OTHER HOMILY SOURCES:
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – on the Gospel
Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Fine Words and Good Deeds
An associate pastor, new to the parish, sees the need to start a Bible study group where people could learn to read the word of God and deepen their faith. After service one morning, he presents the idea to the people and receives a unanimous and enthusiastic feedback. “It is a wonderful idea,” they all say. Then the young associate pastor goes and tells the pastor that the people are happy with the idea of starting a Bible class. The older and more experienced pastor tells the associate to rephrase the question and consult the people again. The following day the young priest asks the same congregation, “Who would like to sign up for the Bible study group? Only four hands go up. Then it dawns on the young man that saying yes to an idea is one thing and doing what is required is another.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard the first son says no but later reconsiders his decision and does the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously says yes to the father but fails to do the work. Who actually did what his father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the same one who had earlier said no to him.
Jesus told this parable in the temple in Jerusalem just days before they would arrest him and put him to death. For three years he had been preaching to the people, inviting them to repent and believe the Good News. He had discovered that, in fact, it was public sinners like the tax-collectors and prostitutes who responded to his invitation. The religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, even after they perceived the divine origin of the message of Jesus, still opposed it instead of accepting it. They had greeted John the Baptist with the same attitude. They knew John’s teaching was from God but they would not admit it. As Jesus said to them, “even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:32). Religious people are sometimes so bent on proving that they are right that they fail to hear the voice of reason and the voice of God.
The parable likens the tax-collectors and prostitutes to the son who first said no but later did what the father wanted, and the Pharisees and scribes to the son who enthusiastically said yes but did not go. One group has no fine words but they have good deeds. The other group has fine words but no corresponding good deeds. They represent two kinds of people and the different ways they try to relate to God. There are those who have no fine words: like those who profess no faith, who do not go to church, who do not pray. But sometimes when there is injustice in the city they will be the first to rise up and condemn it. When there are people out in the cold they will be the first to donate a blanket. Wherever there is famine or earthquake or hurricane disaster they will deny themselves a packet of cigarettes to contribute to help the victims. These people have no fine words to say to God or about God but when they do things such as these, they are doing what God has commanded us all to do.
Then there are those of us who have the fine words: who come to church every Sunday and say to God “Amen! We believe.” We wear badges and medals as ways of professing our faith. But sometimes when it comes to concrete action in support of what we know to be the will of God, we are found wanting. If we carry on like this, then we should heed the warning that those other folks are going into the kingdom of God ahead of us.
To conclude, we need to point out that today’s parable is really the parable of two bad sons. Which of the two boys would you have as an ideal son: the one who bluntly says no to his father’s face or the one who says yes and does not follow up on it? The answer is none of the above. Ideal sons and daughters are those who say yes to their parents and then go on to do what is commanded. This is what we should aim to be — men and women who profess our faith in word and deed – knowing that “Not all those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Homily # 1
Psalm 25: 33,4; 5,6; 7,8
St. Matthew 21:28-32
In today’s Gospel our Lord present a situation that is not really very common, and it is to illustrate something that is not too well known to us, but was a situation which deeply grieved our Divine Lord and shows us one of the distressing realities He had to contend with. As you noticed, one man in Christ’s example refused to do what he was asked to do and then repented, whereas the other said he would do it and then failed to do so. With these words, Jesus confronted the Pharisees who, being religiously well informed people, should have recognized Him as the Messiah and should have welcomed Him enthusiastically. Instead, they repeatedly opposed Him and tried to impede His work and prevent the ordinary people from believing in Him and following Him. As religious people, they can be equated with the son who agreed to work in the field as his father requested him, but who soon afterward decided not to do so. The tax-gatherers and prostitutes obviously were not devoted followers; it is clear that they could be likened to the son who refused to work in the fields. But many of them did change their ways and follow the Lord and embrace His teachings. Is there any lesson in this for people of our own time? I think there is. We certainly know people who change their ways… hardened sinners do repent and alter their manner of life and actually give inspiring example to the rest of us. And unfortunately there are good people who fall away from their virtuous life and renounce the Lord and His Church. Today’s first reading, from the prophet Ezequiel, speaks of people like that: as you heard, the Lord makes it very clear that people who repent and change their ways can count on being warmly rreceived by Him, whereas the good people who don’t persevere will be condemned. The people had complained that the Lord’s ways were not just, but the Lord is quick to refute that charge and point out that He judges people on their final state: it’s their position at the end of life that counts. Former transgressions will be forgiven if one deserves this, and former goodness will count for nothing if one doesn’t care to remain faithful. So we see that we always have a chance; there is always the possibility of reforming, but … lamentably, there is also the constant possibility of falling away. That’s why we can never relax and say, “I have it made.” I don’t; I have to keep on trying. Always. There’s a saying to the effect that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” That same sentiment applies to our spiritual state; eternal vigilance is a necessity. And that’s where the grace of God comes in. You may wonder how today’s second reading relates to all this. I would say that there is a very close relation. St. Paul speaks of our Lord’s great sacrifice …how He lowered Himself to be like one of us. He did not, as Paul brings out, tenaciously hold on to His status as the very Son of God. He didn’t say “no such demeaning thing can happen to me.” He did not respond to His Father saying, “I will not serve”, as the Archangel Lucifer did. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking on our human nature which is so greatly inferior to the Godhead. Indeed, we human beings are scarcely able to comprehend how deeply he lowered Himself by becoming one of us. St.Thomas says that He loved the human nature He assumed, and there is no reason to doubt that. But it was still a remarkable act of lowering Himself. And then as man, He lowered Himself even further, becoming, as St. Paul says, an outcast and apparently a sinner, for our sake. But then God greatly exalted Him, placing Him at His right hand in heaven. And this process resulted in our sanctification.. Remember, St. Paul insists in another context, “He loved me and delivered Himself up for me.” The death on the cross and the subsequent exaltation that Paul speaks of were for the sake of all of us humans. Jesus gained for us the grace to persevere in good works or to reform bad works, whichever our situation may be. It’s worth noting that St. Paul makes this appeal to all Jesus has done in order to encourage us to love one another. He says he will be filled with joy if we, his followers, can be of one mind, having the same love, united in our faith, doing nothing out of a desire for glory or praise, making no effort to outshine others. If only we could live that way: not seeking our own interests, resolutely striving for the benefit of others! Paul wants us to have the mentality of Jesus Himself, and that is why he details once again all that Jesus has done for us in becoming an imperfect human like the rest of us, and then going to the exteme of the Cross. If we can just make an effort, just try, to consider one another just as Jesus considered every one of us, how much happier and more praiseworthy our lives would be! Then we would not have to worry about backsliding or being unfaithful; we would be constant in our following of our Savior, and would not see others attaining a higheer position in the kingdom of heaven than we do. Our Lord would not have to remind us of people who say they will do God’s will and then go off and please only themselves. Accepting what the Word of God tells us today, let’s try to make ourselves loyal and constant and persevering followers of the Savior in all the circumstances of our life!
