Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 25 September 2011
Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32
What is your image of yourself in terms of spirituality and concern for social justice? It is amazing how, once we’ve formed an opinion of ourselves or of others, we stick to it, irrespective of present reality. I love the saying that our God is the God of second chances. We don’t have to remain stuck in the past imprisoned by previous failures; we can move on and become more the selves that God has created us to be. But there is a flip side to that: just because our lives used to be lived out of faith and love, does not necessarily mean that that reality pertains now. The prophet Ezekiel warns us to pay attention to our present reality which determines how we stand before God now. A sinful past does not disqualify us from God’s grace, but neither does a righteous past earn us immunity in the present.
Jesus tells his parable of the two sons to a group of people who were very confident of their own righteousness. He wants to shock them into realizing that their skill at saying the right things has lulled them into a sense of spiritual complacency. They don’t see that their actions actually contradict their words. Instead, it is those who seemed to have turned their backs upon the religious conventions and expectations of the day that are ending up answering God’s call in Jesus Christ. It is not those who say the right things, but those who actually follow through that do the will of God.
But in addition to the warning against complacency, Jesus and Ezekiel also have a strong message of hope. We are not stuck in our past. Whatever we have said or done, the path is still open to God. As the psalm reminds us, God’s mercy and kindness does not only forgive us, but also leads us to a better future. Our hope rests in God’s goodness, not our own. And what does that better way look like? Paul exhorts us to be Christ-like. That means not being overly concerned about saying the right things and being seen to be good, but living a life of self-giving love. Paradoxically, when we’re too concerned about being righteous and spiritual, we become less so. Self-absorption replaces genuine love. Paul’s advice is to take the focus off of ourselves and to direct it lovingly to others.