Changing one’s mind is crucial to growth

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

Often, unfortunately too often, individuals who change their mind are perceived as shallow, superficial and unable to stick to their guns. Knowing smiles accompany the perception of ambivalence as viewers see weakness rather than strength. Disappointment reigns, vocalized both orally and non-verbally in the chastisement: “Make up your mind!”
I know I’ve said that many times during the years. The words had more to say about me than the people to whom I addressed them. They spoke of my impatience, my inability to accept others as they are, and mostly my insistence on seeing things as I am, not as they are.
When I finally was able to participate in the weekly meeting of the Monday Lectionary Group and read the Scriptures to be discussed, I was hit hard by the message given to the chief priests and elders. As usual, they were taught by way of a story.
This time, they were asked their opinion about a man who had two sons. The father requested their work in the vineyards. The boys responded in a manner we have all experienced at one time or another. One replied with a vehement refusal, “I will not.” The other replied obediently, “Yes, sir.” But, he did not go.
The dilemma is obvious. Which of the two did his father’s will? Like the elders of old, we are likely to believe that the first son was the obedient one. He changed his mind positively. Without knowing his thoughts, we are told that he went to work while his brother who mouthed all the correct words did not follow through. His change of mind did not result in positive action.
Obviously, the message lingers in the air for all of us today. How, when, and why do we change our minds? Do we remain steadfast in our opinions despite data that would impel changing our minds? Do we continue to see things as we are without thinking that our deficiencies or lack of experience might hinder our growth? Do we ever attempt to look beyond appearances and desires to see others as they are?
The Gospel passage presents us with a compelling scenario. Jesus makes an astonishing statement to these religious leaders, to us who are religious people. He says, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
What? He must be kidding. Surely those folks that I deem to be less worthy than I, less holy, cannot be upheld as good. Surely, they are not going to be face-to-face with God before I am. Wait a minute.
Whenever I read that statement, I see only an unfair God. I miss the final two words. It is not about them versus me, or vice-versa. It is about me missing the point. It is about me trying to climb the ladder of salvation by stepping on the bodies of those who apparently could care less about that journey. It’s about leading a judgmental life rather than a spiritual one.
My “unfair God” is more fair than I thought. The final words of the passage tell me that all of us are in the process of entering God’s kingdom. Some will arrive sooner. It is our job to ponder the reason for this choice. It is our duty to examine our personal affirmations and denials and discover that neither son did his father’s will. Nor do any of us if we do not unveil our sinfulness, reconsider our decisions and change our minds and hearts.
The prophet Ezekiel asks us to ponder the question, “Is it God’s way that is unfair, or rather, are not our ways unfair?” Are we not unfair to ourselves when we place limitations on change and on the time it may take for us to ratify our change? God’s ways and time are not ours. Our ways and time may not be God’s. It is the process of a lifetime for those ways and times to unite.
We’ll know we are on target when we comply with the observations of Paul as he wrote to the Philippians.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory, rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”
It is not an either/or view of life but one that embraces both/and. For, we are both sinners and saints, doers and deniers. We affirm others and dismiss them.
The good news is God is not so much concerned with labeling and judging us. God is not about death dealing. God is all about life giving. We need only to have in us the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus. This attitude is marked with profound humility, a humility that is not grasping, holding tightly to our divinity as if it were meant solely for us. This attitude is crucial to our wholesomeness. It will unite our humanity and our godliness.
At the same time, this is a cross-eyed pilgrimage. We will be given crosses to carry. There is no avoiding that gift, unless we wish to remain in a status quo that refuses growth. No one wants a cross. Even Jesus begged that his might be taken from him. Part of his prayer included, not as an after thought but as a reality, that God’s will be done.
His yes to working in God’s vineyard of humanity is eternally yes. Somehow, he had changed his mind. Likely, it was not in the manner of the two sons; however, he made choices, grew as a person and did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
We can learn from that attitude. We can be honest with ourselves, admitting that we are prone to regard ourselves equal with God. Every time we judge another according to our standards, we regard ourselves equal with God. Every time we refuse to forgive, we regard ourselves equal with God.
However, every time we humble ourselves, acknowledging our failures as well as our goodness, we empty ourselves, changing our mind, growing and offering a taste of grace.

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives” [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. Reach her at grammistfran@gmail.com.