Oct. 1: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 13, 2023

We are sinners

Ez 18:25-28; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

“Which of the two [sons] did his father’s will?” (Mt 21:28). Was it the one who refused his father’s request to work in the family’s vineyard, but then had a change of heart, or the one who said the he was going honor his father’s request but failed to do so? Which of the two got it right? The answer is not as obvious as we might think.

It is, of course, essential that people’s deeds match their words, so it would seem that the son, who said he was going to work in the vineyard but never did was in the wrong. Still, the other son was not entirely blameless. He had dishonored his father by his initial refusal to work in the vineyard.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, a son’s blatant refusal to honor his father’s wishes was a serious offense to his father’s honor. For a son to so dishonor his father was simply unthinkable. Eventually going off to work in the vineyard was not enough to repair the damage caused by the son’s initial disregard of his father’s wishes. Both sons failed their father.

Jesus wished that all who heard him would recognize themselves as sinners in need of repentance. This was easy enough for the tax collectors and prostitutes. Their sins were known to everyone.

Many responded to Jesus’ call for repentance, so Jesus asserts that they are “entering the kingdom of God” ahead of those who considered themselves to be righteous. Jesus implies that the “righteous” were like the son who said he would work in the vineyard but did not go. The people who thought of themselves as righteous failed to respond to Jesus’ call for repentance since they believed that they had no reason to repent.

A truth fundamental to our life with God is the recognition that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). It is easy enough to recognize the failures of those whose lives are subject to public scrutiny. It is much more difficult to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our own need for repentance.

The prophet Ezekiel spoke the words of today’s first lesson to people who could not deny their failures, as individuals and as a community. The consequences of those failures were impossible to ignore. Jerusalem and its temple were in ruins. The temple’s priests were scattered. Many Judeans were forced to migrate to Mesopotamia — far from the land promised to their ancestors. The Kingdom of Judah and its ruling dynasty were no more.

In one sense, these people were more fortunate than we are. Denial and shifting of responsibility were not possible for them. Ezekiel assures the people that their sins do not mean the end of their relationship with God. Repentance is the key to reconstituting their relationship with God. The prophet assumes that people can and ought to change the way they live. 

If we do not recognize that “[we] have sinned are deprived of the glory of God,” we will not respond to Jesus’ call for repentance. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we begin by acknowledging our sins and asking for forgiveness. 

What do we think about in those moments of silence when we stand alone before God? If we recognize that we are sinners, then we can begin the process of change.

The people we have become are the consequence of decisions that we have made and actions that we have taken. We need to take responsibility for the people we have become. More than this, we must recognize that we are not always the kind of people that God created us to be. Developing a sense of sin is healthy and necessary for us to grow into genuinely loving persons

Ezekiel speaks to people who have little choice but to be honest with themselves. They recognize that they are not only capable of doing evil but have in fact been guilty of it. The prophet assures such people that if they change, they can have a new life with God. 

Make no mistake about it though — changing is not easy. It is impossible unless we admit that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.


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