God Can’t See ‘Cool’
User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 28
Sunday, Sept. 28, is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25:4-9; Philippians 2:1-11 or 2:1-5; Matthew 21:28-32
This is a powerhouse week of saints. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate them with your family. Monday: the archangels; Tuesday: St. Jerome; Wednesday: the Little Flower; Thursday: the guardian angels; and Saturday: St. Francis of Assisi.
School is back in session, and in addition to two children attending Benedictine College, we have two at the local Benedictine high school. Walk through the doors of a high school, and teenage memories come flooding back. High school is a time when, too often, image, style and being “cool” matters above all.
“Being cool” is an intangible thing that is hard to describe and hard to keep up with. To be cool you have to carry yourself a certain way, dress a certain way and speak a certain way. You have to be casual but not sloppy, confident but not cocky and interested in others but not too interested.
In many high schools, there is no worse fate than to fail to be cool. To be “uncool” is to be the subject of jokes, the target of bullies and to have no clear pathway into the communities of friendship school offers. But to be cool is to be accepted, appreciated and engaged.
But today’s readings tell us that “cool” has no meaning to God.
We can say all the he right things and run with the right crowd, but God will remain unimpressed. We may be the life of the party, but God is not impressed.
Before the almighty judgment seat of God, where his majesty reigns in splendor and his glory burns like an all-consuming fire, our “awesomeness” is nothingness. God can’t see “coolness” — he only sees what we have done or failed to do.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of two sons. One says all the right things; the second is a little too blunt and a little too honest. When the father asks if they will work in the vineyard, the first son agrees right away. The second refuses.
But then the one who was quick to say “Yes” never gets around to helping, and the one who refused has a change of heart and gets the job done.
See how Christ applies the lesson: “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.”
You had to be a bit uncool to embrace John the Baptist, the itinerant preacher who smelled like the camel skins he wore. But if you were willing to associate yourself with the truth, John’s coolness didn’t matter — John had God.
If you were too cool to leave the established religious pathways of the time to follow the new way of Christ, then you lost out. If you put your effort into being accepted, admired and appreciated by the “in” crowd, you missed what was most important: You missed God.
The second reading makes it explicit. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory,” writes St. Paul. “Rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
Jesus radically rejected “coolness”: He “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
God sees the authentic love we show him and others. He sees the humility we have when we approach him and when we serve others. He sees the things we do whether we intended to do them or not — which matters much more than being considered “cool.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.
- Sept. 21-Oct. 4, 2014