Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
What would you do if you discovered you were on the wrong path while walking to a destination? You would most probably stop and turn around. You could also take an exit, but continuing to walk on the wrong path would be improper and foolish.
“No U-turn” is a regulatory sign common at intercessions, highways, freeways, and along business areas and narrow roads. The essence of a “no U-turn” sign is to discourage motorists from obstructing traffic flow from the opposite lane, which could lead to road accidents.
As helpful as the “no U-turn” sign is on our roads, it is irrelevant to the divine road economy. In other words, in God’s roadmap design, “U-turns” are available everywhere, and at any time, you discover that you are in the wrong lane in your spiritual journey.
The First Reading of this Sunday from the Prophet Ezekiel (18:25-28) was God’s response to the people who accuse Him of being unfair in His ways by punishing the virtuous who suddenly changed and started committing iniquity on the one hand and pardoning the sinner who turns away from sin to become righteous on the other hand.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 21:28-32), our Lord Jesus Christ described a clear manifestation of the divine U-turn using the agency of a relatable parable while addressing the chief priests and scribes of the people.
In the parable, a man with two sons came to the first and asked him to go out and work in the vineyard that day. But the son replied immediately and said, “I will not.” However, he changed his mind and went.
Coming to the second son, after the negative response of the first, the man made the same request, and the second son responded in a very reassuring way, “Yes, sir.” However, unlike his brother, he did not show up to do what his father wanted.
At the end of the concise but highly meaningful parable, our Lord asked his hearers who among the two sons did his father’s will, and they responded and said, “The first”. Then he said to them:
Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him, but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that you did not later change your minds and believe him.
What is the Divine U-Turn?
So far, our reflection has described the elements of divine U-turn. However, in a word, it means repentance, which is traceable to the New Testament Greek word, Metanoia, which also means “change of mind.”
It is important to state that there is a difference between being sorry and repentance. It is easy to be sorry, even from an emotional point of view, but repentance demands more. Repentance has to do with an intentional and committed change of mind with the disposition not to default again.
From the First Reading, we learn that God is open to receiving any sinner who changes from iniquity to righteousness. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord Jesus Christ let the chief priests and scribes know that they don’t have the final verdict on people whom they consider sinners and damnable because, by repentance, they will have priority access to God.
How To Navigate the Divine U-Turn (Repentance)
For every worthwhile activity, there is always a “how to.” Repentance should be viewed as a facility with some desirable processes more than a quick fix like nut and bolt. The following are the steps to navigating a U-turn or repentance.
Humble Acceptance: One must first accept that the journey is on the wrong route before making a U-turn. Pride is the one thing that discourages most people from turning around when they are in error. Of course, the scriptures tell us that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
To be real, a humble mind must accompany the acceptance of repentance. In the Second Reading today (Phil. 2:1-11), St. Paul presented the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ as the model we should follow. It is difficult to excel in God’s eyes without humility because he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Look inward: In life, we always look outwards; in fact, we pay more attention to the things outside than the inside. That explains why we spend so much time and money to look good outside because that is what everyone sees.
Unfortunately, the best parts of us are not visible to the physical eye. As we have seen, making a U-turn or repentance is the mind’s project, so we need to look inward to engage the mind. God is not moved by our tears but by our contrite heart and broken spirit (Psalm 51:17)
Be courageous to make the 180-degree turn: It takes a lot of courage to drive a car and do all the turns at various points, and the same applies to navigating a divine U-turn or repentance. It took courage for the first son in the parable to go to the vineyard after changing his mind. So, a change of mind must be accompanied by action.
Courage, as used here, involves a determination to gravitate in the right direction despite the difficulties and inconveniences that may abound. Courage is about not being weary in well-doing with the consciousness that one shall reap at harvest if one does not give up (Gal. 6:9).
Moving Forward: Overcoming the “Yes but No attitude.”
The “Yes but No attitude” describes the second son’s disposition in the parable. It involves saying “yes” and doing the opposite. This is, unfortunately, the character template of most of us in our day and age.
If you asked those in the church who love God to raise their hands, you could probably see all hands raised. But when it comes to doing what God has commanded, only a few may be compliant. Recall that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So, love is better expressed through compliance than mere profession.
A sinner needs repentance, not condemnation, as Jesus instructed the chief priests and the scribes using the parable of the two sons. Often, we are more interested in displaying our righteousness and condemning sinners than leading them to repentance. That is also sinful; repentance is for everyone because all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
God is inviting us to utilize the facility of the divine U-turns at various points on the landscape of our journey to God; that is the good news. But the bad news is that no one will be available to us at the end of the journey. Now is the best time for repentance. Everyone has something to turn away from.
God bless you!