Homily # 2
Look out for one another’s interest Your attitude must be that of Christ !
“Thought He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, rather he emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men, accepting even death, death on a cross”
We all marvel at what Jesus did for us and often, that’s all we can do is stand in awe and say to ourselves…I could NEVER DO THAT!
Well, most of us aren’t and will never be called to that total imitation of Christ … but, if we are, are we in any way prepared to say yes?
Preparation usually comes in small doses, one small act after another, after another and so on and on.
This past August 14th was on a Sunday, so we celebrated the 20th Sunday in Ordinary time. But August 14th, when it occurs during the other six days of the week is celebrated as the feast day of Saint Maximillian Kolbe, a saint of our times. This heroic Franciscan priest died at Auschwitz, Poland at the hands of the Nazis on August 14, 1941 and was canonized as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1982 … truly a saint of our times.
Saint Maximillian Kolbe was only 47 years of age when he stepped forward and offered to take the place of another prisoner who was to be executed, because the other man had a wife and children.
Two weeks of starvation didn’t end his life, like it had for the other eight prisoners “selected to die” because another prisoner had escaped, so they injected him with carbolic acid and death occurred. This saint of our times made the ultimate sacrifice.
For the most part you and I re called to make “small sacrifices” to assist others. At times they may seem to be rather large, but if we spend a little time really examining the requested “sacrifice” it’s really only a minor request.
Near the end of this past August this country of ours was shocked by the terrible destruction of hurricane Katrina. The loss of life and property are unparalleled in the history of our country.
Appeals for financial assistance came quickly and the American people responded with great generosity. Many Archdiocese and Diocese made upfront immediate gifts to Catholic Charities U.S.A. Then on the weekend of September 10th and 11th each of us was asked to give thru a special collection in each of our parishes and the response was great and generous.
But many were caught off guard. Some had just purchased a new car of truck because of the “pay what our employees pay” promotions of the car builders. Some had just bought a new larger TV for the upcoming World Series and start of the football season. Some already with stretched budgets, just didn’t know where they could find anything to give, or could only give a small amount. Many elderly on fixed incomes, some with high medical or pharmaceutical bills are unable to give
However the average American needs only to look at their lifestyle and they can find “extra to give”. Just look at all the “away from home” meals or “order in meals” we all eat. Two weeks of fixing meals at home would create a sizeable contribution. Two eggs and toast at home cost very little when compared to a McMuffin or some similar breakfast item. A home cooked dinner will cost one third of what ever is spent in a restaurant. Look at what we spend to be entertained, be it Music CDs, Sporting Events, Movies or Sports Bars. Do we really need to go out and buy another outfit to wear when our sisters and brothers who were in the path of Katrina, have only the clothes on their backs?
With just a little thought, each and every one of us, especially if we haven’t already made a generous gift, could find a way to do it. Give it some serious thought, then make out your check to Catholic Charities, USA – Katrina relief, give it to the pastor, he will know how to get it to the proper office.
Maximillian Kolbe made the Christ like ultimate sacrifice. He knew that God is NEVER outdone in generosity. Might we have a like trust and know that God will reward us for our acts of generosity to our suffering sisters and brothers.
Homily # 3
When I was taking advanced homiletics, one of the first thing that our class was taught was that homilies are meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Well, Jesus’ parable of the 2 sons was certainly, and without doubt, meant to afflict the comfortable. When Jesus told the chief Jewish priests and elders that the hated tax collectors and prostitutes would make their way into heaven before them, these so-called religious leaders were none too pleased.
This parable of the 2 sons is so simple that it belongs to all time, even to this very day. You see, it helps us to probe into our very own hearts and find the Pharisee in us. But, it’s also a parable of mercy. It’s a parable about changing our minds in order to do what is right in God’s eyes, even if we have turned away from Him for most of our lives.
There’s an old saying in sports which I think is apropos to this parable. It’s not where you start that counts. It’s where you finish. The Jewish leaders thought, because of their education, wealth, power and high social status, that they should be the leading candidates for entry into God’s kingdom. But, they are precisely the ones who were in danger of not getting into heaven at all.
These people knew the laws of Moses thoroughly and followed them to a “T”—to the last jot and tittle—the Sabbath and feast days, ritual purity, tithing, dietary rules—all 613 of them. But, you know what? According to Jesus, these fine fellows will be standing on the outside of heaven watching the lowliest of the low parading into the kingdom. They will be scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong.
So, what did go wrong for these people who knew everything about what the laws of Moses commanded? Well, for one thing, they had no clue about what was most important to God. Earlier in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’”.
To be sure, Temple sacrifices were important to God. After all, God Himself commanded that they be done. But, to these Jewish leaders, burnt offerings in the Temple took precedence over getting rid of injustice, over helping widows and orphans, over welcoming the stranger and over helping the poor, the sick and the elderly. That’s when their Temple sacrifices became an abomination to the Lord.
