SUNDAY READINGS REFLECTIONS
For the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – October 1, 2017
“The growing knowledge of and the love of Christ, above all, prepares us to follow His call.” (St Ignatius)
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Theme: Responsibility and Obedience.
In Reading 1, Ezekiel tells us that each of us is responsible for our own conduct, and will be judged accordingly. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that “actions (our conduct) speak louder than words.” In Reading 2, Paul reminds the Philippians that self-seeking and rivalry have no place in the Christian community.
Our obedience (i.e. follow His call) to God’s Word is our own responsibility and it is shown by our conduct, not just by our words.
- Reading 1 – Ezekiel 18:25-28 It is possible to turn from sin and preserve one’s life.
- Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 25:4-9 A prayer to God for mercy.
- Reading 2 – Philippians 2:1-11 Be like Christ who humbled Himself and was exalted by God.
- Gospel – Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus poses a question to the chief priests and elders on the meaning of obedience.
NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.
Reading 1 Ezekiel 18:25-28 (The Virtuous Person Shall Live)
Context – Ezekiel was a Hebrew priest and prophet, whose ministry to his fellow exiles in Babylon extended from 593 to 563 BC. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah. As a prophet to exiles, he assured his hearers of the abiding presence of God among them. He constantly emphasized the Lord’s role in the events of the day. He underscored the integrity of the individual and his personal responsibility to God. To a helpless and hopeless people, he brought hope of restoration to homeland and temple by their just and holy God. Ezekiel is referenced more in the Book of Revelation than in any other New Testament writing.
Today’s Reading – Ezekiel tells his fellow exiles in Babylon that each individual will be held responsible for his/her individual sin. For the Israelites, this is a radical, new teaching. Until now, they believe in what is called “corporate responsibility. The idea of corporate responsibility means that they are now paying for the sins of their ancestors; hence, the words: “The Lord’s way is not fair,” found at the beginning of today’s reading. Ezekiel states clearly that we are responsible only for our own sins. If the sinner repents, he/she will experience a whole new beginning with God. Conversely, if the virtuous person sins, he/she will pay for his/her sins.
Thus says the LORD: You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? (To be a follower of God and to do what He wants you to do instead of what you want to do, means obedience: “We are not free to do what we want to do but free to do what we ought to do” – St Pope John Paul II) When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. (This is an early Old Testament reference to a life after death.)
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Responsorial Psalm. Psalm 25:4-918 (God’s Compassion)
Today’s Psalm – This psalm speaks beautifully of God’s compassion for the sinner that turns to Him. The note of conversion, as the Psalmist sees his own sins in the light of God’s goodness, makes this psalm a suitable accompaniment for the change of heart (i.e. obedience) mentioned in Reading 1 and the Gospel reading.
R. – Remember Your mercies, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me Your paths, guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior. R. – Remember Your mercies, O Lord.
Remember that Your compassion, O LORD, and Your love are from of old. The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not; in Your kindness remember me, because of Your goodness, O LORD.
R. – Remember Your mercies, O Lord. Good and upright is the LORD; thus He shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble His way. (God is good, upright, loving, and faithful. Because He is this way He teaches sinners and guides the humble, those who sense their need for His help and are willing to be responsible for their actions and be obedient to God’s Word. He does so through His covenant (the Mosaic Law), testimonies of the prophets, and most importantly, via the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.)
R. – Remember Your mercies, O Lord.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Reading 2. Philippians 2:1-11 (Jesus is Lord)
Context – St. Paul founded the church in Philippi (in northern Greece) in 50 AD and this letter was written about ten years later. Philippians is a letter of thanks and encouragement to a congregation of dear friends of Paul. They supported the imprisoned apostle with their prayers and financial assistance. Much of this letter challenges the Philippians to grow in spiritual maturity and imitating both their Savior and their founding apostle. He holds up Jesus Christ as the model of humility and selfless love and himself as a model of patient endurance.
