Sunday, September 27, 2020

How to Say Yes

We’ve all heard of the “terrible twos” And probably you can remember a child you knew, a nephew or niece when at around two years old they learned the power of no. “No.” It's embarrassing to admit, but I don't think I ever outgrew the grip of that no. I think my terrible twos morphed into the terrible twenties, forties and now worst of all now the terrible sixties. Deep inside there’s a repeating sound bite that often goes off automatically when I’m asked to do something. It goes like this: “Not yet. When I’m good and ready. I’ll think about it. Maybe. I’ll see.” Or simply, “No, I won’t.” Or “No one’s gonna tell me what to do.”

This morning that hauntingly beautiful phrase from St. Paul cuts through all the babble: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (That is the more literal translation of “attitude” in today's second reading.) Have Jesus’ beautiful mind in you. Beautiful to ponder, but seemingly impossible. Perhaps we feel too sharply the reproach of our reality, our own no. Too often I have grumbled, too quickly said, “No,” out of fear, because of what I may have to lose, what hardship may be involved or simply because I’ll to do it my way. After all, where might my yes lead?

And so, today’s Gospel may seem to be a great allowance, perhaps we're off the hook. After all, if the notorious sinners can get into the Kingdom, certainly there’s a crack in the doorway for me, right? Like the first son, I’m willing to change my mind, perhaps not in a hurry, but eventually. The two groups of people whom Jesus presents as examples for us this morning were among the most despised members of Jewish society. Tax collectors took money from Jews for an alien power, and prostitutes sold their favors most often to Roman soldiers. But even the tax collectors and prostitutes, despised for their collaboration with the Romans, are admirable because of their openness the message of Jesus and his cousin John.* Jesus praises the readiness of these outsiders to change their minds and hearts - they’re broken enough, they know they're outcasts and sinners. They have no illusions about themselves and so are open to Jesus' invitation to reform. They know they’re a mess, they know it all too well. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’ve lost it all already. So, what am I afraid to lose?

Jesus tells there were two sons, neither have the ideal response, but one had the good sense to step up. And most importantly the Liturgy this morning offers us the reality of a third Son -Jesus, the Son who was always yes. “For in him every one of God’s promises is a yes.” And only through him we can say our yes to all God wants for us. Again we hear that hauntingly beautiful phrase: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The beautiful mind of Jesus. There is one thing on his mind, filling his mind- love, which is self-forgetful, gives itself away. Love makes Jesus defenseless, he will do anything at all for the Father who loves him, and so for all of us- those whom the Father has given to him.

And in the freedom of his self-emptying love even unto the cross, Jesus becomes utterly powerless, a slave, obedient unto death. Love makes Jesus’ yes unqualified, instinctive. (We remember a candidate a few years ago. He had donated a kidney to his dad; it saved his life. I said to him, “What a beautiful thing you did.” Without missing a beat, he responded, “Father, how could I not do it? It was a no-brainer.”) Automatic. A no-brainer. Love triumphs over fear, second thoughts. And so it with Jesus. He lowers himself. And his cross becomes the marriage bed where he can give over everything for his bride - all of us. Bleeding, broken to pieces on the cross, there we see the beauty and breadth of Jesus’ unqualified yes to all that the Father asks of him. He could dare to do so because he knows himself beloved Son.

Perhaps we might imagine all the things Jesus could have spoken from the cross but did not: “This is so unfair. I feel so misunderstood. How could you have done this to me?” And so, on Good Friday we put the Reproaches on his lips: “My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me. I gave you manna, I gave you water in the desert...” Perhaps we need to hear these words, so that we can plumb the horror of his passion. But Jesus will have none of it. He says only that he is thirsty, he forgives his torturers, gives us his mother, promises Paradise to a brigand, cries out to his Father in desperation, and finally gives over his spirit willingly on our behalf.

He never ever reproaches us. Instead he empties himself. God in Christ gives himself away to death and so reverses everything, trampling down death by death. Death is foiled. Our freedom is assured. Love triumphs. The beautiful mind of Christ triumphs over the primordial no of death, the no of our resistant matter, the no of our flesh that fears and cringes. We need not fear any longer the defenselessness of love. Nothing will be taken from us; in fact, everything is given to us in Christ. We have only to be faithful to our greatest discipline as monks: to believe ourselves God’s beloved ones, even as we know the shabby possibilities of our broken, wounded selves. This deep knowledge alone can change everything. Then we too can empty ourselves in self-forgetful love.

God has fallen madly in love with what he created. Jesus the most obedient Son has come down to the vineyard of our humanity; our flesh is God’s flesh forever. Christ Jesus is God’s never-ending yes to us. Our yes to God, no matter how late, or reluctant or fainthearted is only possible for us through Christ Jesus. And at this altar the mind of Christ dreams of a way to enable us always to have his mind, even his heart always within us - he gives us his own Body and Blood as food and drink, medicine and lasting presence.

*Daniel Harrington.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Reflection by one of the monks.