Several years ago, a game show began on British television. It was called “Who wants to be a Millionaire”? It became so popular that it is now aired in over 100 countries throughout the world. Perhaps some of us here today have seen it. For those who haven’t seen it, contestants try to win $1,000,000.00 by answering questions. At the end of each round, they are all asked, “Is that your final answer”? If their answer is correct—riches are theirs. If the answer is incorrect—their opportunity to be a millionaire is forfeited. After you’ve given your final answer, you can’t change your mind. Win or lose, that’s it.
Well, thanks be to God, we’re given the opportunity to change our minds with regard to following God. In the morning years of our lives, we may have said ‘no’ to God. But, as our lives move on, we begin to see things differently and our ‘no’ to God becomes a ‘yes’. Someone may have made terrible mistakes but then redeem him/herself and, by the grace of God, atone for these mistakes by making the rest of his/her life a lovely, grace-filled thing.
Many of the greatest saints of all time have done that very thing—they were great sinners who initially said ‘no’ to God and who later changed their minds and said a resounding ‘yes’ to Him. St. Augustine , to me at least, is the most obvious example.
Remember this one thing. A person won’t be judged on one single act or stage in their lives. He or she will be judged at the finish line—on their whole life. Also remember this—it’s not where we start that counts, it’s where we finish.
You see, Christ, our Savior doesn’t give a hoot what our situation in life is. He won’t say to us, “Oh, I see you were a priest or a deacon or a nun or a bishop or a whatever. Enter into the joy of heaven”.
No, He’ll want to know what we did for Him in the least of our brothers and sisters. Did we feed His hungry? Did we give aid to His poor and homeless? Did we visit Him in prison? Did we help Him when He was alone and sick? You get the idea.
Say ‘yes’ to God and then do it. You’ll never, ever regret it. Guaranteed.
Homily # 4
If you grew up with sisters or brothers today’s Gospel makes perfect sense. Was there not always one sister or brother who, when asked by their parents to do something, always responded sweetly, saying “Yes, I will” and then did just what he/she pleased. And the other brother or sister who would whine, “Do I have to” or “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I don’t want to”. And then do what was asked because of parental persuasion. Sometimes it was done begrudgingly but it was done.
It is one thing to profess faith and to speak with fervent religiosity. It is quite another to live the faith. Deeds speak louder than words. It may sound trite to say that but nonetheless it expresses a very deep truth. More than anything we say, more than any words mouthed, it is the service we offer and the love that we share which truly proclaims our love for God; our discipleship of Jesus. How we live and act; how we serve and how we love not what we say gives expression to our belief and our trust in the God who saves. You not only have to talk the talk, you must also walk the walk.
A young Associate Pastor, newly minted, decided to begin a Sunday evening Bible Study group. After 8 o’clock morning Mass he asked the people to stay and he spoke to them of his idea to start a Bible Study group. After a fervent explanation of his plans he asked, “Do you think we should have in our parish a Sunday evening Bible Study?” He was elated at the response. 54 people thought it was a fine idea. Later in the day he spoke to the Pastor about this wonderful response to his plan. The Pastor listened and then gently said, “Perhaps you should re-phrase the question.” The next morning he again asked the people to remain after Mass and then put this question to them, “How many of you will attend the Sunday evening Bible Study?” How disappointing for him when only four hands went up!
Paul tells us in the reading today, “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Jesus, the Son of God, gave of himself totally, obedient to the Father in all things even to death. To have the attitude of Christ is to give in the same way; to submit to the will of the Father in all things; literally to walk in the footsteps of Jesus…the Jesus who urges
us to love God above all else and love the other as ourselves. The words of the prophet Hosea must be etched into our heart, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” God wants not only your faith but a faith that engenders good works, kindness and care, commitment and love. A faith that is grounded in love.
Our society, our world, places great obstacles before us as we try to live our faith. Often the world confuses and befuddles us as it explains whatever moral aberration as “a right — a right to express self.” What does the world say to us today? How does it speak to us about:
Greed — one has a right to amass as much as possible no matter who is hurt in the process.
Sexual promiscuity — every young person has a right to feel sexually fulfilled no matter the consequences.
Abortion — it’s nothing more than a health choice.
Euthanasia — we have a right not to be burdened by those who are non-productive in our society and they have a right to end their life.
Each day our moral values and traditions are more and more attacked and belittled. Our society, our culture more and more beckons us to take the easy way. It becomes harder to hear the Father say, “go out and work in the vineyard today.” The words of Ezechiel in the first reading starkly remind us that to turn from God is to choose death.
The world allures but God gives life. The living voice of Jesus speaks to us today. We hear him say, “Go out and work in the vineyard.” How will you respond?
Homily # 5
St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a love song. In it, Paul describes Christ’s love. Jesus emptied himself for us … he humbled himself … he became obedient to the point of death. He did all this to redeem us … to open to us the gates of Heaven.
Paul also writes, “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ.”
Paul is repeating the same phrase we know so well, Jesus’ charge to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In a very real sense the gospel today would also describe real love. One son told his father he would go to the vineyards and work but he didn’t go. The other refused but then changed his mind and did the work. Instead of asking, Which son did the father’s will?” Jesus could have asked, “Which son loved his father.” Obviously, the one who took action … the one who went to the vineyards.
When Paul and Jesus speak of love they aren’t talking about just the “feel good” emotional aspect of love. In the same way, Ezekiel, in the first reading writes, “If a man (loves God and) turns away from wickedness and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.” The readings today are telling us that love is more than just an emotion. Love is a decision that we freely make or don’t make. Sometimes it’s a difficult decision.
