit 4:16). Time after time Jesus explains what faith and love are and how to love and believe. In today's gospel (Matt 2: 29-32) this becomes clear. The text speaks of two sons of a father who, at first sight, have nothing to do with the chief priests and the elders of the people we hear in the reading. But in depth they talk about love and faith and teach us what love and faith basically are. "No one has greater love than he who gives his life to his friends" (John 15:13). Jesus radicalizes the old promise of love. Loving his neighbour as himself is not enough. I must love my neighbour more than myself. Yes, when it comes to choosing between my neighbour and myself, I have to prefer my neighbour. The apostle Paul understood and lived this therefore he says, "Be humble and set others higher than yourselves." This is what Jesus does and he wants us to do the same. "My command is this: “love one another as I have loved you" (John 1:12). This means that the word "you" is far more important than the word "me". Love is to give one’s life to the one you love. This sounds hard and extremely demanding for a person to fulfil. We are afraid we would lose if we put the other first. But love does not lead to destruction for us but to resurrection. A Christian is called to forget himself or herself to please others. Each time we forget ourselves and put others first, we give some of our lives, because we look away from ourselves, but each time it leads to resurrection, to greater freedom and greater joy. Unfortunately, most of us require everything even if that happens to everyone else's expense. But Jesus teaches us, "If anyone wants to be the leader, he must become the poorest of all and servant of all." How does this happen? By becoming another's servant, by not being served but to serving. It goes against the power desire that seems to be in our nature as a human being. Christ’s challenge is that with boundless respect, we allow others to help lift themselves from hunger, poverty, hopelessness, to change their living situation to the best. It is not enough to choose only a few friends or sympathetic people. As soon as you set limits, it's no longer love. Today's gospel tells the parable of a man who had two sons. He asked the first to go and work in his vineyard and he said no, but then he regretted and went. He turned to the other and requested the same thing. The second son answered yes but did not go (Matt 21: 28-32). When Jesus told the parable of the two sons, he formulated a question: "Which of the two did the father’s will?" They replied: "The first." How should we understand this? Sometimes I hear some people say, "I've done my thing to God and to the church, now I can rest." Of interest in this context is to note that they mean that they have paid their dues to God and should not be expected to remain faithful. Sometimes it may mean to start living like those who do not believe. Some of these people live as if they are now enjoying all that they did not as believers in the past. By living in this way, they turn their original yes to no. At the same time, we can highlight people who have lived for many years in an atheist and pagan way, now returning to the living Lord. That's exactly what they are doing now that are of interest to the Lord not what they did before in their lives. In today's parable, we see that there are different ways of saying yes to God. In biblical tradition, there is always room for conflict when telling stories about two brothers. Although this parable may contain an assessment of Jewish religious leaders, Matthew refers to a much broader application of its message. In this parable, each of us can recognize her or his own personal experience. We, like the religious leaders in Jesus' time may become blind to what God does in the world today. The equation is a challenge for those who claim to be Christians, but show only the confession of the lips, compared to those who come to Christ later in life but never claimed to be righteous(Tzadik). From the moment they say yes, they also show real devotion. The story teaches us that it is not enough at first to say yes. The first yes must be deliberately protected, constantly reaffirmed and concretely translated into practice. One cannot say yes to God once and for all. As a Christian, you are constantly in a situation of choice, where you could either deny or re-affirm your first yes. Your original yes to God means nothing if you now say no to him. If you have been a practicing Christian in your home country and here in Sweden chooses to live as if God is does not exist, your way of living right now is crucial not what you did in the past. This is precisely what the prophet Ezekiel confirms in the first reading: "If the righteous turns away from his righteousness and do what is wrong, then he must die for punishment for this ... But if the wicked turns from wickedness then He keeps his soul alive (Ezk 18: 25-28). Dear brothers and sisters, do not be ashamed of your faith and hold on to faith to the end. For us to act according to the guidance of the gospel, we need to undergo an inner revolution, we must win the battle of the mind. We must free our minds. We are a paradox creature. On the one hand, we want to live for God's love. On the other hand, we are always closing ourselves for God. We want to take care of ourselves and control our lives. Christianity is never just theory, it is always concrete and manifests itself in action. Jesus never thinks abstract. It is only practice that interests Jesus. There is an abyss between human ways of thinking and acting and the way of God. Christian love is no ideology: "We have come to know the love that God has for us and believe in it" (John 4:16). This love is a personal relationship. In this context, it is important to be aware that belief and practice are not the same. Only accepting the word of God and saying yes to him does not mean that you will live fully. James speaks in his letter about this difference between faith and deeds in chapter 2: 14-26. Faith without deeds is dead. The word of God commits to execution from the moment it is proclaimed. When Jesus speaks, he makes it concrete. This is because Christianity is not an ideology but the love of God that has become visible. Knowing God is not to philosophically speculate on him. The only way we can show that we have come to know God is by keeping His commandments. God does not adapt to us because you cannot sort out some beliefs that do not suit one and only choose the ones you like. The beauty of the second son in today's gospel story is not his first response to his father but this, after fighting himself, his father and fighting God, at last he does the father's will. Here we learn that a person is always free to choose. She is never a playball of fate. In the second son, we see that it is always the last word that is crucial. It is our last choice that makes sense for all previous choices. It does not matter when you became a Christian or Catholic but how faithful you are now. Chikezie Onuoha MSP
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