Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2017
Reading 1 EZ 18:25-28
Responsorial Psalm PS 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
- Remember your mercies, O Lord.
Reading 2 PHIL 2:1-11
Or PHIL 2:1-5
Alleluia JN 10:27
- Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
Gospel MT 21:28-32
Homily— September 30 & October 1, 2017
Today’s first reading presents the anguished cry of one who struggles with God’s commands for his people—they protest the unfairness of the Lord’s ways. It can be a challenge to form the conscience correctly when the things that are right and just involve hardship. How can we follow what the Church teaches at times when it just seems to make our lives more difficult? How can we accompany others when they face difficult decisions and are confronted by temptations that go against God’s love for every person?
For example; the experience or prospect of suffering at the end of our lives can seem like too great a burden to bear with dignity, and bringing death about sooner may seem like the compassionate thing to do. But as Pope Francis reminds us, “compassion means ‘suffer with,’” and we know that our God-given human dignity is not something that can be lost or diminished—regardless of circumstances.
The Church’s teaching about respecting the dignity of every human life until its natural end may at times seem unfair. But how God’s law seems is not how it is in reality—Ezekiel tells us that God is always on the side of life: following his ways can seem difficult at first, but in the end, those who turn away from sin “shall surely live.”
In the gospel today Jesus uses a parable to engage the chief priests and elders who have come on the scene to challenge his authority to preach, teach, and heal in the shadow of the Temple.
The parable opens with a question. “What do you think”? To whom is Jesus speaking? Not to the chief priest and elders. They have just been shamed into admitting that they do not know an answer to a direct question of Jesus (Matthew 21:24-27). Jesus is addressing the parable to the ever-growing band of his disciples who surround him on the Temple Mount each day.
The parable begins with a twist. A man had two sons, a standard opening. In this culture, the older son is expected to be honorable and faithful, while younger sons in the bible are often rebels. That’s how I would look at it today too—of course I am an oldest son!! That is why you expect the parable to begin with the father addressing the older son first. Jesus shocks his audience when the father begins with the younger son, who answers true to his cultural reputation. He publicly shames his father with an emphatic “no”!
Culturally, the first son was a rude rebel. In a society where saving face was highly valued, the son who said “I will not,” wounded his father’s dignity and shattered his family’s reputation. He effectively put himself outside the family circle. In contrast, the second son honored the father, even to the point of addressing him as “lord.” Any observer would have seen that son as exceeding the ideal of filial respect.
Then comes a second twist. The deferential son had only a veneer of respect for his father. He might keep things pleasant in the house, but the family business would fall apart under his do-nothing lifestyle. The insolent son actually demonstrated more family commitment than his hypocritical brother. Far from perfect, he was the one who repented. We are looking at the difference between saying the right thing and doing the right thing.
Where are we in this parable? You and I are both of these sons. At times we’re people who say all the right things, follow all the right rules, profess a belief in all the most important ideas about God and church, and present ourselves as upstanding citizens for all to see. At other times, we change our minds and find ourselves slipping into behaviors that imply a denial of all that we profess to believe. In other words, we’re the “Yes, sir” people who then “did not go” in today’s Gospel.
At other times, we’re the people who resist what we know to be the right thing to do. We’re the “I will not” person of today’s Gospel who “afterwards changed his mind and went.”
In his book “A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World,” Christian author Ron Lee Davis tells the story of a priest in the Philippines who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years before.
He had repented but still had no sense of God’s forgiveness.
In his parish was a woman who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ and he with her. The priest was skeptical; so, to test her he said, “The next time you speak with Christ, I want you to ask him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary.” The woman agreed.
A few days later the priest asked, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?”
“Yes he did,” she replied.------“And did you ask him what sin I committed in seminary?”
“Well what did he say?”--------------“He said, ‘I don’t remember.”
The reading from Ezekiel makes the same point: If we acknowledge our past sins, turn our life around and strive to live our lives according to God’s will, apparently God not only forgives but also forgets the sins of our past.