Jesus summed up our lives when he said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” If you read modern analysts they will give you a confusing description of love. They may ask, “How were your treated by your parents .. did you have rivalries with your siblings ….. are you emotionally capable of love?” I’m not putting down modern psychology but Jesus’ command is very straightforward. “keep my commandments.” Well, there’s a problem with that. There are some “Thou shalls” but there are also some “Thou shall nots”. Thou shall love thy God with thy whole heart ….. that’s emotion, that’s a feel good type of love. However, “Keep holy the Sabbath day” is action, for us. It is similar to the father saying to his sons, “Go into my vineyard and work.” One son didn’t feel like going to the vineyard. Sometimes we don’t feel like coming to Mass on Sunday. Whether you’re young or old, maybe Saturday night was pretty hectic. We’re tired. Or, possibly we have a golf game on Sunday morning. Now we have to make a decision …. we have to choose. That’s the other side of love …. making a conscious choice even though that choice may not be a pleasant one.
When loving one another that choice comes down to a simple question, “What does
my spouse, my parents, my friend, need,?” The answer determines our depth of love. The father needed work done in the vineyard. One son said “Yes” the other said “No”.
Our children and grandchildren need love. They need hugs and kisses … they need words of love … they desperately need our time …. they need security. We can say, “I love you” but those are just words. If parents never make the decision to physically and emotionally express that love, we are like the son who said, “sure, I’ll go to the vineyards” but never went.
Just as Jesus indicated loving Him takes some hard decisions, our love also must be real. Our children and grandchildren need discipline as well as hugs and kisses.
That’s more difficult, isn’t it? It’s easier to say, ‘Do whatever you want to do.”
Allowing a child free reign does more harm than good.
For children, even teen-agers and college students, your parents also need your love. Obedience is part of loving. So is gratitude and thoughtfulness. So the love that Jesus describes is not all a “bed of roses”.
Often we don’t realize the Commandments He gives us are about love. He really says, “If you love me, you will avoid lying, stealing, sex outside of marriage and a few other things.” Jesus is saying, “Loving Me requires a decision. We decide “yes or no”, just as the two sons did in the Gospel.
When we discuss love there’s no point in just discussing the “feel good” type of love.
A conscious decision must be made to fulfill God’s needs, the commandments, or the needs of those around us. So, love comes down to a simple decision: if I love someone I will give to them what they need
Very often we get caught up in the theological and the “touchy feely” aspect of love and fail to understand that we live in the “real” world. If we read some of the modern writers on love in the family they have so many theories that one forgets the real meaning of love. The father in today’s gospel had a real request, “Go and work in the vineyards.” He wanted his sons to do his will. Jesus asked the chief priests and elders, “Which son did the father’s will?” He didn’t ask, “Who had the better relationship? Was the request a realistic one, did the father give deep thought as to whether the sons really wanted to work in the vineyards?” He indicated the sons had to make a decision …”Do I love my father enough to do his will?” One did … one didn’t.
Remember, all love is not easy. To me, one of Jesus Christ’s most inspiring moments came in the Garden of Gethsemene. Here was the Son of God saying to His father, “What I am facing is difficult. Please let this cup pass from me.” The crucifixion was planned when Adam and Eve committed the first sin. Now, Jesus is facing the crucial test and He’s afraid. He didn’t indicate this once but three times. But we needed redemption and even though He faced a terrifying experience he finally exclaimed, “Not my will but thine be done.”
There was a great love between the Father and His Son. But the Father made the ultimate decision. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” That’s real love!
Homily # 6
Every person on earth who reflects on his or her own life realizes in a moment of absolute truthfulness that invariably at some stage (even if for a moment) they have moved away from God by their action(s) (sins), judgments and intentions. In fact, this distancing from God might have occurred over a vast expanse of time and, perhaps, even in a very subtle manner. Yet, on the other hand, one could have knowingly and purposefully distanced himself/herself from God because of greed, passion or unremitting pride. The latter scenario depicts the greater sin.
Regardless of the manner in which we have removed ourselves from God – broken our relationship with Him – we do realize in a moment of honesty that this is the case. That realization can be very disturbing, very shocking!! How we react to it underscores our real motives in life – our goals. In fact, it can be a “key moment of grace” that will permit us to deepen our relationship with God and to be far more vigilant against Satan’s assaults. Indeed, depending on the redressing of our sinfulness, we can be transformed into a more faithful and loyal servant of God!!
It is “the time” of decision for individuals or even nations. How one responds will define one’s true character.
Ezekiel understood this. Preaching to Israel before the Babylonian Exile in very dramatic ways, he spoke of the evil that was rupturing Israel’s relationship to Yahweh. Standing and consuming “the holy scroll” on which God had warned His people of destruction . . . now cutting and burning his hair, now packing and feigning a deportation to Babylon (which did later come about), Ezekiel called upon his people to speak the truth about their sinful ways. He condemned them for accepting false gods, for stealing from the poor, for building idols, for employing bribery and usury against their own citizens. His proclamation of truth, spoken as only a prophet can, went unheeded.
Ezekiel did not abandon his people, even when they were dispatched to Babylon. He still had hope that they would reorganize the evil of their ways, reform, and turn back to God who was waiting to receive them with open arms. He called them, even in captivity, to be the good servants of Yahweh.
And one might ask, “What are the constituent elements that embody a loyal servant of God?” Today, Paul’s letter to the Philippians describes the disposition of the second person of the Holy Trinity – a rendering from which we should study and learn:
“Though he was in the form of God,
he did not deem equality with God,
something to be grasped at. Rather,
he emptied himself and took the
form of a slave, being born in the
likeness of men.”
The Incarnation of Christ and the manner in which he perfectly served his Father and us, won redemption for all mankind. It was a servitude that was life-giving, that defined at great cost God’s love for His people, and that gave purpose and meaning to all of our lives. But it was won at a terrible loss. The status of Christ’s divinity was hidden, he was subjected to absolute humiliation and, in the end, his earthly life was gruesomely wrenched away. Paul would have us study disciplehood by studying this Christ figure!
