I want to do the will of God. Of course I do. And yet, I have always found it difficult to say exactly what God’s will is. Some things are clear, of course, like the ten commandments, or the commandment to love neighbour. But in the daily decisions that we face, how do we know whether this or that is God’s will. And how do we apply God’s will to the political and economic decisions that we face as citizens? From time to time I have met people who have said confidently: ‘God says X’ or ‘God says Y’ or ‘God wants us to do Z’. Often these people have come from very conservative backgrounds. Sometimes they have linked the will of God to contemporary social issues. When I hear someone say something like this, I marvel at their certainty. It is so easy to confuse our will with God’s will, using God to justify whatever we want to do.
So how are we to know the will of God? The responsorial psalm (Ps. 24) begins by asking God to show us his ways and teach us. From this we conclude that it takes time – and humility – for, as the psalm goes on to say, it is the humble who can be taught by God.
In the second reading (Phil. 2.1-11) St Paul calls on one of the earliest Christian communities to be loving and tender to one another, and to put the interests of others first rather than each person asserting their own will and dominating others. He gives us a moving picture of Christ as setting aside his divine glory to reach out to us. The message is that if Christ is prepared to be humble, and to serve others, his followers must do the same. It is interesting, though, that he felt it necessary to give them this message. Clearly there were some Christians who were already lording it over others in arrogance and pride.
Finally, in the gospel (Mt. 21.28-32) we learn that notorious sinners were able to come to know God’s love before the respectable did. Those who believed that they had no need of God failed to recognise God’s call. Are we confident in our own power? Or are we confident because we know that God is always there? God loves us, and strange though it may seem, his strength is known most keenly by those who are aware of their own weakness. Those of ill repute entering the Kingdom had found that out already. In their brokenness and their need they had found God. Other people, feeling proud and strong, had failed to find God – or had made a god of themselves.