When a person receives new information that goes against something that they have believed in for a long time, they will usually do everything possible to reject it. This is where we hear the oftquoted phrase: “but we have never done it this way before!” Neuroscientists call this ‘Confirmation Bias’. That is the tendency to take in data that confirms a prior conviction and disregards information that does not conform to what is already believed. This is what we see happening in all three of today’s scripture readings. Ezekiel, St. Paul and even Jesus are asking people to consider following God’s ways and not stay focused, or stuck, on what they have always believed to be true, and what they think God wants of them.
Ezekiel is confronting his people who are grumbling that “the Lords ways are not fair.” They were saying that their ways were acceptable, and that God just does not understand them and their situation. He presents them with an example that should both get their attention and hopefully get them to reconsider their biases. They are told that if a virtuous person goes astray and dies, that person died because of their bad decision to turn from being good. And, if a virtuous person turns from their evil ways, that person will live. Our prophet is not talking about physical death as much as living in the good graces of a loving God in the here and now. It is about the way that we live in this life, when being apart from God, is an experience of death, but being close to God is sharing in abundant life while still physically alive. His message was direct, turn away from anything that separates you from God and His ways.
St. Paul offers the people of Corinth similar advice about the behavior necessary to be a true disciple of Christ. He expects them to remain united by “being of one mind, with same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” Paul is echoing what Jesus personally instructs his disciples to be united in all things. He was challenged, in his preaching to the Corinthians, because they were in a Greek culture that held individualism in high esteem. Persons were respected by what they wore, where they were seated, the offices they held, property and possessions that they had, and even having their names chiseled on buildings in their honor. It was all about the individual and lacking a communal sense of unity. He was extremely strict about anyone being filled with undue ambition, conceit, and pride. He stressed humility, love, and a sincere interest in others. This was another example of Confirmation bias’s the early church was constantly confronting. Christianity was butting heads with societies that thought in the ways of the world and not in Gods ways.
Our gospel-lesson, of the two sons, is the final example of how men and women had to be instructed, then invited, and finally be open to living a life that reflects Gods values. In four short verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus presents another example of the world's ways, versus the ways of the Kingdom of God. He distinguishes between the people of this world, versus the people of God in this world. One son says the wrong thing but does the right thing, the other son says the right thing and does the wrong thing. Which Son did the will of the Father? Obviously, the son who changed his mind because his heart was also changed. That is the kind of people that Jesus wants to populate His Kingdom. People of good actions!
Doing the will-of-God is challenging but possible if we align our minds with our bodies and apply ourselves. The difference between the first son and the second? It is not how they appeared, but how they responded. Our world will be a better place if everyone did what God called them to be and do