I. Living in Rome and the Vatican for five years, I became familiar with something known in those cultures as bella figura: one makes the best possible impression by cutting a “beautiful figure”—a bella figura—with high fashion, flowery speech, and impressive titles. It’s about how one carries oneself in the world. It’s all about appearances. Better to cover up flaws and failures and hope you’re not found out, than reveal what’s really going on.
The answer to the riddle posed by Jesus today may seem obvious. Which son did what his father wanted? Well, the one who, despite what he said initially, ultimately did the right thing: he showed up. But, on the other hand, for those who value looking good above all else—bella figura—the better thing is to give the admirable answer: just say yes—even if you privately bear the weight of being a fraud.
II. In the ordination rite for a deacon, the bishop places the Book of the Gospels in the hands of the newly ordained and says,
Believe what you read,
Teach what you believe,
And practice what you teach.
We can profess and confess, and jabber about love and mercy and justice, but living it demands so much more. When truth is spoken plainly, it’s breathtaking; all the more when that truth is lived plainly. Personally, as one who professes, confesses, and jabbers about love and mercy and justice for a living, the stakes are high. If I don’t practice what I preach, I’m a liar and fraud.
III. So, as St. Paul urges us today, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus; have in you the same attitude. But, Paul goes on, Christ emptied himself, he was obedient to the point of death on a cross: Christ not only said, but did. Let’s us not only say, but do. Let’s move beyond words and appearances. Let’s cut a beautiful figure—a bella figura—by living the truth.