Theme: Believe and be responsible
The ability to change one’s mind is a necessary aspect of Christian living. It is my responsibility as a believer to have my attitude aligned to the mind of God. This attitude is revealed throughout the Bible. The process of changing one’s mind results in a life-changing experience called conversion that is so deep to be termed a metanoia in Greek and shubh in Hebrew which means an about turn, seemlier to change of direction.
First reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28
Today Ezekiel teaches us about Conversion. As long as a person draws breath, it is never too late to exercise the privilege of changing one’s mind. Conversion requires communal solidarity but also individual responsibility. Every Hebrew treasured the sense of belonging to a community and organically was affected by good deeds and misdeeds of other members. So pervasive was this notion of corporate responsibility until it was believed that generations yet to come would suffer the consequences of past and present individuals. It was presumed that all of Jerusalem fell as punishment for the sins of Manasseh reported in 2Kings 24:3-4. A popular proverb quoted by both Jeremiah and Ezekiel gives poetic expression to this belief, “Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus the children’s teeth are on edge” cf. Jeremiah 31:29 and Ezekiel 18:2.
It was not until the time of exile which resulted into the destruction of religious and political institutions that there emerged a new emphasis on the individual responsibility. Ezekiel, as prophet and sharer in their exile experience, helped them to understand that while the value of the community was not to be denied, innocence, guilt and retribution were to be assessed individually. His contemporaries complained that they were suffering for sins they had not committed and cried out, “the Lord’s way is not fair!” Ezekiel 18:25, Ezekiel helped them to realize that their own sins had perpetrated their suffering and there was no need for blame game. He assures them that they are not burdened by the baggage of their ancestors’ sins; nor their own evil past deeds but their current behavior. Instead of crying out against God, Ezekiel urged them to seize the opportunity being afforded them by God’s mercy. “If only you would turn from evil and do what is right and good, God would surely preserve you” Ezekiel 18:28.
Just as each sinner is culpable only for his/her own wrong doing, so also is each sinner responsible for exercising his prerogative to change his mind and to make a decision about the future direction of his/her life. Here is a practical example: There was a person who was very accomplished and wealthy. Unfortunately he had been widowed for about six months and, in his grief, was contemplating suicide. As he sat in his Mercedes Benz with pistol in hand, prepared to put an end to his sorrow, the sound of a nearby rifle shot brought him to his senses. At that point he realized that three things had to begin to take place in his life. 1-undergo a change in his perception of self; 2-shift the center of gravity in his life; 3-make a decision about his future. In a word, this man had to change his mind. Conversion demands personal responsibility; like the prodigal son, we have to acknowledge that I have sinned.
Second reading: Philippians 2:1-11
It is assumed that the Philippians probably met in the home of Lydia; a traveling merchant from Thyatira. Lydia sold luxurious purple-dyed cloth and evidently was successful enough to own a home in Philippi large enough to accommodate the first Christian converts in that city cf. Acts 16:12-15, 40. At the same time the household structure provided a rich and fertile setting for the holy and wholesome development of the early Christian community referred to as the Church in the home due to the following reasons: 1-The setting provided the most dynamic environment for worship. 2-It contributed to the experiential understanding of the Church’s essence as a family of God. 3- It was culturally relevant since it provided a decentralized freedom for creative expression within variations cultural settings. 4- It nurtured healthy social integration. 5-It positively influenced the development of Church leaders. 6- It offered the strength of the community to each individual’s effort at conversion. 7- It kept believers attuned to their responsibilities for mutual service and hospitality. 8- It provided a network for receiving and sending early missionaries of the gospel.
Paul was sensitive to the importance of the individual house churches that he advised the Christians of Philippi and all readers that the attitude which inspired and informed every communal interaction must be the attitude of Jesus. Only by making their own the attitude and mind of Jesus could they hope to love and support one thus being called Christians.
In order to illustrate the manner in which believers should share one love and be united in the same spirit and ideals, without rivalry or conceit, Paul quotes how Jesus did not demand that his rightful status as God’s equal be recognized. Rather, he divested himself of every right, even the right to life. In loving obedience to a plan of God the Father, he emptied himself. The Greek verb, kenoun/empty, means that Jesus, by his own choice, was rendered powerless and ineffective, just as slaves in the ancient world were regarded as having no power or influence. In its present context, this hymn reminds us that putting on the mind of Christ in order to live lovingly with one another in community requires a self-emptying and divestiture of rights, honors and privileges. To assume Christ’s attitude is to look to the interest of others rather than to one’s own. Although this selflessness may entail suffering, it is also the path to glory.
Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32
When his opponents attempted to muddy the message with their objections and rejections, Jesus’ parables restored a clarity that could not be denied. As the parable of the two sons unfolds anew today, each one of us is challenged to accept the nurture and the push it offers. Today’s gospel is addressed to the chief priests and elders in defense of Jesus’ inclination for associating with sinners. No doubt, Jesus’ listeners recognized themselves in his parable. The Jewish leaders persistently rejected the good news proclaimed by Jesus even when the clarity was obvious. The figure of the son who first refused to do as his father requested, but then later regretted his decision and obeyed, must have extended nurture and hope to tax collectors and sinners. Even though their lives had initially been lived in opposition to holiness, they had heeded the message as preached by John the Baptist and by Jesus and exercised their prerogative to change their mind. As a result, they were promised a share in the kingdom of God.
It is obvious that the yes-sayers symbolize the Jews while the no-sayers symbolize the Gentiles. Jesus’ welcome to tax collectors is meant to point ahead to the Church’s welcome to the Gentiles. Today we learn that none of the sons was perfect; both fell short of the ideal of accepting their father’s will and then acting upon it in loving obedience. Clearly both sons, like the rest of humankind were flawed by sin but the younger one opted for conversion. The critical and life-saving difference between the two is the fact that the young one has the good sense to remember the love of his father, to turn form evil and do what was right. Each of us is afforded a similar opportunity by a loving forgiving God. Will you exercise your prerogative as a believer to change your mind? The answer my friend is deep in heart.
We need consistent conversion from our evil habits to God’s ways of goodness and then we shall live. Conversion demands humility and empting of oneself so as to put on Christ. The parable of the two sons requests us to imitate the example of the second son. Despite his refusal to do his father’s request, he regretted his decision, changed his mind and fulfilled his father’s will. Today’s liturgy therefore, extends a clever warning that we should never dare to put off the opportunity of reasoning properly about what the Father is asking us to do. It is a privilege given once! Our aim should be to be converted and live.