ORDINARY 26 (A)
Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him. – Mt. 21: 32
A Sunday school teacher was telling her class of youngsters about heavenly rewards & crowns of glory for those who believed & led good lives. At the close of the lesson, she asked, “Now tell me, who will get the biggest crown?” After a moment of silence one small voice said, “The one with the biggest head.”
In this week’s Gospel, our Lord makes it a bit sticky for some sinners who have big heads: the pious, church-going, self-righteous religious leaders of His time. Why? Because they used religion as a showcase for their own virtue. They used God to attain public esteem, & worse still, to confirm their own self-esteem. Because of their self-centeredness, egoism & pride, they were unwilling to conform their lives to the will of God.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for practicing an “insiders religion;” for conducting themselves as insiders who had all the inside information; for not being open to the possibility of some new revelation, some surprising insights into the divine. They had forgotten that God always has a further word for us.
During a Sunday sermon, a baby began to cry at the top of his voice. The child’s mother immediately left her pew with her child & headed for the church door. The priest exclaimed, “Stop! Your baby isn’t disturbing me.” Turning around, the mother responded, “Maybe not, but you’re disturbing him.”
Jesus has a disturbing word for us in this week’s Gospel. There are, He assures us, harlots & gangsters in this world who are closer to salvation than some of us pillars of the church. What does He mean by this? Put simply, he means that such people at least know that they are sinners. The self-righteous, on the other hand, do not acknowledge their sinfulness, even to themselves.
In his book, People of the Lie, Dr. M. Scott Peck says the problem with evil people is not that they do not want to do or be good, but that they desperately need to APPEAR to be good. It’s a defense mechanism for deflecting suspicion away from their true nature. We all do that to a certain extent. However, we rarely take it to the extremes that genuinely evil people will. For example, the notorious BTK serial killer was a Deacon in his local church & a Boy Scout master.
Our Lord doesn’t invite us to Mass in order to proclaim our virtues to the world, but to acknowledge our sinfulness. He is asking us to admit that we do NOT know it all, to hear the word of God always in an attitude of expectancy. He is asking us to remember that God’s word is filled with surprises.
A story is told of a pompous bishop of Oxford, England who was stopped by a ragged urchin on a London street. “Well, my little man, & what can I do for you?” The boy said, “The time of day, please, your lordship.” With some difficulty the portly bishop extracted his time piece & proclaimed, “It is exactly half-past 5, my lad.” Setting his feet for a good start, the boy replied, “Well, at half-past 6 you go to hell,” & he was off like a flash & ran around the corner.
The bishop, furious & with his watch dangling from its chain, floundered wildly after him. But as he rounded the corner, he ran smack into the Bishop of London, who asked, “My dear bishop, why this unseemly haste?” The outraged bishop gasped out, “That young ragamuffin – I told him it was half-past five, & he told me to go to hell at half-past six.” To which the Bishop of London replied, “Yes, yes, but why such haste? You’ve got almost an hour.”
Now is the time to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is here. We haven’t got almost an hour. There isn’t a moment to spare. AMEN!