Why Is It So Hard to Change?

September 27, 2020   

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time  

Matt. 21: 28-32

This 26th Sunday in the liturgical year takes us to the last part of Matthew’s Gospel. The setting for the next nine Sunday gospels is in Jerusalem, often in the temple, during the last week of Jesus’ life. Matthew uses this setting to emphasize the pressure that Jesus is under from the religious leaders of Israel. All of these adversaries – the chief priests, elders, pharisees, sadducees and scribes – will be active in chapters 21 to 25 and described in various parables and pronouncements from Jesus.

Today’s selection is really a continuation of the scene immediately preceding in which the chief priests and elders are challenging Jesus’ authority to drive the moneychangers from the temple. Jesus in turn provokes them with a  question about John’s right to baptize – was that from God or from human beings? And they refuse to answer because of the people. So Jesus in turn refuses to answer them and tells the parable of the two sons. The religious leaders are forced to admit that the first son does the father’s will because he changes his mind.

The message is clear: the Kingdom of God is for those who can change their minds. The religious leaders cannot do this, even when John the Baptist’s preaching has reformed the lives of tax collectors and prostitutes. We feel frustrated with their closed mindedness.  Why is it so hard to change when the evidence is right in front of us? 

What made the first son change his mind? We have no clue from the story but it reminds us of the other famous story of a father and his two sons. One son repents then he blows away his inheritance and is starving; the other son stays rooted in his self-righteousness. The abiding love of the father is the catalyst for change in this story. 

And this brings me to my own experience. I cannot force another person to change. And no one can change me. I can’t even change myself most of the time. What helps is an awareness that I am loved by God and the people around me.

Jesus’ message is a continuing invitation to examine my thoughts and behavior and to change what isn’t working – what isn’t expanding my capacity to love. We may be encouraged by the beautiful hymn of the early Christians in today’s 2nd reading. It was written and sung many years before Matthew organized his gospel and expresses how the Divine Mystery joined the human condition and its ongoing struggle to change.

     “Jesus, 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, even death on a cross.

     Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Christ Jesus, help me to empty myself of my self-righteousness and to join you in the ongoing work of change in this world.

Sister Mary Glenn, OSB


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