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Once upon a time, a young man was challenged by his father to do well academically as he was about to enter high school. The father told his son that if he would get As in every class throughout his high school years that he would buy him a new car at graduation. The young man who naturally did well in school thought that he had the car in hand.
Now while the teenager did well in school, he was a bit a prankster often getting in trouble for minor incidents so of which resulted in a ride home in the police unit. His parents expressed their concern about his rambunctious nature and attempted to curb it. However, their frustration grew throughout the son's high school years as he continued to be a rascal. One of the efforts that the father continued to suggest was that the son read the Bible to seek a more fruitful life.
Graduation day finally arrived, and the father gave a gift box. The young man with anticipation shook the box, hoping to hear keys, but it only thudded. When the son opened the box, instead of car keys, there lay a Bible. He was stunned. There was nothing else in the box. The son, so enraged with this deceit, and screaming, “You cheated me,” walked out the door vowing never to speak to his father again. He would not answer his father’s phone calls, erased his text without reading the content, would not answer the door if he saw it was his father on the doorstep.
While attempting to ignore the father’s treachery, the young continued to suffer for years of distrust. He was driven to succeed in his job. However, he was unable to share his talents and wealth. His marriage failed because he thought his wife no longer loved him. As he grew older, he became a bitter man, and no one could break the shell that he made to protect himself from being led astray.
The son received notice that his father had died and even though his mother begged him, he refused to go to the funeral. In all those years, his hatred had not lessened. Shortly after the funeral, a package arrived in the mail from his mother with a note that said, “My dear son, you need this now more than ever.” Inside he found the same Bible his father had gifted him forty years before.
While his first impulse was to toss it into the trash, in utter desolation, he opened the Bible to verse Luke 17:6, “The Lord replied, ”If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.’” The man thought, “Not very applicable to me. Look at what happened to me when I placed my faith in my father.”
And as he flipped through the Bible, before setting it aside, he came across a note written by his father. The son thought to himself, “I wonder what other lies he going to tell me.” The note said:
Dear Son,
I am so proud of you on this day. Your academic achievements promise for you success in anything you decide to do. As I promised here is the registration, the insurance and receipt for payment in full for your new car. I also give you this Bible to remind you that there are more important things to seek in your life. While this car is important to you in your life at this moment, please know that our relationship and my love for you can never match the price of a car.
Your Loving Father.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand what the Lord expects of us. As Luke comments in today’s Gospel, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” How do our actions have any impact on the Lord, who as the Master, can easily accomplish any good thing without us?
What is the reason that we do good works? Why do we give to the poor, build houses for the homeless, or serve at soup kitchens? Are we trying to buy our way into heaven? Maybe we think, “See what I am doing in your name, Lord. Now assure me that I will enter paradise.” God, however, does not work on a barter system. We cannot purchase God’s love by good works or donations to the Church.
Why is there an aspect of human nature to identify wrong from right? Why are we sorrowful when we recognize that we have sinned? What gives us the desire to go to Reconciliation to rid ourselves of the curse of sin when it is not readily visible to those around us? Maybe we frequently consider, “God’s patience must be wearing thin since I cannot control my sinful ways.” However, there is no sin that we can do that negates God’s love.
If we think our works of service for others are to gain recognition with God and receive his favor, then we don’t know him. If we fill ourselves with pride, not recognizing everything God gives us and believing that our acts of mercy are accomplished only by our will, then we unquestionably do not know God. God’s love is not dependent on our actions in determining whether we do or do not deserve his love. God’s love is constant and unending, whether for the sinner or the saint.
If all of this is true, then what is the purpose of our good works? Are we working way too hard in responding to the needs of others if God’s love remains? Is our attempt to avoid the near occasion of sin an unnecessary element of the Church doctrine if God loves us despite our sin?
The point of our acting in accord with the teachings of Jesus is for us to grow in our faith. When our faith grows from a tiny mustard seed to large bush, we then can withstand the trials of this world for faith will carry us forward. When our faith grows to the dimensions of a mustard bush, then we become united with God and can accomplish great wonders and miracles, like the Apostles. It is then that we will accomplish the essential goal of our existence? “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” and “You shall love our neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37,39).