Twenty-six Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 1, 2017)
“It is not the tongue in your mouth that tells the most truth about you, but the tongue in your shoe.” The saying poses the challenge sometimes heard from African-American pulpits: “You talk the talk, but you don’t walk the walk.”
Isn’t it true that many who confess the creeds and follow the rituals with their mouth-tongues have hearts and shoe-tongues that contradict the words from their mouths? Many do not act upon the faith they profess with their mouth tongues with real, personal responsibility.
Today’s readings are about conversion; that is, metanoia, changing ones mind and heart. We are sometimes inclined to avoid taking responsibility for what we say we will do. Ezekiel in the first reading insists that the Jewish people take responsibility.
The Gospel parable - a tale of two brothers, a parable found only in Matthew - relates one of the last encounters Jesus had with the Jewish leaders. It occurred just the week before he was killed.
The chief priests and the elders worked very closely with the roman officials to maintain peace and the status quo. This status quo mentality worked against their accepting the words of john the baptizer and Jesus. Both the chief priests and the elders prided themselves on their commitment - words - but they did not follow through with action and do what the commitment demanded. They did not change their minds; there was no metanoia.
In the parable, the son who spoke the words of disobedience was wrong, but he did repent. He changed his mind, and became the darling of the parable. The tax collectors and prostitutes who enter the kingdom of god ahead of the chief priests and elders enter because they repent; they changed their minds, their hearts as this first son did.
Jesus proposed this question to the chief priests and elders. They picked the first son as the one who did repent and did the will of the father, but in so doing they condemned themselves for they lived as the second son who said: he would “do,” but he did not. Both john the baptizer and Jesus called the Jewish leadership to a change of mind and heart, a “metanoia,” but they were stuck in their ways, “thinking only in their box.”
Do we make claims, make promises, pledges - but not follow through? Do we talk a better life than we live? What we do is important. Listening, accepting responsibility may be our greatest burden, but it is also our greatest gift. It is what is making us grow up, mature as human beings and as fully human Christians. God takes us seriously and calls us to take ourselves seriously.
It is no small thing to be co-responsible with our god in the building of the kingdom - and ourselves - in the process. Our readings call us to look at how we accept our responsibilities, to do, not simply talk. It is not the tongue in our mouth that tells the most truth about us, but the tongue in our shoe.”