Use It or Lose It

two sons
September 28, 2008

Matthew 21:28-32

None of us stay the same. All of us are changing. Some of us are getting taller; others are getting shorter. Some people are losing weight; others are putting it on. Some of us are getting richer; most of us are getting poorer. Some of us are developing, increasing in our skills and abilities; others are finding their skills are diminishing. None of us stay the same.  The same thing is true of our spiritual life, because our faith is not a set of concepts which we can memorize and then know forever. Our faith is a relationship, a living relationship with God. Therefore, that relationship is either growing or it is diminishing. It is increasing in strength or it is fading.

Now it’s possible to see the parable in today’s gospel in this light. The two sons in the gospel stand for the two directions of the spiritual life: one moving closer to God’s will, the other moving away from it. The first son starts poorly. He refuses to do what the father asks. But in time he comes around and does the father’s will. The other son begins well. He says that he will do what is asked. But he does not follow through and ends in failure.

Each one of us, at every moment of our life, is following the direction of one son or the other. We are either becoming more the person that God wants us to be, or we are moving away from that goal. There is a principle in the spiritual life which states, “Unless you are moving forward, you are falling backward.” It is impossible simply to maintain our faith. We just cannot hold on to it as it is today. Our relationship with God is either growing or it is falling backward.

Now of course all of us in our life have times when our faith falls backwards, when we fail, when we doubt, when we struggle in our relationship with God. But with God’s grace we can recover from such failures. We can get back on the right track. The big danger, however, is not in failing. The big danger is complacency, to think that we can simply hold on to the grace we have. We cannot presume that, because we have been blessed in the past, we can slip our spiritual life into neutral and simply cruise along. There is no cruising. Unless we are growing, we are falling backward.

Therefore, faithful disciples always makes the choice to open their hearts to grace today. The follower of Jesus asks, “When was the last time that I have been thankful, thankful for the blessings in my life, thankful for my family, for my friends, for my health?” The gratitude I had last month will not help me live today. I need to be thankful now. When was the last time that I served another person? When did I reach out beyond my family and friends and help someone in need? My generosity in the Christmas project last year is a long way in the past. I need to act in service today. When was the last time that I sought to grow in my faith, that I read something about my faith, that I came to a religious formation program, that I had a discussion with people I trusted about what I believe and why? The things that I learned about God in grade school are ancient history. I need to deepen my understanding of God’s love for me now.

Unless we are growing, we are slipping back. What you do not use, you lose. There are not three sons. There is not a son who just stands still. There are only two sons, and each one of them is moving: one closer to God’s will and one away from it. We are always following one son or the other. So the wise person chooses to increase the momentum of growth. The faithful disciple chooses to be thankful, to serve, to deepen the understanding of God’s love today. Now is the time to act. Now is the day to build our relationship with God.


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