Responding To God’s Call: Is It Full or Lip Service?

While doing this write-up and simultaneously reading St. Matthew’s Parable of the Two Sons, a lot of issues and questions build up in my mind. Jesus said to the chief priests:

“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 and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

If Jesus were alive today, where might we find Him? Would He be in the company of the rich and famous or with the suffering poor and the destitute? Would He be with the righteous, scholars and the learned or with corrupt tax collectors, prostitutes, illiterates, addicts and teenage bums? Would we be willing to give up the pursuit of worldly things so as to follow and join Him or would there be hesitation on our part?

The aforesaid series of questions may appear so simple and easy to respond on the surface but believe it or not, these are often complex, specifically the last one. I think if Jesus were physically with us on Earth today, He would be a super “busy body” storming every nation, spreading His Father’s teachings, performing miracles here and there, and would be helping everyone from all walks of life. How about if He’d ask us to join His crusade, would we be willing to forego our personal interests and ambitions and instead donate our material possessions for His cause? Or, would we say: “Yes, my Lord, I believe in your Word, you know that I love you, I will follow you” but later on revert back and say “Sorry, I can’t just do it”.

Just like the second son in the Parable who said “Yes, sir, I will go and work in your vineyard…” but actually did not obey his father, we sometimes have this policy or habit of saying “Yes” even if it runs counter to our wants and even if our hearts and minds are contemplating the other way around. We grew up being taught to respect elders, listen and obey our parents. There are “do’s and don’ts in our lives which serve as our parents advices but oftentimes we still not follow them. Sometimes, we feel it is much better and easy for us to say “Yes” to our parents or we are being pushed to say “Yes” even if we are considering other things in mind simply because we don’t want to fail them and likewise to avoid further arguments. But just the same, we keep on not doing it, thus failing them at the end of the day.

The same thing happens to our relationship with God. For nuns and priests, perhaps it is much easier for them to say “YES” to God’s calling and actually do what God expects of them in view of their vocation and religious vows. But in today’s age of materialism and worldly desires, I believe even ordinary persons especially those with affluence in life would have second thoughts in responding “Yes” to God. We set conditionalities or we say “It depends” such as “It depends on the situation, on the person”, etc. before we embark on something good for our souls that would adversely affect our material wealth and interests. When we’re confronted with a situation, say for instance, we are invited to a spiritual talk in our parishes even for just one day or to be a member of a church choir, there are times we easily say “no” or “maybe later” , or “make some alibis” because we are preoccupied with our work or simply it does not interest us, we start setting boundaries and even shying away from them.

What we don’t realize is that people and opportunities keep coming into our lives to accomplish and develop our spiritual goals/growth. But the opportunity to serve God is lost when we decide not take advantage of them. Yes, we have heard Jesus’ teachings from the Church pulpit and knew the Bible, but at times our hearts and minds are closed and not responding to God. We are missing the opportunity to change our lives from “rock bottom” to a newer and better new life. We are like the second son, whose faith and obedience is merely lip-service, which means that our lips say “Yes” to God, but in reality our lives say “No” , such that our “Yes” is equated to nothing.

As mentioned in my previous write-ups, God is giving us so many chances to go back to Him and serve Him. By serving God, we are expected to do something good not just for the needy but for all our brothers and sisters who deserve to be served. We could not just rise up and say, “Yes, Lord I will praise, love and and serve you but without doing anything. We cannot love God without loving our neighbors. He wants our full cooperation, not a mere lip service. When we say “Yes”, we have to mean it and do what we say.

Being human beings, we fail from time to time, we do things our own way, and not God’s way. There are times also that we do not want to do things because we know from the start that it will cut our relationship with God, but still we do it, which makes us feel more guilty and shameful. But God is not abandoning us. God is always there to give us rest and loosen our burdens. However, God is just too. If He were with us today, I think He might utter harsh words to us as well (just what He did to the Pharisees) because of the bad things that we have done. But He is also loving and does not entirely exclude sinners from His company. God forgives us of our sins but He is expecting us to change for the better and allow Him to take charge of our lives. If Jesus were here with us today, He might have been able to give hope to sinners and an outright forgiveness even on their grievous sins, but to sinners who have repented and have decided and tried to obey and serve Him for good. And that is the beauty of this Parable. It showed us that corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes can enter God’s Kingdom even before the entrance of the perceived righteous and the learned, which means that sinners can enter Heaven too provided they will seek forgiveness, change, follow and do God’s will. Jesus said one time too, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance”.

In closing, I would like to share with you an excerpt from a thoughtful story which I have read on the Web. A Franciscan priest from South Bronx went to work in a poor village in the mountains of Northern America. The said priest met an old man who appeared so joyful despite the absence of running water, electricity and scarcity of food in their community.

Priest: “How come you’re so happy when you have so little?”
Old Man: “Because I know Jesus”
Priest: “But I know Jesus as well”
Old Man: “No, You might know about Jesus in your head, but not in your heart”.

How about you? How do you know God? Did God called you to change? How have you responded to His call? Is it merely a lip or with a full service?


Note: Earlier published by the author inThe Filipino Catholic.