1st Reading; Ezekiel 18: 25-28
Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind. Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction. This is not only about our sinful ways. Believing in God is life-changing. It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986). What is our response to this unconditional love?
2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11
William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)
“Emptied himself” suggests humility. Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle. She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38). She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good,” (p. 51). Hope connects with love!
The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32
Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (M. Birmingham, W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)
In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)