I’m sure almost everyone has experienced this. That is, the difficulty with ambiguity. Who hasn’t experienced ambiguity either as a speaker or as one spoken to? People often say “no” when they really mean “yes.” Or they say “yes” when they really mean “no.” Confusing, isn’t it? How can we really know what is going on?
The word “ambiguity” really means being of two minds at the same time–positive and negative. But it seems to me that the concept of ambiguity basically has to take two things into account before we can really understand. They are: reflection and belief.
“Reflection” means that we are thinking something about the situation. How will my action affect other people? Quite likely, the answer will depend on the choice. “Belief” has to do with motivation. Believing in something gives a good reason for action. Above all, belief-action is based on my moral value system that is supposed to aid me in my decision.
In today’s Gospel (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Matthew 21:28-32) Jesus presents the case of two sons. The first says “no” that he will not help his father in the vineyard, but later changes his mind and does help. Perhaps in that interim period before the mind change, the young man had a chance to “reflect” that quite possibly other workers might be adversly affected by his negative behavior. Quite likely, his “belief” (operative moral value system of the Decalogue and the Sinai covenant) motivated him to change his mind. So, his “no” became a “yes” because of his reflection and belief system.
The second son said “yes” to he father’s request, but soon changed his mind and the “yes” became a “no.” Perhaps the “reflection” was more about his needs, rather than the needs of the others. And his “belief” system no doubt purported that he was more selfish than not. So in this situation the “yes” became a “no.”
In frequent situations, we often find ourselves within the context of ambiguity. Sometimes we make promises that we can’t (or won’t) fulfill. How does the person asking the favor feel? What kind of impression do we give? We would do well to examine our “reflection” process and think of the good for the other before giving our answer. This reflective process would have to be bolstered by our “belief” system of the Decalogue and the life and actions of Jesus.
Before we say “yes” or “no” to a favor asked of us, it is often a good idea to be seriously reflective on the possible outcome. That thinking process is to be supported by the belief that our moral value system is based on helping others. Most likely, when people expect a “no,” they will be happily surprised to hear a “yes.”