words are not enough

This parable for most of us, has a familiar ring to it. At some point in our lives, we can usually recall saying one thing and doing another. Most, I imagine, have been like the son who said “yes” but then refused to act upon their assent; fewer are like the one who said “no” but then acted to the contrary.

Parable of the two sons

I still vividly recall a moment in my life when I said yes, but acted contrary to my response. When I was nine or ten years old, we had a neighbor, a wonderful lady, originally from Spain, who was both generous and kind to everyone. On Easter Sunday, she set a large basket full of candies on her front porch with a small sign that read, “Please, take all you want.” Being the literal-minded person that I was, I proceeded to fill every pocket, my shirt, my mouth, and both hands with candy.

My parents naturally inquired where I had obtained such a stash of sweet deliciousness, to which I honestly replied, “Mrs. M. said to take all we wanted.” Naturally, and quite rightly, my parents saw things quite differently to my way of thinking and told me, quite emphatically, to take it all back.

After no small amount of arguing on my part, I finally acquiesced and agreed to return the candy. Of course, I had no true intention of doing so, and as soon as I walked out the door and out of their sight—ostensibly on my way to return those ill-gotten goods—I surreptitiously stashed the candy behind a bush where I could later reclaim my booty.

Let us be completely honest with ourselves. Both of the sons in the parable represent each and every one of us at some point in our lives. We have all promised to do something and then not followed through with our promise; we have all refused to do something and then ended up doing it anyway; resolving to give up some bad habit or to adopt a good one—and failing on both accounts.

Pope Paul VI wrote in a letter on the eightieth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’x encyclical Rerum Novarum:

Let each one examine himself, to see what he has done up to now, and what he ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustice and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied for each individual by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action. It is too easy to throw back on others responsibility for injustice, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first. This basic humility will rid action of all inflexibility and sectarianism, it will also avoid discouragement in the face of a task which seems limitless in size.1

Jesus asks us, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The answer is obvious: the one who refused but then did as he was asked. His immediate refusal was of little note, for he subsequently did the will of his father. Obedience reveals where our heart is; obedience, or disobedience, reveals the direction the heart is moving. “Obedience is never neutral, for to not obey God is to disobey his will. Inaction to God’s known will is simply a passive form of rebellion, but rebellion none-the-less.” Our actions truly do speak louder than our words.

Whenever I take the opportunity to actively love God in personal obedience, I end up sensing a new tenderness in my heart toward Him and a stronger resolve to obey again next time. Obedience is not an end, but a means—a means to express our love to God, and a means to increase our love for God. It is a catalyst in the process of loving God and becoming more like Jesus.2

Many of us harbor the notion that faith and religion are roughly synonymous, but they are not at all the same. Religion must be animated by faith; faith must be lived out in the context of religion. Both are essential and related; one without the other is defective.

The fault Jesus found with the chief priests and the elders of the people was they had religion without faith. Religion without true faith is all too common among us. For example, some people believe their mere acceptance into a religious group and outward observance of ritual are all that is required to achieve salvation.

Often referred to as “the hatched, matched, and dispatched Catholic”—that is someone who identifies as Catholic, is baptized, feels the need to be married in the church, wants to be buried in the church, and goes to church at Christmas and perhaps at Easter—but that is about all.

God demands more than just a “Yes,” more than mere words. God calls us to a living faith where we actively engage in a living relationship with him.

Good intentions are never enough. And promises don’t count unless they are actually performed. Our actions speak; words are but whispers of hope. The religious and civil leaders in Jesus’ time spoke a lot about God and, in particular, how God was to be served by a strict observance of the Law. But they did not have the spirit of love, compassion, caring and forgiveness for the weak and vulnerable. They heard the teaching of Jesus but made no effort to carry it out. They had a long tradition of following God’s Law but when they encountered Jesus, the Son of God, they refused to listen.

Today’s readings encourage us to learn to accept and grow beyond our shortcomings.  They command humility when we don’t receive the credit we believe we deserve; they warn against conceit. The next time you look in a mirror, say to the person looking back at you, “You are the center of the universe.” Does that make you feel uncomfortable? It should.

They encourage us to level ourselves with others, appreciating their perspectives to better understand their issues and attain a level of compassion not otherwise possible. How much holier would we be if we could consistently and humbly regard others as we do ourselves.

Jesus told the chief priests and elders that “tax collectors and the prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.” They certainly were not keeping God’s Law. They had said “No” to his commandments many times. But when they met Jesus, they experienced a radical transformation in their lives. They listened and they responded. Many of the dregs of society heard the message and changed their lives. They became Christians in action as well as in word.

Two messages can be drawn out from this: one, we ought never be complacent in our relationship with God. It is too easy for any of us at any time to find ourselves falling away from our commitment to Jesus and to his Gospel. And two, God always accepts us where we are. If we are in union with him, things are well; if we have, by our own choice, become separated from him, he accepts that too. His love and his grace are always available but they can be rejected and spurned. And we can “die in our sin.”

No matter how far we have strayed from God, no matter how sinful we have become, it is never too late to turn back and we can be absolutely sure that a warm, no-questions-asked welcome will be waiting for us.

But everything comes back to saying “Yes” or “No” to God. Yet, these are not words we say but what we do.  A “Yes” that is said but is not done is only an evasion.  We cannot just talk the talk, we must walk the talk.

We must decide to obey God all the time in every way. Partial obedience is a euphemism for disobedience. No matter how weak you have been for years, God will always give you the grace to obey. God offers each of us the greatest treasure possible–unending peace, joy, happiness, and life with him in his kingdom. We can lose that treasure if we say no and refuse the grace God offers us to follow in his way of truth and righteousness. We will be rewarded when we say yes through our actions. I pray today that we all will walk the talk towards God’s kingdom.


Homily #142
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 12:1-11
Matthew 20:1-16A


1 Pope Paul VI, Octagesimo Adveniens, 1971, §48.
Octogesima adveniens (The eightieth anniversary) is the incipit of the May 14, 1971 Apostolic Letter addressed by Pope Paul VI to Cardinal Maurice Roy, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum.
2 Martha Thatcher, The Freedom of Obedience: Choosing the way of true liberation, Navpress Publishing Group, 1987.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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