NOT BY WORDS, BUT BY DEEDS
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
September 26, 2011
Words are a dime a dozen. They come, not in mere jolting phrases, but in torrents in our days … via Facebook, Twitter, text, and broadcast. Columnists issue their daily columns, many of them full of venom; some full of honey, depending on who pays them more, or whose administration they want to build – or, in many cases – destroy!
Ironically, I offer not much else as alternative. Preaching, evangelizing, teaching, passing on the Word of God, unfortunately, or fortunately, still all have to do with using the human word – the only way we humans know best to communicate, to connect, and to transform the world we are immersed in.
Words flood our waking days, hours, and minutes. Most are empty words, vacuous threats, and spineless promises often meant to be broken. And this, for one simple reason … words are used, for the most part, only to communicate, to inform, but not to educate or to form.
Words uttered and written no longer conform to the inner truth and reality of what they are used to stand for. They are bandied about, often solely to manipulate, to cajole, to twist people’s arms, and make them follow the official version of the spin-masters of our media saturated times.
Today, we hear of no such spin-masters, but about people who tell it like it is! Ezekiel, for one, minces no words, and speaks his heart and mind: “The Lord’s way is not fair!” But God does speak His mind and heart, too, and declares, sort of: “No, you got it all wrong … It is not I who is unfair, but you.” He tosses in for good measure a promise of a reality that awaits those whose words connect with truth: “But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life … he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
Or take St. Paul for a second opinion … today, he uses words to encourage, heal, and energize … warm words of comfort for a people like us, so battered and bruised by many manipulative and lying words on a daily basis, from politicians who say one thing and do another; from leaders who lead by word and not by example, by media practitioners who practice nothing more than mere “envelopmental journalism.” St. Paul even offers the supreme example of one who preached, not by word alone, but by deeds – Jesus Christ the Lord, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.”
I feel convicted by the words I now write. Oftentimes, I have behaved more like the other son in the gospel parable of today, who says a quick and emphatic “yes,” but who ends up not doing what he says.
I confess my weakness and sinfulness, for I know I have made promises, and uttered words that I know in my heart, I did not really mean to do, or mean to complete. Like everyone else I know, like all of us weak mortals, I confess I have sinned grievously, repeatedly, through what I did, and what I did not do – sins of commission, and sins of omission, so called.
Today, we are invited to do better. St. Paul exhorts us: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” He tells us to find a connection between what we say and what we do … what comes out of our mouth, and what is really in our heart … a meeting point between what we say and what we really mean. He tells us to speak the truth, in love!
Let us face it … the Lord’s will is hard to follow. His ways, though by no means unfair, are a tough act to follow. It is not easy to be a disciple. But the other son of today’s parable is a picture of all of us. Our initial answer is always a “no!” Our natural tendency is to complain when the going gets rough and tough.
But the same other son, who utters a resounding “no” is one who shows himself capable of transcending himself, thinking better, and doing better. In the end, he followed his heart, not his mouth. He followed the inner voice of truth, the inner pull of the good, the voice of conscience that told him to “do good, and avoid evil.”
We all could choose to be one or the other. In the meantime, being the weak persons that we are, we beg the Lord, repeatedly: “Remember your mercies, O Lord” … “your ways, O Lord, make known to me”… “remember that your compassion and your love are from of old” …
And for us hard-hearted and disobedient spoiled brats, the encouraging words of the Lord should come in handy: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”
In the final roundup, the dividing line between the saint or sinner, between the one who obeys and disobeys, is simply this: not by words, but by deeds!