Readings: Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Psalm 25, R. Remember your mercies, O Lord.; Philippians 2: 1-11; Gospel – Matthew 21: 28-32
One of the serious crises we face today is a lack of respect for the truth. Former New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani, in her 2018 book “The Death of Truth,” makes a strong and clear case why we should be concerned about the erosion of respect for and fidelity to the truth.
She cites author, cultural critic and educator Neil Postman’s 1985 warning of how the “electric plug” has created “technological distractions”—then referring only to television—that has trivialized serious discourse.
Postman presents this caricature: “Our priests and presidents, our surgeons and lawyers, our educators and newscasters, need worry less about satisfying the demands of their discipline than the demands of good showmanship.”
This Sunday’s Gospel presents to us a parable that will, first, help us reflect on this crisis of truth—more accurately, of truth as it is expressed in our word of honor and in the alignment of our word and action, which determines our integrity as persons.
On the surface, the parable seems like we are confronted with a choice between the lesser of two evils. You have Son No. 1 disobeying in word, but obeying in action. On the other hand, you have Son No. 2 obeying in word, but disobeying in action.
Who do you think is the lesser of two evils? Surely most of us will choose Son No. 1. But the real crux of the issue is why each ended up doing what they did.
Son No. 1 had a change of heart, a conversion and transformation. This is what moved him from “bad” to “good,” and this makes him the better son.
He aligned not just between his word and action, but with the will of the Father, or what the Father wants him to do.
This, I propose, is the truth that we must recover now, the alignment to mission. Our life’s integrity lies in our alignment to our mission, and mission is what aligns our word and action, giving us integrity.
The second point for reflection in the parable is how both sons are imperfect. Both had faults—the other truth of our human condition.
Humility is truth. We are imperfect beings, but it is in our imperfection and our struggle with it that we discover our truth. In one of my favorite points on this—paraphrasing Fr. Horacio dela Costa, SJ—it is knowing we ares sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus.
It is a companionship in mission, “to engage, under the standard of the Cross in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith, and that struggle for justice which it includes.”
The truth that comes from humility is that in our imperfection, God calls us to mission, to do what he wants us to do, sinners though we are.
We are the imperfect missionaries, the imperfect companions of Jesus in mission. As the Portuguese proverb put it, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
The third point for reflection is the world in which we are being missioned: the context within which we are asked to live our truth, the truth of our mission.
It is a world that is more deeply divided than ever. Many things we thought were unthinkable are in our midst. One need only look at the contentious sociopolitical issues in our country and even in the United States.
The pandemic has revealed to us the continued oppression that unjust social structures bring into the lives of the marginalized majority, and the sufferings they inflict.
Three weeks ago, I interviewed a young man who, together with his classmates and friends, had dedicated their lives and careers to championing renewable energy to bring electricity to poor communities.
His reason for this both moved me and made me realize the gravity of the problem with our environment. He said that his generation was our last chance to check the disaster that climate change will wreak upon future generations. After them, it will be more difficult.
This—and more—is the world, the vineyard where the Father is asking us to go to and labor.
Do we say yes and not act, or no and act? Perhaps there is no excuse to choose one or the other at this point.
Respect for the truth, fidelity to the truth: this is the only choice. Saying yes to God’s mission and allowing his love and grace to take over us and transform us into instruments in his hands is the only choice. —CONTRIBUTED