Matthew, in today’s gospel, speaks of the ultimate choice that confronts each of us: to choose to be obedient to God, or to walk away from Him. He discloses this choice based upon the parable of two sons: one who initially refuses to be obedient, but upon further reflection decides to be so; the other, who consents by word to be obedient but never practices it.
The same God of Ezekiel, Paul and Matthew is one who frowns on hypocrisy. He is a God who calls us back to Him – even when we have individually or as a nation been disobedient. He calls us back to accept a lifestyle that produces hope, care, love and nurturing into the lives of our fellow men. Our obedience to His will actually allows our community to be blessed by the correct actions of its members. In essence, to love God is to favor His people with the care that He extends through us to them, which invariably transforms ourselves.
Faithfulness to God brings faithfulness to His people!
Homily # 7
One of the remarkable features of Jesus’ parables is that he always gives us a “brain teaser,” or a “riddle” to solve. The only way we can get the solution, the answer, is to stop and think about it. And that’s why Jesus told these stories: to get people to think. The same is true today. Jesus tells us this parable to get us to think and pray about our attitude toward sin. Admittedly, sin is something we may find difficult to consider, especially when we are thinking about our own sin.
The first time Jesus told the parable he was speaking to priests and the elders, the clergy and lay religious leaders of his own time. These people were serious about their faith and their religion — so serious that they devoted themselves to a very strict set of rules about what they could eat, what they wore, how much work they could do on a holy day, as well as the careful fulfillment of even the smallest prescriptions of the Jewish law. We can assume that these people were initially trying to be good, and trying to please God.
Now that we are aware of Jesus’ audience, let’s look at his message. Consider — in the parable — what each of the two brothers SAY. The first boy’s answer is disrespectful and disobedient. “No way. Find someone else to do your work.” The second brother’s response is compliant and respectful: “Yes, father. Whatever you say.” What more could a dad ask for? But there’s a problem. The second brother is just mouthing an answer. He is insincere. He ignores his father; he never does go to work. But notice the real difference in the two boys. The first boy, the rebellious one, has a heart…he thinks about what his father said. He is humble enough and honest enough to see how wrong his response was. He regrets what he said, and he goes off and does his father’s will.
What is Jesus getting at here? The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time prided themselves on being the truly religious people. This pride made them closed-minded and hard of heart. Their pride made it impossible for them to see their own sins, and it caused them to judge others, to look down on anyone who was not as “holy” as they imagined themselves to be. They even criticized Jesus for spending time with “those people.” According to their thinking, why would any true prophet spend time with people who publicly said “no” to God’s law?
Jesus’ parable teaches two truths. First: “talk is cheap” if not followed up by action. One can say what he wants about loving God. But, as St. Ignatius Loyola pointed out, “One’s love is shown more in deeds than in words.” Second: the only people who are able to really change their lives for the better are those who are humble enough to recognize and admit their own faults, failings, and sins.
The priests and the elders had already decided that they were “the good guys,” the “real” people of God. Their own self-satisfaction and their pride blinded them to the contradiction between what they said about their devotion to God, and the way they acted toward God and others. They were, in fact, the second son who said “Yes” but ignored his father’s will.
Ironically, right in front of them, were countless “first sons.” These were the public sinners, the rebellious children of God, who allowed the words of Jesus to cut deep into their consciences. Like the first son, they changed their minds and their hearts, and turned their lives around. St. Matthew, a tax collector and public sinner, originally said “No” to God. But after meeting Jesus he changed, and made his life one big Yes to God. He became one of Jesus’ apostles and gave his life as a messenger of the gospel. Mary Magdalene had also been a public sinner. Her former life said “No” to God. But after she listened to Jesus, she was humble enough to reject her former life, and she said “Yes” by her actions. The gospels record that she was one of the very few courageous ones who remained faithful at the foot of Jesus’ cross. She was also the one Jesus chose to carry the first news of his Resurrection to his apostles.
The real difference between the first and the second sons, between the Jewish leaders and Magdalene, was the ability to hear Jesus’ words, to admit one’s sinfulness, and to change. The leaders were too proud to hear or accept Our Lord; the public sinners were humble enough to hear Jesus’ call to true holiness, and to act on it.
So what is the “question” Jesus is asking each of us in today’s parable? Will I be the first son or daughter, or the second. Do my words say “yes” and my actions say “no”, or will I have the humility to let Jesus’ call challenge me? Will I have the courage of Matthew and Magdalene to honestly look at my sins, take concrete action to change, and turn my life more toward the service of God and others? Will I take to heart the words of today’s Psalm Response? “Good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”
This is, indeed, the Good News: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’ “ Am I willing to humbly and honestly examine my life, change where I need to, and join them?
Homily # 8
There is an old but pertinent question which asks “Do you walk the walk or do you just talk the talk?” We’ve all heard that question. The first son in the story Jesus tells us today was a perfect example of being able to talk the talk, but he had no intention of walking the walk.
And following on that same line of thinking, we could ask another question, “Do you have problems talking the talk, even though you know in your heart that you will walk the walk?”
In this gospel passage, Jesus weaves a tale of two sons. In that story, Jesus is the father, and WE are the sons. The whole point of the story is that NEITHER son was right. The first son was saying “no” with his mouth, but “doing yes” with his behavior.
On the other hand, the second son was saying “yes” with his mouth, but “doing no” with his behavior.
The religious leaders listening to Jesus story found the first son to be the one who was doing the right thing – the one who said “no” to his father, but ended up doing what the father had asked.
And yet, like the second son, the religious leaders (Jesus’ audience) were saying “yes” but “doing no.” They lived lives that said “we are religious people, we follow all the rules, we are holy.” And yet, their behavior did not show it-Jesus could see no evidence of it -no one could. And there are lots of people who live their lives that way. They/we are the second son.
So, to make this clear to his listeners, Jesus uses the tax collectors and prostitutes as examples.
