Gospel Reflection – Week 26 Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Sadly the tribal nature of humanity infects much of society. People outside our circle don’t matter. Worse than that, they are a threat. Those who come from a different country are aliens, unwelcome. Those who originate from a different bit of land should be seen as outsiders. Those who don’t look like us, who are a different colour, a different age, from a different educational background, a different sexual persuasion, don’t count. Yes, even those who are of a different religion. And so it goes on. And the worse it gets. Because ‘not counting’ leads to painful discrimination of the kind that Jesus’s ministry constantly called out.
In today’s Gospel Jesus clearly tells us that tax collectors and prostitutes enter the Kingdom of God. We are not the ones who get to choose, who get to judge. But, unfortunately, we can all too often use our religious zeal to not only bring others down in a manner of hatred, but to close ourselves off from the Kingdom of heaven in the process. It happened in the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry and it is happening now. Sadly, many of us befriend Jesus on our own terms, not on his. We use him, and the outward signs and actions of the faith, to corroborate our own unchanged attitudes, rather than to change us from within, to rebuild us. Even today, as regularly as ever, many people live and act and dress to set themselves apart as members of Christ, yet they actively bring painful, discriminatory pressure onto various groups of people. These were the groups that Christ went to in true love. These were the ones he cared about, shepherded, gave unfailing attention to and dedicated himself to building up.
We need continual conversion. We need to be brought outside the parochial smallness of our own ideas and lifestyles. We need to accept the challenge to trust in Jesus. Trusting him doesn’t mean shoehorning the Gospel into our ego to use as firepower against those we don’t like. No, trusting him is to let go of our ego, to abandon the bigotry and the high-held discriminations that we grew up with, and to let Jesus teach us afresh.
This is a painful process. Yes, it hurts. Being stripped of our former ways can feel like we are being dissolved. And indeed, that is what happens in the full light of the Gospel. With grace, the selfish and stupid elements of our lives can be burned away, to be replaced by the integrity of God. Often, the maladies that Christ heals us from aren’t already in our spiritual trash: no, they’re the things we cherish. But to listen to him back then, talking about us now, should be an inspiration for us to accept the changes he asks of us, to replace our stupidity and arrogance with his integrity. Or at least, to begin the journey. Yes: today’s Gospel is about us!
And we can begin by reading the Gospel prayerfully. As we do so, whoever we are, we can look at our own lives and find where it is that we are hateful, bigoted, unjust, tribal. Take away the excuses, the reasons, the long-held explanations. Look at it afresh. And we can make that our field for sowing love in the manner that Jesus taught. Could it hurt? Yes, but Jesus asks this of us: that we love humanity on his scale, on not our own.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: ‘What is your opinion?
A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today”.
He answered, “I will not go”, but afterwards thought better of it and went.
The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir”, but did not go.
Which of the two did the father’s will?’ ‘The first’ they said.
Jesus said to them,
‘I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.
For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.
The Gospel of the Lord.