HOMILY: SUNDAY 26 ‘A’ 2017
In any group of people, we are likely to find two distinct types of temperament. First, there are those who are always eager to say ‘Yes’ – the type of people who are eager, often over-eager, to please; in the jargon of psychology, they are often described as the ‘compulsively compliant’. And then, on the other hand, there are the ‘awkward cusses’ – those who are argumentative, contra-suggestible or just plain difficult.
Both these groups of people run up against problems as they make their way through life. Those who invariably say ‘Yes’ to anything they are asked to do cannot bear the risk of being disliked or disapproved of. But in due course they find they have taken on too much or even have agreed to follow two contradictory courses of action. One way or another, they cannot fulfil what they’ve agreed or even promised to do. So in the end they get a reputation for letting others down and are reckoned to be unreliable and even irresponsible.
Those whose first reaction is to say ‘No’ are the ones who run into trouble when they see they in fact need to change their mind. They have ‘second thoughts’ – they realise the other person has been right. But even when they swallow their pride and change their mind and act accordingly, their action can tend to come across as somewhat lacking in spontaneity – even a bit grudging.
Today’s Gospel story of the two sons, when we first hear it, may seem to be merely a good example of how these two types of temperament behave.; with more than a strong hint that the Lord looks with greater favour on the first type – the one who first of all says ‘No’…. But this would be far too trivial, and even misleading, a reading of the parable – because it ignores the fact that Jesus tells the parable to make a very particular point to a very particular audience.
Jesus was telling the parable to the Jewish leaders who had, for centuries, outwardly said ‘Yes’ to God – but who had then failed to respond in any practical way in the face of St John the Baptist’s call to repentance. On the other hand, those who had initially said ‘No’ were the outsiders: the tax collectors and sinners, who had said ‘No’ to the original call of the prophets, but were now presenting themselves for Baptism – committing themselves to a new life with God.
For us, whichever temperamental type we belong to, the parable challenges us to be honest about how things are between ourselves and God. Do I say ‘Yes’ to Christ and the Church, but in practice often say ‘No’, because I pick and choose what to do and what to believe – am I the ‘I do it my way’ sort of Catholic… Or can I recognise myself as someone who is a bit grumpy about the Church – a bit allergic to religion, as it were; but who, in spite of everything, gets on with it, in the spirit of St Paul’s words to the Philippians in today’s Second Reading: ‘do not think of your own interests first, but think of other people’s interests instead’.