September 28, 2008, Year A
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reflection on the Readings
Theme: The Light Shines in the Darkness
Those who repent enter the kingdom.
Two sons. Two responses. The two represent two types of people. Jesus describes why tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom ahead of the unrepentant Chief Priests and elders. The issue is their disbelief of John the Baptist and his preaching concerning the way of righteousness.
Jesus was constantly at odds with those who sat in Moses' seat. While he ate with tax collectors and sinners, they were placing burdens on the people that were impossible to carry. Working at remaining undefiled was there preoccupation. The effort to look righteous did not translate into being righteous. That Jesus was a friend of sinners drew the ire of the self righteous. Wandering around lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes made Jesus suspect. As St. John in his gospel explains, In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4, 5) And he who bore witness to that light that all might believe through him was none other than John the Baptist.
To not believe in John and the way of righteousness he preached was to not believe in Jesus. John bore witness to the true light that enlightens every man, and it was this light whom John declared was coming into the world. At last John would say of him, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Having prayerful regard for what is the need of others is the evangelization that will mark this century. We who have received much are admonished to have the attitude of Christ who emptied himself. This refers not to something Jesus needed to do to be a better Jesus. It is the description of an embracing of the world to himself, a giving of himself that calls us to stop hugging ourselves to death and to seek and save that which is lost. If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, do nothing out of vainglory and selfishness.
There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The Pharisees always saw themselves as one of the niney-nine. If we follow in the tradition of the Church and the message that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, then it follows that we should not think of ourselves more highly than is prudent. It is the light that shines in darkness that must always be allowed to penetrate the deepest and darkest terrain of our souls. We are sinners who are saved by grace, but salvation is not a one time event. If it was, the sacraments of the Church would not be needed. St. Paul who was converted on the road to Damascus also told us we are to grow in Christ and in the knowledge of his love. To grow in Christ is to grow in righteousness. To grow in righteousness is to live in a state of repentance. Indeed if any man is in Christ he is a new creation. The old is passing away and all things are new. There is a lot about me that isn't new enough yet.
The Pharisees believed God to be unfair. They saw tax collectors and harlots repenting and entering into the Kingdom. For them, to mix and mingle with outcasts and untouchables, and join in their repentance was to become defiled and unclean. Amazing. The same light that leads some blinds others. Let us not be overcome by the darkness that seeks to keep us from the light of Christ. Nor let us fail to let our light shine so that all may see our good works and glorify God.
Opposition to what is good and holy will always be with us. As long as we remain beggars eager to tell the other beggars where we found the bread, shining the special light of Christ on the path to the door of the Kingdom, then will our joy be complete.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, cast out all darkness in me. It is the light of your love I invite into the cracks and crevices of my heart. Help that what comes out of my mouth to always be the expressions of a grateful heart, grateful for the light that eliminates the darkness of my innermost being. Amen.