These people, who were considered by the religious leaders to be sinners, were changing their lives because they BELIEVED what Jesus was teaching. Though they had lived lives that said “we are not religious people, we don’t follow the rules, we are not holy,” in fact, their lives were changing – they were reflecting a belief in the things Jesus was preaching, and Jesus could see that – anyone could! And, there are lots of people who live their lives that way. They/we are the first son. Saying no, but “doing yes.”
But again, NEITHER of the sons were right.
Clearly, what Jesus was looking for was a “son” who said “yes” both with his mouth and with his behavior— a son who “said” yes and “did” yes.
There is a little story that helps bring more clarity to this:
Once upon a time there was a tight rope walker in a circus company.
Day after day and night after night, he dressed as Jo Jo the clown, and pushed a little wheelbarrow across a thin tightrope high above the circus floor.
In the wheelbarrow rode Jo Jo’s OWN son – Junior – a happy, friendly little boy – the IMAGE of his father.
Day after day, night after night, year after year Jo Jo mystified and thrilled the crowds as he walked the tightrope— with Junior riding in the wheelbarrow— its tiny front wheel balancing on that thread of a tightrope.
One Sunday morning, as Jo Jo, Junior and the other circus performers walked home from church, they discussed the sermon they had just heard.
The topic of the sermon had been FAITH.
Various performers gave their various opinions on what faith was all about.
Jo Jo, the tightrope walker, was the wisest person in the whole circus.
He was the one the others sought for advice.
And . . . if you’ll pardon the pun . . . Jo Jo was the one they all looked up to.
So after there had been a rather lengthy discussion on faith, and all had given their opinions, they turned to Jo Jo. Someone asked him: “Jo Jo, what do you think faith is??”
“Well,” said Jo Jo, “every performance, when I get up on that ladder, and start to climb, do you believe I’ll make it to the top?”
“Sure!” they proclaimed.
“And when you look up there and see me set the wheelbarrow’s one little front wheel on the tightrope, and take my first step onto the rope, do you believe I’ll make it to the other side?”
“Absolutely,” they agreed!
“And do you think the belief you have in me . . . . . is FAITH?”
“Yes,” they answered, “we truly believe you will never fall from there.
“So you think that’s what faith is,” said Jo Jo disappointedly.
“That’s not faith,” he said quietly, shaking his head.
Junior lets me put him in the wheelbarrow. NOW, THAT’S FAITH.
In this story, Jo Jo was the father, Junior was the son. Junior believed in his father and his behavior was evidence of this. Every day, he GOT IN the wheelbarrow. In Jesus’ story, Jesus is the father, and YOU and I are the sons.
Are you willing to get in the wheelbarrow or are you just saying you are? Remember that being in a wheelbarrow is uncomfortable. Riding on a tightrope, in a wheelbarrow, even with Jesus pushing it, IS SCARY. No one ever said being a disciple of Jesus is comfortable –its a challenge, everyday.
But remember the stories — both of them. Can you walk the walk or are you just talking the talk? That’s the question Jesus is asking you today. Think about that this week.
By Fr. Jerry Orbos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:03:00 09/28/2008
THE STORY IS TOLD ABOUT A PATIENT WHO came back to his doctor and said: “Well doctor, you sure kept your promise. You said I’d be walking after a month, and you were right. I had to sell my car to pay your bill.”
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In today’s Gospel (Mt. 21, 28-32) Jesus relates the story of two sons who were asked by their father to go out and work in the vineyard. One said no, but later on worked in the vineyard, while the other said yes, but did not go. The first one did not promise, but obeyed, while the other promised, but did not. It’s not what we say or what we profess, but what we do that matters. It is not lip service, but service that really counts.
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There is a tendency for us these days to be label-conscious. We put a lot of value in tags and brands, and perhaps rightly so. However, the Lord reminds us to see not just the externals. God invites us to go “the extra mile” in our dealings with people. For indeed, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
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Today, it would be good for all of us to reflect on the promises we have made to God, to others and to ourselves. If we have been faithful to those promises, then let us praise God for his grace. If we have broken our promises, then let us turn to God in sorrow, and renew them. Instead of being burdened by our broken vows, let us try again, and move on somehow.
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Our government officials and our elected leaders made a promise when they were put into office—that they will serve the public and that they will do their very best to serve the common good. Today, we enjoin them to remember and make true their promise to God and to our people.
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Likewise, we church and religious people made a solemn vow to God to serve Him and His people. We too beat our breasts today and say “mea culpa” for the many times we have been so untrue, and for the times we gave in to personal vices and lies.
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Professionals likewise must look back and remember the oath they have taken—to use their knowledge and skills to help, serve and protect others. How much have they done for free, and how much have they done for a fee?
Husbands and wives likewise must remember and renew today their marriage vows. Remember, the Lord said: “Love one another,” not “love another one”! And remember that you promised to love each other “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”
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There are promises and there are promises. There are sincere promises which, when we made them, were real. If we have broken them in the meantime, then we can still make them real. But then, there are untruthful promises which we made just to get by. The choice is ours: To go on with the lie, or kiss the lie goodbye.
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Last Sept. 23, we had a simple mission-sending ceremony for Fr. Arnold Biago, SVD, a newly ordained Filipino missionary who is going to Congo, Africa. I can empathize with the joys, pains and uncertainties of leaving one’s country and family, having been a missionary to South Korea myself. My heart was especially beating with the mother of Father Arnold who had to let go of her only son. But, then, such is God’s mission. It is the Lord who calls us to work in his vineyard. Please continue to pray and support our Filipino missionaries “out there” while we do our mission “in here,” especially in October, the month for the missions.
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October too is the month of the Holy Rosary. Let us continue to hold our Blessed Mother’s hands. She loves each one of us without conditions. Please join us for the “Walk with God to Manaoag” this Oct. 4, Saturday, starting at 6 a.m. from the Urdaneta City Cathedral. Stay close to Mama Mary, and you will not abandon Jesus.
