The Struggle of Wills

Sunday, September 27, 2020 The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s readings: Pride vs. Humility

Psalm 25:4-9, Ezekiel 18:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11, Matthew 21:28-32

Everybody loves babies. From the moment they are born, we shower them with attention, hold them constantly, and take copious amounts of pictures so that the world can see the miracles of who they are. We gladly give them our hearts in an unbreakable life changing connection. Growing from infant to toddler, we cheer them on as they try to walk and anguish over their potty-training. Every new word is applauded: mama, dada, pup-peee, birrrd. Until the one day that they make us cringe by saying the most dreaded word of all…NO! The struggle of wills has begun. This tug of war will continue for years through varying degrees of arguments, slammed doors, and heartaches, but it is all necessary. This is the process that defines our final relationship with our bundle of joy. Will we achieve the best of friendships with them or become acridly estranged until death? It all comes down to whether we can see eye to eye. Our Father in heaven, who loves us dearly, goes through the same process with us.

The primary lesson that we learn from today’s reading in Ezekiel 18:25-28 is that God’s ways are nonnegotiable. We, on the other hand, want what we want when we want it. Our complaint with the Almighty on this point ranges from annoyance to outright resentment, as if He torments us with free will.  We have it, but we really can’t use it without a world of hurt if we step out of line. With our decisions, He also gave us an intellect. So, let’s apply a little brain power to ponder this situation. We know that God loves us more than anything. He understands us perfectly and He wants us to live happily ever after here and in heaven, too. We, in comparison, only have our own limited selfish perspective. Like a good parent, the Lord won’t condone our sin preferences when He has a better path…a perfect path for us to take. So, the conflict continues. To have a relationship with God, we need to surrender ourselves to the Almighty with the understanding that Father knows best. In the last part of our Ezekiel reading, we see two different people. One is the righteous man, who starts out with the Lord, but abandons Him because God disappoints, and sinners have much more fun. It is such a serious matter that God addresses it in Psalm 73 (hint, hint). The other person, having come to the end of his rope of wrong choices like the Prodigal Son, repents and is received with open arms by a patient and loving Father. When it comes to the struggle of wills, we are free to go and free to come back. It’s not that the Almighty will zap us for wrong actions, per se. It’s that choices have consequences. In the end, we will reap what we sow. What we pick comes down to this: who do we think God is and who do we think we are?

Once concluded that God has the better way, the struggle of wills moves to an internal one. We in the church must grapple within ourselves to conform our lives to “Thy will be done on earth (in me) as it is in heaven.” It is the call to die to self and pursue holiness. Our gospel reading in Matthew 21:28-32 give us a snapshot of the two kinds of people the Lord sees sitting in the pews on Sundays: the tryers and the liars. The liars deceive themselves. Their connection with God goes no further than their routine professions of faith and sacramental observances. Talk about the struggle of wills; they aren’t even engaged. Clueless to their purpose of becoming more like Christ in this world, they unwittingly assume that God is just like them. Rather than having a life changing relationship with the Lord, their religion is controlled, compartmentalized, comfortable, and not at all like those fanatics who take this Jesus thing a little too far. These are the tryers. They want to bridge the great chasm existing between God’s will and their sinful desires. Their lives are energized by the Holy Spirit in the process of growing into being better images of God. They take on this challenge, knowing full well that they will never reach their goals in this world, but their reward of growing closer to their Father in the endeavor makes it all worthwhile. When they fail, they approach the Lord in the spirit of Psalm 25:4-9, humbly seeking the God of their salvation for compassion, forgiveness, knowledge, and direction. Then, they get back up and keep on going.

Our reading in Philippians 2:1-11, encourages us to look to Jesus as our example to help us in our persistent struggle to obey God. In this passage, St. Paul emphasizes Christ’s humility in achieving the Father’s purposes. It is the key to our Christian walk not only in our personal lives, but also when dealing with others, especially in the church. Humility makes us pliable to the Holy Spirit. In it, we can tap into the power of the Almighty. Humility makes us focus beyond our noses to bear each other’s burdens. It brings the unity of fellowship, purpose, and love that pleases God. It is the antidote to pride in the struggle of wills.

When it comes to relationships, doesn’t it all boil down to that…pride vs. humility?  As we deal with each other, humility greases the wheels of our hearts to get us past perceived slights and disagreements. Whereas, pride is stern, unforgiving, and never forgets. When it comes to the Almighty, pride insists on its own way and foolishly resists the Lord’s wisdom for no other reason than we don’t like it. Humility has a more realistic grasp on what’s best. In the church, pride deceives us. We remake God in our own image and, like the proud Pharisees of old, would reject the Lord, Himself, standing right in front of us because He doesn’t fit our mold. Humility sees that we don’t fit into God’s mold and begs, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”  God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). As you walk the roads of life, you are free to pick your paths in the struggle of wills. Is it going to be the “My way Highways” or will you follow in the tracks of the Savior? Choose wisely.  

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