"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
When you say ‘no’ you feel you really exist. It is the word of separation, boundary, individuality, defiance…. Of course it is necessary to say ‘no’ at times, but I'm thinking rather of the compulsion to say ‘no’. Children at the age of two or so become ‘no’ for a while: call it individuation, or the birth of ego... Through saying ‘no’, the ego gains strength. That is a natural process in children; it is like growing a skin. Without it we would be too vulnerable. The trouble is that as we grow up we identify ourselves with that skin, forgetting everything that lies deeper – because everything deeper than the skin is normally invisible. Then our lives become a consistent ‘no’: our first instinct towards a stranger – or a new idea, or anything unfamiliar – is separation, resistance. That is a lonely track. The ancient author of the Incomplete Work on Matthew: “No one would ever have been able to sin unless he had first said in his heart ‘I will not.’”
When you say ‘yes’ you are part of something else; it is the word of self-forgetfulness. It is a key word in religion. Jesus did not look for his identity in ‘no’; he was able to express his identity in his ‘yes’ to the Father. Mary's fiat too: “Let it be done....” And the great ‘Amen’ at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer – and of every prayer – means ‘Yes’. Yes could be a name for God.
But worse than ‘no’ is a pretended ‘yes’. ‘No’, if pursued to the end, leads you to an impasse: you would be all alone; you would be plunged into crisis. You would be an outcast (cast out by yourself). The pain of that could convert you to ‘yes’. It is a difficult journey, but it is a journey; while a pretended ‘yes’ is not a journey at all: it is trying to have it both ways, while going nowhere. Religious teaching often has the effect of only getting you to say a polite ‘yes’, with no transformation. It is worse than ‘no’. If you say ‘no’ with vigour, one day you will come to the end of it and say a real ‘yes’. But politeness can go on forever.
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