Living Flame

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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

September 29, 2017

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Eze 18.1-4,25-32; Phil 2.1-11; Mt 21.28-32

Get yourself a Rifle and Fight

We have not been called to be pious saints sitting in the corner with hands folded in complacent contemplation. We are called to be soldiers in the army of Christ.

During the Revolutio4nary War a young man is reported to have come to George Washington and said: "General Washington, I want you to know that I believe in you and your cause. I fully support you." Washington graciously thanked him and asked the young man, "What regiment are you in? Under whose command do you serve? What uniform do you wear?" The young man answered, "Oh, I'm not in the army. I'm just a civilian." The general replied, "Young man, if you believe in me and my causes then you join the army. You put on a uniform. You get yourself a rifle and you fight."

That is Christ's summons to us. If we believe in him and the cause for which he died, then we are called to take up his cross and walk in his footsteps doing those good things that he would do if he were with us in the flesh today.

No one will steal Harry

A group of friends went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck.

"Where's Harry?" he was asked.
"Harry had a stroke of some kind. He's a couple of miles back up the trail."
"You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?"
"Well," said the hunter, "I figured no one was going to steal Harry."

First Catch the Rabbit

Haddon Robinson points out that one old recipe for rabbit started out with this injunction: "First catch the rabbit." Says Robinson: "The writer knew how to put first things first. That's what we do when we establish priorities - we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.

The Gospel of today speaks of doing God’s will and not just having an intention. That means we need to put first things first; what is first in our life? It is of course God’s will. How does that will of God manifest in our daily lives? It is through surrendering to God’s will again.

They failed to Keep God’s Law

Ezekiel, for his part, relayed this message from God to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, many of whom had come from the royal, priestly and wealthy families. Only a few years before Jerusalem's destruction, King Josiah had urged them to devote themselves anew to following the Mosaic Law. But their capital and Solomon's Temple were both gone. Surely they thought God had unfairly punished them, they whined – for hadn't they done what had been asked of them?

Not exactly, Ezekiel replied. What Jesus said of first-century Jews also had been spoken by Isaiah about their immediate pre-exilic ancestors. “These people honor Me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isa 29.13, Mk 7.6). When we exalt ourselves for this or that good deed or pious act, we risk developing the pride that can in fact turn us away from our fellow human beings. Such pride can lead us far away from God – farther away, in fact, than those who had the most sordid record of sin but have turned to God and turned their lives around. If they stay the course but the self-righteous remain blind to their own sins, who in the end will enter through Christ's narrow gate?

Be sure of My faithfulness, God says. But only those who fully realize that they don't deserve to enter heaven are most ready to trust in Me. And that is why the gate is narrow. Those who puff themselves up have a hard time getting through indeed.

He Humbled Himself

Now St. Paul enters our discussion. What proof do believers need that God wishes our attitude to be the opposite of pride? Look at “God-with-us” himself. Adam and Eve, giving in to the pride urged upon them by the serpent, literally tried to grasp equality with God in the Garden of Eden. But if anyone born of woman ever had the right to that equality, it was Jesus Christ – and, of course, He already possessed it as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity!

Instead, our Lord did the exact opposite. He who could have called for our absolute service at any moment on earth instead humbled Himself, served us and sacrificed Himself all the way to the cross. If God would so humble Himself for the sake of us lost and condemned humans, how can any of us ever be so proud as to think we deserve heaven?
Sacrifice for one another

With that in mind, Paul says, let us love each other as brothers and sisters (filios) and empty ourselves in self-sacrifice for each other (agape). Let us never think we are better than our neighbor. We are all lost and helpless before God – we all share the same sure and certain hope of heaven that He made possible for us. Only by living as Christ lived among us can we be exalted as He was.

The Two Sons

This brief parable is a favorite in children's religious-education classes, whether Catholic or Protestant. But we adults can fail to recognize ourselves in the vineyard. Do we obey our heavenly Father when we fail to follow through in answering His call? If we go to church, go through the motions and say the right things yet ignore our neighbor and serve ourselves first, how can we be sure of entering heaven before – or even after – those who wander for years but come to their senses and come back to Him in time?
The Warning

Jesus, who spoke this parable during Holy Week, was warning the Jewish leaders that they had fallen into the trap of pride. Like their ancestors in Ezekiel's time, they had forgotten that they were nothing without the God who had chosen them. John the Baptist, even as he announced the coming of the Messiah, had warned them that they had to repent. But now the Messiah had come and in fact was speaking to them – and still they allowed their pride to rule their hearts. Still they assumed that they had earned their way to heaven and those downtrodden wretches were doomed.
For God no one is far away

Guess what, Jesus is telling them – and us. Those “downtrodden wretches” are turning to Me! They are heeding their heavenly Father's call to work in his vineyard, tardy though they may be. They are humbling themselves. They recognize what you fail to recognize – that no human being born with Original Sin can ever hope to enter the narrow gate on his or her own. John tried to tell you.

For God it is never too Late

Now I'm telling you. It's not too late. But don't let your time run out. Humble yourselves. Learn from Me – and come to Me. Don't wait too long and find the gate closed forever.

Practical Conclusion

No matter how spiritual we may seem to be, if we are not sensitive to the needs of persons around us we are no better than the rich man at whose gate sat the beggar Lazarus. This is what St. Paul meant when he said, "If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing..." (I Cor 13.2) My guess is that St. Paul knew Christians who were so spiritual and yet so insensitive to the needs of others.

There is a story that comes out of the Second World War that will haunt you if you think about it. It is about a little Jewish boy who was living in a small Polish village when he and all the other Jews in the vicinity were rounded up by Nazi troops and sentenced to death. This boy joined his neighbors in digging a shallow ditch for their own graves. Then they were lined up against a wall and machine gunned. But none of the bullets hit the little boy. His naked body was splattered with the blood of his parents, and as he fell into the ditch he pretended to be dead. The grave was so shallow that the thin covering of dirt did not prevent him from breathing.

Several hours later, when darkness fell, this 10 year old boy crawled out of his grave. With blood and dirt caked to his little body, he made his way to the nearest home and begged for help. A woman answered the door and immediately recognized him as one of the Jewish boys marked for death by the Nazis. So she screamed at him to go away and slammed the door. Dirty, bloody, and shivering, this little boy limped from one house to the next begging for help. But he always got the same response. People were afraid to help.

Finally in desperation, he knocked on a door, and just before the lady of the house could tell him to leave, he cried out, "Don't you recognize me? I am the Jesus you say you love?" The lady froze in her tracks for what seemed like an eternity to the little boy. Then with tears streaming down her face she threw open her arms. She picked up the boy, and took him inside to safety.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that when we do it unto the least of these, we do it unto Him. Christian Discipleship is a call to availability. It is also a call to sensitivity.

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada