I began my daily run this morning and experienced a “scandal”. There was a little pebble in my shoe. The word for “scandal” derives from the Greek word for “little pebble”. The longer I ran the more like a stone and then a rock it was feeling. When I finally did stop to untie the shoe and feel around for the boulder, it had suddenly reduced its size embedded in the ball of my foot. It wasn’t much, but it had been.
We pray with our little and large experiences of life. We become unbalanced when the little gets magnified by our selfishness, our demandingness, and our inner longings for order and control. We can pray with the pebbles, the things that scandalize us. In truth we scandalize ourselves. We can make so much of what actually is small about others, about ourselves.
As we prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist, we might pray with the little bothers of life and especially the little pebbles of others which get into our comfort-shoes. We can muchilise, dramatize, exaggerate and over-generalize comments made, neglectings experienced, and the scratches which we can make into gashes. These are all very good little pebbles to ask to be blessed and perhaps healed at the Eucharist by the Lord who embraced all of our littleness.
We hear in the First Reading from the prophet Ezekiel the conclusion of a rather lengthy protest from God against a certain complaint from the House of Israel. As in the readings from last-week’s liturgy, there is a tension between what we might think is fair and how God sees fairness. The basic question underlying this passage is about the right consequences of sin.
Earlier in this chapter, we read verses which we have heard in other weekend liturgies. Briefly, I am responsible for your sin too if I do not warn you about your actions and their consequences. Our verses deal with God’s attitude toward a sinner if she or he does repent. The last verse of the chapter, which we do not hear today, is a call from God to “repent and live!” Living is a result of virtue and death a choice one makes by turning from the virtues which give life.
Living rightly and justly is comprised of relating gratefully and acting justly toward God by accepting God’s laws and commands concerning life. Virtue is the attitude flowing from the acceptance that God is pure good and sharing that goodness with God’s family. Justice is gratitude for what has been offered and living with that sense in our hearts and actions. The call to repent is the call to resume the receptive attitude which allows God to be personally good. Sin is an attitude of injustice whose actions put us exclusively at the center of our goodness.
We are called in this reading to again choose life and if and when we stray, God’s unfair mercy waits for our return. This return is a free relational process, blest by God, but not forced. God is not unfair when God allows us to stray, nor unfair when by our strayings, we die to the real sense of human life. Sin can lead to many forms of death, not all are purely physical.
We continue hearing parables in today’s liturgy, and will for these next three weeks. Last week we heard about the early and late hired grape pickers all getting the same check. Today we hear of the “Yes and No” sons. Again Jesus is directing His teachings toward the scribes and elders of Israel. The tax collectors and prostitutes had said with their lives,” No!” to the call of the vineyard. Yet, by listening to the call of Jesus their choices are a strong “Yes!” as they repent. The “elders and scribes” have been living a “yes”, but do not respond to the invitations of Jesus. They do not gain entrance into the kingdom as do the former sinners. So the religiously upright elders do have a problem with Jesus’ being so mercifully inclusive. They hear this parable and understand it to mean that though they have said yes, by their refusal to follow Jesus, they do not belong. This is a very hard saying and little story.
We are both yes-ers and no-ers. Our faith is an orientation toward trusting God’s care and mercy. We stumble over that “yes” when the hardnesses of life spin our minds and hearts around and we say “no!” by our not wanting to deal with, accept, or live through all that life might give us. We can live a “No” as well by not allowing ourselves to go into the vineyard of life, because we can not accept forgiveness. The tax collectors and prostitutes were included, because they allowed their lives to be changed, their images of themselves to be rearranged by Jesus’ merciful touch. It is difficult to go into the missions of our faith, when we are dragging our nasties along behind us always reminding us of who we say we are.
Actions do speak louder than words. Our actions can move beyond our feelings. The “no” brother took his place in the vineyard with many of the early followers of Jesus. Peter protested his “no”, but got up and followed Jesus. Jesus spent His life of redeeming people’s image of themselves. Their resurrection of spirit was their entrance into the vineyard and kingdom of God. The Pharisees just had a very hard time with this new kind of relationship with God and sometimes, we do too.
“O Lord, remember the words You spoke to me, your servant, which made me live in hope and consoled me when I was downcast.” Ps. 119, 49-50
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