26th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year A. October 1, 2023

 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year A. October 1, 2023

Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Philippians 2: 1-11; Matthew 21: 28-32

 

Theme: Individual Repentance, Personal Relationship with God, and Individual Responsibility to Maintain this Relationship

The month of October is dedicated to the devotion to our Blessed Mother, Virgin Mary. I encourage us to join the Rosary’s groups to pray the rosary 30 minutes before every weekend Mass: Saturday: 3:30 p.m. in the Church and Sunday: 9:30 p.m. in the chapel of the Church.  

Through the Scripture readings of today, the Holy Mother Church calls us to individual repentance, personal relationship with God, and individual responsibility to maintain this relationship. Ezekiel, in our first reading, teaches his fellow Israelites that God punishes and rewards each person for his/her own deeds not for the deeds of their parents. So, individual repentance is required to be saved. Likewise, through the parable of the two sons that we heard in the Gospel, Jesus points out the responsibility of each of his listeners including you and me to repent and say “Yes” to God’s will. This can be possible only when Christians imitate the humility of Christ as Saint Paul portrays it in our second reading.

I recommend a personal reading of the whole chapter 18 of Ezekiel to better understand our first reading passage. In this chapter, Ezekiel deals with individual responsibility. The people used this proverb, “Parents eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are on edge” (Ezekiel 18: 2) to mean that their current suffering is a divine punishment for the sins committed, not by themselves, but by their parents in the previous generations. Ezekiel made it clear that this saying is not true, “… the life of the parent is like the life of the child…Only the one who sins shall die!” (vv. 3-4, NABRE). He gives different examples. In a scenario in which a righteous parent begets a wicked son, the righteous parent will live because he does what is right, but the wicked son will die because of his sins (see vv. 5-13). The second scenario is if a wicked parent begets a righteous son; the parent will die for his wickedness and the son will live for his righteousness (see vv. 14-18). Ezekiel tries to preach to them personal accountability: each individual is punished or rewarded for his/her own actions, but the people complain “Why is not the son charged with the guilt of his father?” (v. 19). Ezekiel gives a third scenario in which a wicked who repents is rewarded to life and a righteous who turns from virtues to wickedness is punished to death. (see vv. 21-24). However, the listeners of Ezekiel’s teaching do not want to accept that each person is judged for his/her own sins or merit. Moreover, the most scandal teaching that they find is the possibility of repentance and salvation that Ezekiel teaches. They do not accept that wicked people could escape destruction. They rebel against Ezekiel’s teachings when they say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” (v. 25). Here is where our first reading passage starts.

Ezekiel emphasizes two categories of people. The first category refers to the wicked who repent and the second to the righteous who turn away from God. Ezekiel commences by calling them to adjust their understanding of fairness. It is the actions of people that are unfair, not the actions of God. It is fair that the wicked who repent be saved and the righteous who turn away from God be condoned. Basically, Ezekiel calls them to individual responsibility to repent.

This reading is a wake-up call to us as well. It challenges us to stop blaming other people, particularly the previous generations, for the situations (especially spiritual ones) that we face today. Ezekiel teaches us that we should be responsible for our own actions. God rewards or punishes each individual based on his/her own deeds. Repentance is the key to eternal life. When we repent, all our past sins are not remembered anymore, and when we turn away from virtues to wickedness, all our past righteousness does not count anymore. The point here is to confess our sins all the time and repent whenever we turn away from God. Ezekiel emphasizes individual repentance. God’s justice (punishment of the wicked and reward of the righteous) is not passed down through the generations. Rather, it is a matter of personal decision. Therefore, each person is responsible for repenting his/her own sins, starting a one-on-one relationship with God, and maintaining this relationship.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues the same topic of two categories of people that we heard in the first reading: the wicked who repent and the righteous who turn away from God. Note that this episode takes place in the Jerusalem Temple where Jesus is confronted by the chief priests and elders who questioned his authority of teaching (see Matthew 21: 23-27). Our passage refers to the questions that these authorities asked him in v. 23 regarding the authority of his teaching, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (v. 23, NABRE). Instead of answering their questions, Jesus tells them the parable of the two sons to point out how these chief priests, elders, and all Jews who turn away from God miss the kingdom of heaven, on one hand, and on the other, sinners repent from their sins and are rewarded the kingdom of heaven.

The parable speaks of a man who had two sons. He asked the first son to go and work in the vineyard. This first son said no but afterward changed his mind and went. The man said the same thing to the second son. This one said yes but did not go. This parable is to answer this question: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” And the chief priests and elders gave a correct answer: “The first” (v. 31).

The allegory of this parable is that the vineyard is the kingdom of heaven on earth (Our Church, families, neighborhoods, societies); the man or father is God; the first son represents Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and all sinners who before had said “no” to the call of God but afterward repented and accepted to follow Jesus and worked in his “vineyard”. This first son corresponds to the first group of people described by Ezekiel in our first reading: the wicked people who repent. The second son refers to the Jews who first had said “yes” to God’s call but afterward said “no” by failing to accept Jesus and his teachings. This son corresponds to the second group of our first reading whom Ezekiel describes as the righteous who turn away from God.

Through this parable, Jesus calls the chief priests, elders, and each of us to the willingness to carry out the will of God to go to work in his vineyard (our parish, families, wherever we live) and transform it into God’s kingdom on earth. He wants the Pharisees and all of us to understand that our “yes” to God’s call is not a matter of inheritance from our parents in the previous generations. The Pharisees believed that they did not need conversion since they inherited the privilege of being “chosen people”. Likewise, many Christians today think that they will be saved from the faith of their parents or grandparents, so they do not need conversion or a personal relationship with God. Jesus here teaches us that to be “chosen people” and Christians implies a constant need for individual conversion, a one-on-one relationship with God, and individual responsibility to maintain this relationship.

To be able to do what Jesus calls us to, we need the gift of humility to always recognize our sins and repent so that we be in unity with God and with one another in our Church community and families. This is what Saint Paul teaches us in our second reading. He calls each of us to pursue unity in a spirit of humility. Paul commences the reading by giving the reason we Christians must pursue the way of unity: because we belong to Christ and participate in the Spirit, we out to consider ourselves as sharers in the “same mind” and “the same love” that flow from Christ (see vv. 1-2). Our unity will be most concretely displayed when we reject any form of selfishness and “regard others as more important than [ourselves], each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.” (Vv. 3-4).

Then, Paul portrays the humility of Jesus in an early Christian hymn (vv. 6-11) to give his people and all of us an example to follow. We can note two phases of Christ’s humility: First, his humility started when he decided not to grasp his divine nature but to become as lowly as a slave in human likeness (vv. 6-7). Second, his humility continues to the cross when he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (v.8). The result of his humility is the exaltation and privilege that he has received from God (vv. 9-11). This same exaltation is waiting for all believers who imitate the humility of Christ.

The scriptures today call us to say “yes” to God’s call to work in his vineyard (our Church community and families) and transform it into God’s kingdom on earth where all people live in unity. This implies individual repentance, a personal relationship with God, and an individual responsibility to maintain this relationship. Only humility like that of Christ can enable us to do that.  In this liturgy of the Mass, let us ask for God’s gift of humility and all graces that we need. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD  

 

  

 

 

 

 

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