By Anne Strachan

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 28, 2014

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

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation" (Ps 25).

To pray this psalm is to ask for God’s mercy. If we’re humble, then this is a good beginning toward a deeper, truer path in this life.

This doesn’t mean our life journey won’t hold both sin and intense trials. Even when we go astray — and we often do — if we enter into a spirit of prayer and service, asking for forgiveness and healing, God will set us once again on the right path toward ultimate salvation.

Jesus is God’s son. And yet, he was also a human being. Like us, Jesus prayed the psalms. These prayers run the full gamut of human emotion and behaviour. At times they can be harsh, but then they switch to a message of true humility. Jesus was humble; he was — and is — not afraid to give of himself to other human beings who were — and are — a complex mixture of sinner and saint.

St. Paul says: “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 . . . And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”

We’re human, too. But unlike Jesus, we inevitably sin. We don’t always reach out to others in their need. Again St. Paul writes: “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.” In other words, we might begin again, without fear or self-centredness, to open our hearts. As Pope Francis says, “A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

God is merciful. And thank God for this gift of mercy. We need it! We’re a mixture of good and evil. The prophet Ezekiel doesn’t mince words when he talks about our sins and how, if we don’t cease sinful behaviour, it will bring us ultimately to death. But then he proclaims if we turn away from our wickedness, we shall live. When we pray and then do good works to counter our sinfulness, God manifests mercy. This brings hope into our lives. Jesus personified mercy; he asks us to do the same.

Jesus recounts a parable to the chief priests and elders of the people — who were rather self-important — about a man who had two sons. He says to the first, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” This son rebels; he reacts with arrogance. But then he takes a deep breath, relents, and goes to work. The second son smoothly agrees to go to the vineyard; however, ultimately he disobeys his father. He doesn’t show up. Jesus then asks them, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” And they respond, “The first.”

Jesus then chastises these leaders: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John (the Baptist) came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him . . .” These chief priests and elders — and we — need to become humble again.

After all, we aren’t very different from both sons. Sometimes we react in ways that are arrogant or defensive. When someone asks us to do something, we respond, “No way!” But then we take a deep breath and begin to do what the person asked us. Other times we respond with a gushing “Yes, of course!” but then we fail to live up to our promise.

To be deeply aware of little moments in our lives is both gift and challenge. If we disappoint someone, if we’re arrogant or dismissive, then we need to repent and begin again to serve our hurting world.

To listen to another person, to give of ourselves even in the simplest encounter, is a gift both for them and us. Such meetings are profound. But we need to pay attention to our path. And if this path is uphill or downright mountainous, God will help us to step forward and upward.

The Rule of St. Benedict says: “Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners. After that, you can set out for the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we mentioned above, and under God’s protection you will reach them.”

“Good and upright is the Lord . . . he leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Ps 25).

Strachan is married with three grown children and lives in Nakusp, B.C. She is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask., and a member of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.

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