Sunday, September 25, 2011

26th Sunday of Ordinary time

Today's readings speak to us about conversion. Conversion is hard because conversion is change, and no one likes change. In fact, I once heard a speaker who was talking about change and he said: the only person who likes change is the man wearing wet pants. Something true to that. But, none of us will go through the hard work of conversion unless we think it is necessary.

I think if we are honest the first reading is a little bit scary. If the virtuous turns away he will die because of his sins. Now, all of us would like to think of ourselves as trying to be in the virtuous camp right? Hopefully we try to do the right thing in our lives. But, one thing I see quite often in the people I meet and even in my own spiritual life is that it is easy to lose focus, it can be easy to take our eyes off of Christ, it is easy to start coasting. This can be a deadly spiritual problem, because there can be no coasting in the spiritual life: the words good enough have no place in our lives. Augustine spoke of it so long ago we either see ourselves in conversion towards God, or in adversion away from God. There really is no middle ground. There is no coasting, no "good enough." Why? Because the virtuous person can always turn away. So, we all need conversion, we all need to turn toward God. How do we do that?

The gospel today gives an interesting account of conversion. We have two sons, they begin one way and end another. One son begins by refusing the will of the Father, but ends up doing his will; the other son begins by doing the will of the Father, but ends by refusing it. Jesus gives us a spiritual principle: it is better to end well than to begin well. Conversion is a daily process, and as we journey through life hopefully we are becoming more and more like the first son. We might have refused God's will in the past, but hopefully right now, in the present, we are seeking to do God's will. The Gospel gives us a great term for this process. I have been calling it conversion, Jesus simply says about the son: he changed his mind. Remember, change is hard, no one likes change, but it is this change of mind that allows the son to do the will of the Father. Hopefully we all see this change of mind as something we would like to have happen in our own lives. Hopefully we all see our need for conversion and have the desire to do God's will, but how do we carry out the hard work of conversion: St. Paul says: have in you the same attitude found in Christ.

If we are to change our minds, to become faithful sons and daughters of God, developing the attitude of Christ is a must. This is hard work: we must think like Christ, see others as Christ would see them, love the things that Christ loves, put on the mind of Christ, develop the heart of Christ. To change our minds, to change our attitudes is the pathway to discipleship. But, St Paul gives us one more piece of advice: humility. We cannot do this work on our own. It is only through humble recognition of our sinfulness, our lowliness, our brokenness that we will ask Christ for help. So, no one likes conversion because it entails change, but we also avoid conversion because it brings us face to face with our sinfulness, our inadequacy, our inabilities, our weakness. But, Jesus Christ wasn't afraid to empty himself, and neither should we fear it.

Here in this Holy Eucharist we have great training in humility, a great aid in developing the attitude of Christ. For our Lord comes to us here in a way meek and lowly. If we allow it, the Eucharist will help us to change. If we turn towards Christ, allow him to change our minds, this holy gift will work within us, helping us to do the will of the Father.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness

The message of today's gospel is pretty clear: how many times must I forgive?  77 times 7, in other words: we should be infinitely forgiving, because God is infinitely forgiving.  If we want to be forgiven, forgive.

Then Jesus uses a parable that must have been absolutely shocking to his first hearers.  A king decides to settle debts, that we could see happening.  But, this is where the story gets interesting.  It is clear that we should all see ourselves as this first servant, this is Jesus' intention.  The lectionary tells us that the servant owed the king a great amount.  Why does it do this???  This is not a translation of the text, rather this is an interpretation.  The text just says 10,000 talents.  Now, you have probably heard many homilies that tell you that talents are our gifts and experiences.  But, this is not true!  A talent is an amount of money: 1 years wages for a worker.  This means that the king was owed 10,000 years wages.  If you make 40,000 per year that is a total of 400 million dollars: a staggering amount.  Remember we are supposed to see ourselves in this servant.  The truth, if we ever get around to facing it, is that we have all sinned, we all need God's mercy.  We all owe God big time.  But, of course, we can never pay God back.  So God, through Jesus, forgives us.  If we remember our debt to God for the forgiveness he gives us through Jesus, it should be easy to forgive.  But, if we find it hard to forgive others it might be because we fail to see our own sinfulness, our own need for forgiveness.  If we fail to see our own need for forgiveness, if we fail to ask God for forgiveness, why would he forgive us?