Sunday, 28 September 2008

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 21:28-32

You’ll sometimes hear people say, “I just can’t help myself”.
Now, this phrase is used about a great many things. It might be said while eating not the first but the THIRD chocolate éclair, “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help myself”.
Or maybe while sitting slobbed out on the couch, “I know I should get up and do some exercise, but I just can’t help myself”.

But it’s also used about more serious things, “I know I should help my wife more, but I just can’t help myself”; or, “I know I should be more patient, but I just can’t help myself”.

I imagine many of us here have used this phrase many times, and maybe not that long ago.
And like all aspects of our lives, it’s good to measure it against the standard of the Gospel –what would Jesus do?
Well, we know Jesus was God, and that even though He suffered and had His moments of exhaustion, he was nonetheless sinless. So to ask, what would Jesus do, is obvious, he wouldn’t do what we do, he’d do better. He wouldn’t say, “I just can’t help myself”.

The REAL question, however, is what would Jesus expect US to do? What DOES He expect us to do?
Because there is a mistaken view of human sinfulness that says we are powerless before sin, that says we can’t do better, that says, “I just can’t help myself”.

If we say we can’t do better, then we make Christ’s call for us to repent and change meaningless. We say that His death of Cross is powerless to save us, powerless to win us the grace we need to do better –and that is the important point.
We sometimes think that our good deeds are done my our own power, but they’re not, they’re done by HIS power –but that’s the good thing, because it means His power is available for us to rise in other things too, to do those things that truly LOOK like they are beyond us. They might be beyond us, alone, but they are not beyond Him.

Jesus gave us a very simple example in today’s parable. A son, a good for nothing son, was asked a simple thing, to go into the vineyard, and he said no. He just couldn’t help himself. He didn’t offer any excuse, he just couldn’t help himself.
BUT, after, he “thought better of it and went” –and that is sign to all of us that it is possible to ‘think better of it’ and do what we haven’t yet done, to live how we haven’t yet lived, to live better.
Don’t we each have times we can recall when we ended up being better, doing better, than we said or thought we would –we were more generous, or patient etc.

St Paul tells us elsewhere how the words of the Lord came to him when he felt powerless, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor 12:9). And Scripture repeats this promise to each of US, many times in many ways: His grace is sufficient for me and sufficient for you too.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be good,
it doesn’t mean you won’t fall many times while trying to rise,
but He does give us what we need –what we need to be good.
God asks us, commands us, to be good. And God does not ask us to do what He will not give us the grace to achieve –what we need is: to let go of our self, trust in Him and His grace, and so act.

None of us need to say, “I just can’t help myself”, because with the Lord, we can do ALL that He asks of us: we can be more considerate to our spouses, we can even be saints, and we certainly resist that third chocolate éclair.

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