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Join us on Oct. 1, Wednesday, Feast of St. Therese, patroness of the missions. We are launching in the 6 p.m. Mass, at the Shrine of the Divine Word, Christ the King Seminary, our CD titled “Oh! Some Moments II,” a second collection of stories, jokes and anecdotes. Please consider it for your Christmas gift or giveaway, and help our missionaries.
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Whatever pleases the Father, whatever benefits others, and whatever cleanses this sinner—this is my prayer, my promise and my challenge at 55. To God be the glory; to others, His grace and bounty; and to me, oh Lord, your mercy. Amen.
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A moment with the Lord:
Lord, help me to be true and faithful to my promises to you, to others and to myself. Amen.
JUST DO IT! : Reflection for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – September 24, 2011
Actions speak louder than voice! Isa ito sa mga kasabihang natutunan ko noong ako ay nasa elementarya pa lamang. At habang tumatanda ako ay mas nauunawan ko ang kahulugan nito! Lalo na sa aking pagmiministeryo bilang pari, lagi kong naiisip ang mga katagang ito sa tuwing ako ay nangangaral o nagbibigay ng homiliya sa Misa. Baka naman ang mga sinasabi ko ay hindi tugma sa aking ginagawa… tatawanan lang ako ng mga nakikinig sa akin. Hindi ko sila mapapaniwala! Katulad ng kuwento ng isang negosyanteng nagbebenta ng “ballpen” sa isang paaralan. Kinausap niya ang administrator at masigasig na prinomote ang kanyang produkto. Halos isang oras siyang nagsalita at nagpaliwanag tungkol sa galing at ganda ng kanyang paninda. Buo na ang loob ng administrator ng school na kumuha ng 1,000 pirasong ballpen. Kaya lang nang isinusulat na ng negosyante ang order sa kanyang kuwaderno ay biglang napasigaw ang bumibili: “Teka, wag na lang! Ayaw ko na! Hindi na ako oorder!” Laking pagkagulat ng negosyante at tinanong niya kung bakit. “Alam mo, isang oras mo akong nililigawan para bilhin ang produkto ninyong ballpen. Ang dami mong magagandang sinabi. Napaniwala mo ako. Pero nang isinusulat mo na ang order ko… e nakita kong ibang brand ng ballpen ang ginamit mo! Ang ikinilos mo ay hindi tugma sa iyong panagsasabi! Ang talinhaga sa Ebanghelyo ngayong Linggo ay isang mensahe ng babala at pag-asa para sa ating lahat. Babala na huwag tayong maging kumpiyansa sa pagsasabing “Ako’y Kristiyano!”Ang kasabihan nga nating mga Plipino ay: “Ang tao ay nakikila sa kanyang gawa hindi sa kanyang salita!” Hindi sapat ang “Amen! Alleluia! o Praise the Lord!” Ang mahalagang tanong ay: Kinakikitaan ba ako ng pag-uugali na tulad ng kay Kristo?Ang isang mensahe rin ay pag-asa… Na may pagkakataon tayong itama ang ating mga pagkakamali dala marahil ng ating kahinaan. Siguro ay katulad tayo ng nakatatandang kapatid na nagsabi ng “ayoko po!” Sa tuwing nilalabag natin ang mga utos ng Diyos ay ito ang ating sinasabi. Ngunit sa ating pagbasa, ipinakita sa atin na maaring baguhin ang pagtangging ito. Sa kahuli-hulihan ay nagawang sumunod ng nakatatandang kapatid. Tayo rin, ay laging may pag-asa na itama ang ating mga maling desisyon sa buhay! Hindi tayo alipin ng kasalanan. Tinubos na tayo ni Kristo sa pamamagitan ng kanyang katawan at dugo. Kaya nga may pag-asa tayong magbagong buhay. Kung bibigyan ako ng kalayaang dugtungan ang Talinhaga ay maglalagay ako ng ikatlong anak. Siya ang nagsabi ng “opo” at pagkatapos ay sumunod sa utos ng kanyang ama! At sino ang anak na ito? Walang iba kundi si Jesus. Siya ang pangatlong anak sa talinhaga. At gusto N’ya na sana ay tayo rin!Sumagot na tayo ng “opo” noong tayo ay nangako sa binyag at kumpil. Nangako na tayong tatalikuran ang kasalanan at sasampalataya sa Diyos. Ang kinakailangan na lamang ay ang pagsunod. Saan mo nakikita ang iyong sarili sa talinhaga? Baka naman Kristiyanong laban o bawi tayo? Baka naman mahilig tayong magsabi ng OPO ngunit ito naman ay madalas napapako? Mabuti pa ang UMAAYAW ngunit pagkatapos naman ay GUMAGALAW! Kapag inilaban mo na ang iyong OPO ay wag mo ng bawiin. Ang tunay na Kristiyano ay may isang salita. ‘Pag nangako kang magpapakabait, gawin mo! ‘Pag nagkamali ka uli, ituwid mo! Ang Diyos naman ay laging handang umunawa sa kahinaan mo. Get’s mo? JUST DO IT!
On line and on call
By: Fr. Jerry M. Orbos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
10:13 pm | Saturday, September 24th, 2011
The story is told about two sons who asked their father who would inherit his vintage Cadillac. Both of them wanted the car so much, and every day, they tried to win their father’s heart. A few weeks later, the father fell while rafting with his two sons, and the last thing he heard was one son shouting: “Daddy, Daddy!” and the other, “Car key, car key!”
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In today’s Gospel, we hear of two sons and their two different responses to their father’s call. One said no but went eventually, while the other said yes, but did not go. One did not promise, but did it anyway. While the other promised to do it, but didn’t. Who did the father’s will? The first son, and so is anyone who is not only on line, but also is on call for the Father’s will.
