28Sep 28th September. Twenty-Sixth Sunday

Theme: Jesus warns that prostitutes and tax-collectors may be closer to God than their supposed betters. Social or religious standing means little in the sight of God. The parable of the two sons, neither of whom does what he says he will do, highlights the dictum that “actions speak louder than words.” Doing good actions is better than speaking fine words.

First Reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28

(God deals with us according to what is just. He forgives the sinner who repents and rewards the one who perseveres.)

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die.

Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.

2) Philippians 2:1-11

( Unity depends on Christians imitating the humility of Christ who became obedient unto death.)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of Go the Father.

Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

(The parable of the two sons reminds us that good actions speak louder than fine words.)

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Not a Members-Only Club

Until around 1900, bishops in Ireland were chosen only from the ranks of the aristocracy. Of course, there was a good economic reason for this: they had to be self-supporting because the people were too poor to pay them. But it was equally true in wealthy countries like France. There too the first requirement in a bishop was that he be from the ranks of the nobility. The great mass of the lower clergy, parish priests and curates, were excluded from bishoprics. Some of the trappings of aristocracy still survive in the church, titles like “princes of the church,” living in “palaces’, forms of address like “Your Lordship” and offering a ringed hand to be kissed rather than shaken. One of the last aristocratic appointments in Ireland was appointed Bishop of Cork, where he served for twenty-three years. When his brother, Lord Dunboyne died, he abandoned the Catholic church, became a Protestant and married to ensure an heir to the family. Ironically, he failed to produce an heir. Rome had lost a bishop while the Dunboyne lineage died out.

The beginning of the end of the aristocratic world came when the French Revolution abolished hereditary titles and made all citizens equal before the law. The world of the common man was begun and now what titles remain are largely honorary. But old habits die hard, and not only in the church. A new elite has replaced the old. Aristocrats have given way to plutocrats. The exclusive world of privilege never really dies. It only changes hands. The modern rich have all the trappings of the old nobility, save the titles. They live in security-guarded palatial homes and frequent exclusive clubs, to protect them from contamination from the common herd.

The need for exclusivity and superiority seems imbedded in human nature and has invaded even the sanctuary. The Jews were happy with their exclusivity, excluding not only pagans from God’s favour, but even the Samaritans who failed their rigid test of orthodoxy. Jesus was indignant when he told the chief priests and elders, “Prostitutes and tax-collectors are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.” From the Jewish elders to Calvin’s elect, to our own former mantra “outside the church there is no salvation’, exclusivity is a temptation to religious people. With the diminishing numbers of church-goers and religion no longer a mass phenomenon, we may be more than ever tempted to circle the wagons. So Jesus’ warning to the Jews has a special relevance for us today. And pope Francis has warned against the notion of the church as a “Members-Only” Club.


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