26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (27 September 2020)

Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Matt 21:28-32

The readings this week give us the hope and the assurance that though we are born in a state of sin, and even if we have led sinful lives, the doorway to God’s Kingdom is always open. We are urged to respond to God’s invitation to repent of our sins. This requires a conscious decision and a deliberate turning away from sin.

The first reading highlights the constant tension in this world between the forces of good and evil. The upright man is besieged by temptation and if gives in and succumbs to sin, he renounces his integrity. This is a powerful word because it denotes a complete withdrawal from all that is good. This is inevitable because God and the devil, good and evil, integrity and sin are all wholly incompatible. The consequence of renouncing one’s integrity is death. We are all born in a state of sin and in that sense it is disturbing to think that our lot is essentially to be doomed to eternal death. But the first reading tempers this with a message of hope. The sinner who renounces sin in order to become law-abiding and honest is promised life. And so the choice is laid before us: to sin and die; or to renounce sin, keep the law and live. The consequences of this choice are dire indeed and they are forever.

In the Gospel, Jesus makes the same point but with a different emphasis. Using the example of the two sons who are asked by the father to do some work, he contrasts their responses. One says he won’t obey but thinks the better of it and does as he has been asked; the other speaks obligingly but does not act on it. It is the one who reflects on the errors of his ways and does something about it who will be considered obedient. This is a message of great hope. God does not forsake us for our past sins; He constantly waits, urging us to return to Him. And as long as we make the decision to accept His invitation to return to Him, He will welcome us.

In the second reading, St Paul gives us perhaps the most beautiful reflection on the obedience of Christ. Paul urges us to reflect on the life of Christ and if that means anything to us, he urges us to be the same as Christ in our consciousness. The humility of Christ stands out as He set aside His divinity and His equality with God to empty Himself and become a sacrificial offering so that we could have life. Of course it is this offering that makes it possible for every repentant sinner to be washed absolutely clean and be presented in pristine condition to God.

There is a powerful source of encouragement here for us in these readings. Our past can never condemn us. Through Christ, God has given us a way back to Him no matter how much we have strayed from Him. The ball is now in our court.

Some points to reflect on as you read the readings

  1. Why is it significant to see sin as the renunciation of integrity? Why is death the consequence of evil and sin? What do you think it means to renounce sin?
  2. Why does Paul urge us to be self-effacing and to be preoccupied with the interests of others? In what ways can you be more like Christ Jesus?
  3. What did the tax collectors and prostitutes do that the Pharisees did not? What does this teach us about God? Why is it insufficient just to speak of obedience?