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Doing the Father’s will was the whole mission of Jesus. This was so clearly expressed at Gethsemane when He prayed: “Take this cup of suffering away from me, yet not my will, but Thy will be done” (Mk. 14,36). Jesus teaches us that there is a God who has a master plan, and we are supposed to do our part. We must listen, accept, obey and carry out His will and plan.
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The Blessed Mother’s “Fiat” is an expression of her submission and obedience to God’s will. Like Jesus, she had to struggle and suffer as a result of her saying “yes” to God’s plan of salvation. She could just have said “No.” She could have taken the road of comfort and convenience, the road of least resistance and non-involvement. Instead she chose the difficult road of humility and obedience.
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The story of the saints and martyrs is a statement that it is possible for us sinful and weak mortals to go out of our way and go His way. Many of them did not start out holy and docile. On the contrary, many of them initially refused, struggled, questioned and even disregarded the Father’s will. But somehow, grace prevailed. Grace always prevails in the end. Indeed, there is no sinner without a future, and there is no saint without a past.
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All of us are called by the Father. All of us are called to life, to love, to goodness – and to heaven. Yes, all of us have a calling, a vocation, a mission in life. Unless and until we see life as a mission for something or someone greater than ourselves, we will end up empty, vain, cynical, proud, angry, selfish individuals. There is a God who is calling. Are you listening? There are people around you. Are you responding?
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As a little boy, I remember Papa braving rain and wind to check on his area at the Bureau of Customs where he worked for 23 years, “just to be there” even at the height of typhoons and floods. In Papa, I personally witnessed what it means to go beyond the call of duty. For him, beyond the call of duty was the call of the country, and the call of the Almighty. I wonder what call our government officials are responding to nowadays? Careful. The call of money, power and fame can be loud and deafening.
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The Lord does know how to test our perseverance to His call. Last Sept. 16, when I entered the hall to say Mass for the Divine Word College of Laoag faculty and personnel, I noticed that the air-conditioning was not functioning, and it was hot. Soon after, the power went off and it was not only hot, but also dark. But we just kept on going and went on anyway without air-con, without lights, without microphone. Guess what? After the final blessing, the power came back and the air-con began to function!
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In our column last September18, the name of Fr. Emeterio de la Paz, SVD was inadvertently omitted as one of our SVD Golden Jubilarians as a priest. Now 79 years old, Father Emy could still be seen walking or taking the jeepney with his sick call-kit on hand to minister to the sick and the dying at nearby St. Luke’s Hospital where he is a chaplain-on-call, and he still teaches Latin to our students at Christ the King Seminary. For Father Emy, his calling to the priestly-religious life which started when he entered the seminary on June 6, 1950 is permanent and ongoing.
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Today is National Seafarer’s Day. We remember and pray for them who risk life and limb in the high seas for their families and for our country’s economy, and bring our faith far and wide. One with you in prayer.
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October 1 is the day for our traditional Walk with God to Manaoag. This three-hour walk with continuous praying of the rosary starts at 6 a.m. in Urdaneta, Pangasinan and ends with the 11 a.m. Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag. Let us begin the month of the rosary with thanksgiving and sacrifices. By the way, “manaoag” is a Pangasinan word which means “to call.” Yes, Our Lady is calling us, and the world is waiting for our service and love.
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A moment with the Lord:
Lord, help me to be not only on line but also to be on call to you and to your people. Amen.
Professing but not practicing faith
By FR. BEL R. SAN LUIS, SVD
September 23, 2011, 11:42pm
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — A lady once confided to a neighbor, “Wives often talk against their husbands but I never do it, even if my husband is lazy, a gambler, and womanizer.”
Look who’s talking! Our Lord in this 26th Sunday’s gospel talks about prostitutes and even speaks kindly of them, saying: “Prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:11). Jesus says the same with tax collectors who were detested during his time.
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What does Jesus mean by the statement? The younger son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes whose lives have been a “No” to God, but who now repent and enter the kingdom of God. In contrast, the elder son symbolizes the Jewish leaders who professed to be religious but did not respond to John the Baptist’s call for repentance.
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Jesus was proposing this little “quiz” to see not how smart his listeners were but to drive home the point that, in their relationship with God, it is not what you say, not what you promise, but rather what you do or what you translate into action.
Once a businessman was ordering 500 ballpoint pens from an office equipment salesman. The latter was writing the order in his notebook, when suddenly the buyer exclaimed, “Hold on! I’m cancelling the order.”
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The salesman left the store wondering why the wholesaler suddenly changed his mind. “Why did you suddenly cancel that order of ballpens?” asked a surprised bookkeeper. “Why?” answered the man angrily. “Because he talked about ballpens to me for half an hour, using every convincing argument, and then he wrote out my order with a pencil! His practice did not agree with his profession.”
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In our relationship with God, it may not have to do about ballpens but the point is: Are we practicing what we profess?
The parable is, therefore, a WARNING for us. It cautions us not to get satisfied with professing our faith, and then failing to practice it; with making good intentions, and not fulfilling them. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
There are some Christians, for instance, who are faithful in fulfilling their Sunday obligations but then for the rest of the week they deal harshly with their helpers or cheat and slander their fellowmen. Or, there are those who pledge their love for their spouse before God in marriage, but then they have other women on the side.
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But besides warning us, the parable also expresses HOPE. Jesus consorting with notorious sinners did not mean approval of their activities, any more than Pope John’s embrace of the murderer implied approval of his crime.
By showing compassion to depraved people, Jesus hoped to appeal to the spark of goodness still in them as God’s children. We may have been slaves to some sin in the past, we may have been sensual like Mary Magdalene, dishonest like Matthew, greedy like Zacchaeus, or violent and rebellious like Paul, but we can rise from our sins. We can change. There’s always hope. There’s no room for despair.
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See Today’s Readings: Cycle A
Back to: Twenty Six in ordinary Time (Year A)