Just a word… Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time…

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Just a word… Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time… September 27, 2020

Many years ago there was a play with a short run entitled “Jackie O,” in which the actress playing Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy came onstage at the beginning and asked the audience “Do you want to know who I am?” Scenes from Jackie’s famous life were sequenced giving the onlookers insights into her life. However, at the end of the play, Jackie’s character pronounced, “Now you may know many things about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, but you do not know me.” Hold that thought a minute…

Our gospel today presents us with two sons, both asked by the father to work in his vineyard. The first refuses, but having a change of heart goes to work. The second agrees to work but ends up not doing so. Case closed. But we know with Jesus it is not that easy. There is always a deeper story beneath the surface.

Many theologians equate the first son with tax collectors and prostitutes, those who listened to the word of God spoken through John the Baptist and repented, changing their minds and hearts, believing and following the Way. But with whom is the second son associated? Remember, Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day, the chief priests and the elders. These believed they were models of obedience. After all, they knew the law and followed it to a “T.” They practiced ritual purity, tithed, and followed the dietary laws. They were members of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Council, the Tribune of Jews. They were the ones who should have been leading others to God’s Kingdom. They did everything right in their estimation, except they forgot one thing…a little thing about God desiring mercy not sacrifice. They missed the point that when burnt offerings (or, the number of novenas one says) take precedence over fighting injustice, fathering the fatherless, welcoming the stranger and protecting the poor, sacrifices become an abomination to the Lord. They didn’t understand that the second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, is much like the first. And this brings us back to Jackie O. The Pharisees, like that audience in the theatre, knew many things, in this case about God, but perhaps they didn’t know the most important, the one thing that might have helped them, and us, begin to really know the heart of God, and that is God’s mercy.

The Good News of this gospel is that like the first son (and tax collectors and prostitutes) we can also change our mind, our direction in life. There is hope. Along with our human frailty, there is always a way back. And upon our return, God’s eyes and heart will be filled with mercy, that we might be filled with the same.

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