Today’s Reading – While in prison, Paul hears from his visitors about the bickering and division amongst his beloved Philippians. From the deepest recesses of his heart, he appeals to them to change their destructive ways. Because they have been baptized into Christ, they are called to live responsively and be obedient to God’s Word. That is, live in a fellowship with others that should be characterized by love, humility, mutual respect, altruism and unity. Paul holds Jesus up for his readers as their model for this transformation process. Look at Jesus, even though He is God, He is willing to surrender His equality with God in order to become fully human. In placing before them the self-emptying of Christ, Paul is suggesting to the Philippians a radical de-centering of their lives— from self-absorption to self-giving.
Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. (For Paul, Christian love flows from the free disposition to forego concern for self as the driving force of life and replacing it with a practical concern for others.)
Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus (The secret of Christian joy is found in the way the believer thinks—their attitudes. “Let us strive at all times to have pure thoughts, righteous ideas, an d holy intentions in our minds.” – St. Padre Pio), Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. (“If Christ were only a man, He would have been said to have been ‘in the image of God,’ not ‘in the form of God.’ We know that humanity was made in the image, not the form, of God.”) Rather, He emptied Himself (The extreme limit of self-denial was shown by Jesus doing this. Jesus did not lay aside the form of God; He did not cease to be God. He added the “form” of man but without its sinfulness.), taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue (every people) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend” – General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) # 275: A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons (Trinity) are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
Gospel Matthew 21:28-32 (Obeying God’s Will)
Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.
Today’s Reading – Jesus is now about one week away from His passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus has entered Jerusalem and overturned the money changers’ tables in the Temple. Jesus has caught the attention of the religious authorities. The chief priests and elders question Jesus about the source of His authority. Jesus refuses to name, for these religious leaders, the source of His authority. Instead, He questions the priests and elders through the parable we hear in today’s Gospel. The answer to the parable given by the religious leaders is correct, but it convicts them for their failure to heed the call of John the Baptist and for their inability to recognize the Kingdom of God.
The situation Jesus poses is rather straightforward. Given the same task by their father, one son asserts his disobedience in words, but then obeys in his actions; the second son obeys with his words, but disobeys in his actions. The question that Jesus poses is pointed and direct: Which son did what the father wanted? All would agree that “actions speak louder than words” and that even if his words were disobedient, the son who did the work as ordered did the father’s will.
Jesus’ conclusion is also direct. The chief priests and elders, the ones who speak most often about God, did not act accordingly. They did not respond to the message of repentance announced by John the Baptist (See PAUSE, below) with a change of heart. Instead, John’s message was heeded by those that one would not expect to repent—tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. Because of their actions, these sinners will enter the Kingdom of God ahead of the religious leaders.
Jesus could ask us the same question. Do our words indicate our obedience to God? If not our words, do our actions? God desires a full conversion of heart. It’s our responsibility that our actions (and our words as well) will give evidence of our love for God.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons (The distinction here is not between Jews and Gentiles, but between two kinds of Jews: faithless leaders and faithful outcasts.). He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard (God’s Kingdom on earth) today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, Yes, sir, ‘but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John [the Baptist] came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did (They saw the need to repent of their evil ways and did so.). Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” (The leaders, by contrast, thought themselves righteous and did not see the need to repent and be reconciled with the Father. This parable has a counterpart in the gospel of Luke called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” – i.e. the contrast between the actions of the prodigal son versus his brother.)
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. Canticle of Zachariah – “… You, my child (i.e. John the Baptist), shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. …”
Catechism 546 – Jesus’ invitation to enter His kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of His teaching. Through His parables He invites people to the feast of the Kingdom, but He also asks for a radical choice: to gain the Kingdom, one must give everything. Words are not enough, deeds are required. The parables are like mirrors for us: will we be hard soil or good earth for the word? What use have we made of the talents we have received? Jesus and the presence of the Kingdom in this world are secretly at the heart of the parables. One must enter the Kingdom, that is, become a disciple of Christ, in order to “know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven”. For those who stay “outside”, everything remains enigmatic (being beyond one’s powers to know, understand, or explain).