General, Joy of the Gospel

We are called to proclaim Christ’s message of conversion and reconciliation

Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Ez 18: 25-28, Ps 24:4-9, Phil 2:1-11, Mt 21:28 -32

A few years ago I met a missionary priest from the Netherlands who worked in our area for a while. He shared with me that where he comes from, he is used to get ‘no’ as an answer to an invitation to faith activities. His experience here was that people easily said yes to everything, even when they know that they will not follow up on that yes. He had to learn that ‘yes’ might more often than not mean ‘no’. His comparison may seem like a generalization, but it expressed the point that he wanted to make. In the end, both groups closed themselves to the workings of God’s grace.

I find hope and a few lessons in today’s readings. The primitive people of Israel had a strong sense of communal responsibility within a group, family or nation. There are a few examples of this belief in sacred scripture. In the book of Joshua, for instance, the transgressor’s entire family is held accountable for his deeds and are condemned to death along with him (Jos 7:24). However, later in the history of Israel and Judah, a strong sense of personal responsibility developed. The prophets declared that human justice cannot punish children for the crimes of their parents. How then could God act in a different way and punish innocent people? Evil however has its own consequences. It begets more evil and suffering. The suffering of the innocent remains a mystery that can only be illumined by faith. The prophet Ezekiel emphatically declares that everyone will receive what he personally deserves.

However, the door is left open, so that, if the wicked repents from his sin, he will live. Everyone will have time to decide freely. God will take his conversion into account. The communal responsibility is to create a world in which conversion and forgiveness is a reality. This is the hope offered by the reading. This hope is firmly founded on Christ, whom St. Paul presents as the perfect example of humility, which is the only correct way to stand before God. Paul was not ignorant of the faults of the Philippians. Selfishness and conceit were rampant among them. Paul urges humility as a remedy. Once again, there is hope, there is a way out. Christ is that way.

In the gospel passage the dynamics of human freedom and choices play out once again in the parable of the two sons. The first son agreed to work in their father’s vineyard but did not show up. The second refused to work but later had a change of heart. This parable can be applied to the covenant relationship between God and Israel, but also to the sinners who first refused to repent but later came to Jesus, even though their leaders did not. What matters is to do the will of God. We learn several important lessons from these readings. We are invited to say YES to these.

  • In a world that is rife with prejudice, discrimination and criminality, we must never condemn or retaliate against some persons simply because they belong to a certain family, or group or party who has committed certain crimes. We are called to show them a different way and to proclaim Christ’s message of conversion, and reconciliation. There can be no scapegoats.
  • In a world that is becoming increasingly intolerant of differences and is keen to publicly expose the sins of others, we are invited to look with compassion on those with a bad reputation, for God does not want the sinner to die, but to be converted.
  • In a world where some people are easily labelled as “sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes”, we are called to proclaim that Christ died for them too and that they have a home in his church. After all, we are all sinners and in need of repentance, whether our sins are “known” or not. The church is the instrument of salvation. There is always more to the story than what we think we know.

As the church enters the period of the Synod on Synodality, let us ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to a deeper understanding of the truths of God and to an emphatic YES to seek and do his will with humble and contrite hearts.