Sep. 30, 2017

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY, A -2017

“REGARD OTHERS AS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOURSELF”

Readings: 1st- Ezk. 18:25-28; 2nd- Phil. 2:1-11; Gospel- Matt. 21:28-32

The statement above is one of those in the scripture that makes the reader say to himself, “I think I am in trouble here”. To tell us to regard others as more important than ourselves looks quite delusive. It is like Christ telling us to turn the other cheek when someone slaps us. I’m guilty of this myself. How many times do I regard others as more important than myself? Most times, I feel I should be the one who is helping the other not the one receiving help. It is called “omnipotent control” in defense mechanisms. Omnipotent control makes us flaunt our ego; makes us feel crushed when someone dares us, or challenges our viewpoint. We feel we can’t let go, else we be termed weak, cowards. We get entangled in heated arguments about who is right, and who is wrong. Sometimes, we even consider ourselves very righteous before God; maybe it is the way God looks at us that is wrong not what we do.

That’s what happens in the first reading of today. The Israelites cry out in their suffering. They ask questions, “Is it right that we should be on exile in Babylon? What did we commit by the way? Isn’t it our fathers who committed the sin? Why then should we be punished?” The prophet Ezekiel brings them back to their senses. He reminds them of divine justice and the need for humility; “You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair. Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” Ezekiel corrects one wrong impression; the people must take responsibility for their actions and inactions. They must be humble to accept their mistakes.

The gospel presents a picture of two contrasts. The father approaches the first son with a request to go and work in his vineyard. This first son gives consent to do it but doesn’t go. The father presents the same request to the second son, who refuses to go but eventually goes to do the father’s will. Jesus’ plan here is to teach the priests and elders of the Pharisees how their pride has affected their religious worship. The Jewish law already gives the worst categorization to tax collectors and prostitutes. For the elders and the priests, such people are the real sinners and deserve condemnation. They are the bad guys. But Jesus pulls the trick here by using the contrast of the two brothers to denounce such attitude. The Pharisees are like the first son. They appear to say yes to the commandments. They wear long robes and observe the sabbath. Yet they lack humility to look inwards and discover their sins.

Yes, the tax collectors and prostitutes refuse to accept the Father’s request initially by their actions. They take bribes, mess up their bodies. But they come back to their senses. We can recall Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:1-10). We can recall the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11). We can recall Matthew (Matt. 9:9-13). We can recall the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32). These are examples of those who say no at first, then later accept the invitation and honor the Father. The key to that episode is seen in Jesus’ statement, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21: 31).

Today’s readings call for introspection. There are two things here: our view of ourselves and our view of others. Naturally, we consider ourselves as more important, always correct and mostly superior. The example of Jesus is placed before us. Saint Paul presents him in the Christological hymn; Christ must be the center and focus of our Christian lives, “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

As a human being, be open to change, open to adjustment, open to correction. Be open to forgiveness, ready to let go, willing to give up what you hold so dear, usually your ego. That’s the way of Jesus, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped”. There is this MercyMe song that says, “Lord I lift your name on high. Lord I love to sing your praises. I’m so glad you’re in my life. I’m so glad you came to save us… You came from heaven to earth, to show us the way. From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay. From the Cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky, Lord I lift your name on high”. That’s it. Jesus nails it. He comes all the way from heaven to earth, keeping aside every heavenly greatness for our sake.

Let us change our mindset from an “IBO” approach to an “OBI”. An “IBO” approach means “I Before Others”. It is the omnipotent control mentality. The ego wars that rage on among married couples. The struggle over superiority among brothers and sisters. The authority mindedness among friends. The confrontational tendencies among nations and leaders. The selfish inclinations among colleagues, etc. Such is the product of an “IBO” mentality and has downsides at the end. It shuts down the correct self-evaluative lens. It thwarts spirituality. The “OBI”-“Others Before I” is what Christ teaches. At first, it may look belittling, but it pays off at the long run. That’s why Christ remains victorious today- “Because of this, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth”.

May God give us the grace to turn from pride and ego mentality to a humble heart. Amen.