26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, #136A
First Reading: Ezkl 18:25-28 By turning from wickedness,
a wicked person shall preserve his life.
Responsorial Psalm: 25 Remember your mercies, O Lord.
Second Reading: Phil 2:1-11 Have the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.
Gospel: MT 21:28-32 He changed his mind… Tax collectors are entering before you.
Well, summer is officially over. On Tuesday we crossed the autumnal equinox and we have begun our journey toward winter. What joy! As I reflected on these readings, I was struck that Jesus is heading into his winter too. Through the summer we enjoyed a semi-continues reading from the book of Matthew. Jesus spent the summer with us feeding and teaching the crowds and his disciples. He has been doing his father’s will in the vineyard and building up his church. But between last week’s parable of the generous landowner, and today’s parable of the two sons, we skipped over an important day in the life of Jesus. Yesterday, so to speak, in chapter 21, Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds sang out: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. They laid their cloaks and palm branches on the road, but the winter of Jesus’ crucifixion and death is just around the corner. As such, Jesus is now turning his attention to the chief priests and elders of the people—those who should know better. He offers them a few more invitations, in parable form, to turn from their self-interest to welcoming the kingdom of God in their midst. They seem know the right answer to today’s question: “the one who did the father’s will,” but their hearts are hard as stone. They fail to recognize, or consciously ignore, their own sins and bias.
The question I have today is, how well have we responded to Jesus’ invitation to turn from our sins and bias in order to bring about the kingdom of God in our day? Are we willing to adopt the attitude of Christ and head out to the vineyard and put in a hard day’s work? How supple is your heart; how supple is my heart? When it comes to acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, we, like the chief priests and elders, should know better—we have the New and Old Testaments to help us understand who Jesus really is, and we have the example of a hundred generations of disciples that have labored diligently in God’s vineyard, but the work of bringing about the kingdom of God on earth is far from done. For instance, I wonder how we will be judged for the racism that evident in our society today.
In late 2018, in response to traumatic episodes of racial violence, the Bishops of the United States published a pastoral letter concerning racism in the USA. The bishops seek an urgent conversion of heart among the faithful and the eradication of racism. That letter is the focus of monthly webcasts offered by the Office of Catholic Social Justice, right here in the Archdiocese of Hartford. About 300-400 people tune in to learn more about the work that needs to be done. Those 300-400 people are the seeds of conversion, but unfortunately that is less than 1 out of every 1000 Catholics here in the archdiocese. What does that say about our Catholic attitude toward the work of racial justice? Are we saying, I will not go to the vineyard, or yeah, yeah, I will go and not show up? Fortunately, like in last week’s parable of the generous landowner, there is still time for many of us to experience that conversion of heart and to earn a day’s pay.
Anyhow, the letter explains that racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. To consciously hold on to such beliefs is a gross failure to love and that is clearly sinful. Overt acts of racism make our national news and those are sins of commission, but the bigger problem might lie with our sins of omission and the unconscious biases that we all have. What, for instance, would you not do for a person who appears to be different from you or speaks a foreign language? Would you metaphorically cross the street to avoid him or her, like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Will you not go out to the vineyard because you believe that racism does not affect you?
Now I am not saying that we all have to walk to the town green after Mass to protest against racism or to show our solidarity with people of color. The love that Jesus asks of each one of us is agape love; that is to will the good of the other as other, with no expectation of reciprocity. He also calls us to work the section of vineyard that is set apart for each one of us. We may not agree with the positions that the Black Lives Mater organization take regarding abortion or LGBTQ matters, but can anyone legitimately argue that Black Lives are not sacred, or that the systemic injustices that truly exist in our society are fine just the way they are?
Jesus’ message is addressed to each one of us: “Go out and work in the vineyard today.” Go if you must with a consciousness of God’s justice and judgment. The vineyard is large but the laborers are few. Some of us are called to protest and make the status quo uncomfortable. Some are called to educate or to be educated; others to advocate in the political arena or to embrace the oppressed; still others are called to write letters to the editor or to pray. We are all member of the Body of Christ, but we are not all hands or feet or eyes or ears or mouths. Please give some thought to the unconscious biases you might have and how they play out in your day to day interactions, or lack of interaction. Please also consider registering for webcast this coming Wednesday evening. I posted a link on our Facebook page under announcements, and you can also find recordings of the previous webcasts with that link. Let each of us adopt the attitude of Christ and get to work in the vineyard before our winter arrives.