26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Ezekiel provides this weekend’s first reading. Pivotal in Jewish history was the time spent by Hebrew captives, and by their descendants, in Babylon, the capital of the then-powerful Babylonian Empire. This empire had overtaken the Promised Land militarily, in the process forever ending the two Hebrew independent kingdoms. Many survivors were taken to Babylon.
Occurring in the 6th century B.C., it simply is called the Exile. For the Hebrew people, the Exile was a heartbreaking time. They were so far from their homeland. The Exile seemed as if it would last forever. Indeed, it lasted for four generations. Quite likely many Jews fell away from the traditional religion of their ancestors.
These people were like people in any other time. For many, religion seemed to have failed them, at least as a guarantee of security.
During this time, Ezekiel wrote. He had to respond to the people’s despair. The prophet turns the tables. He confronts the people with their own sinfulness. Where is their devotion to God? How faithful have they been in being God’s people? No one realistically could have argued that there had been no sin. Who deserted whom?
In many first century Roman Empire communities, persons of many religious traditions lived side by side.
Quite likely, such was the case in Philippi. Jewish symbols and references appear in the Epistle, but in no sense was the city Jewish but actually thoroughly pagan, an important military base in the Roman Empire, situated in what now is Greece.
Considering that Christians were in the minority, the Epistle had to reinforce their commitment to the Lord and challenge them to withstand paganism.
This epistle magnificently and eloquently proclaims Christ, the Lord, as the Savior. This weekend’s reading is an example. Scholars think that this passage in fact was an ancient hymn, sung by early Christians when they met for worship.
St. Matthew’s Gospel, the third reading, recalls an encounter between Jesus and priests and elders. Religion was a favorite topic for everyone at the time, so Jesus would have intrigued priests and laypersons alike.
God is the father in this parable. The vineyard represents the people of Israel, God’s own, God’s chosen, borrowing a well-known image from the prophets.
Scholars suggest several possibilities regarding the two sons, but one suggestion is that the first son represents Israel; the next son represents gentiles and sinners. This last son, not the heir, is true to God.
The story glorifies the breadth of God’s love and the potential for human repentance.
While culture and environment significantly may affect religious practice, few people today think that genetic heredity and ethnicity, strictly speaking, limit or expand God’s love or the human ability to approach God.
Many, however, are angry with God, as were Ezekiel’s contemporaries, or they think that their sins have made them moral outcasts. No one is beyond God’s love. Every sinner can repent.
The readings this weekend very much are in the stream of readings heard during the weekends of late summer and now early fall. The Church is calling us to discipleship.
We all hear this call realizing that we are sinners. Our sin shames us, convincing us that we are strangers in God’s kingdom. We feel overwhelmed by our sins, or we are furious with God for this or that reason.
Everyone may repent. We first must recognize that our voluntary sinfulness has crippled us, maybe set us on a course toward ruin. Then, humbly, we must ask for forgiveness.
If we are as contrite as the second son in Matthew’s story, as wholehearted in our love for Jesus as is shown in the hymn in Philippians, then God will forgive us and welcome us to everlasting life.
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