Deacon Cornellís Homily


Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32


September 28-29, 2002, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

ďThe tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.Ē Jesus is telling this to the chief priests and the elders in the middle of one of the most action packed parts of Matthewís Gospel. The section starts with Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. From that triumphant procession, the author takes us to the cleansing of the temple. From there we hear about the cursing of the fig tree that bore no fruit and then right before the story we heard today, the chief priests and elders confront Jesus and ask him on what authority does Jesus teach and do all these things. Jesus says that he will tell them on whose authority if they answer one question: Was John the Baptistís baptism from God or from people. The chief priests and the elders refuse to answer because they know if they say from God, Jesus will ask why they did not accept Johnís baptism. If they say from man, they are afraid of the wrath of the crowds gathered for the high holy days because they consider John a prophet.

Then Jesus tells them this story. Coupled with the piece of Ezekiel we heard today, Godís way is hard for those listening to Jesus to understand because of the way they think about God. Some two thousand years later it is still hard for most of us to understand. If we think about this from the point of view of balancing accounts, then it does not seem right that someone who lives a life of sin and at the very end experiences a conversion should get the same reward of entering the kingdom of God as someone who lives their whole life according to the law. Nor does it seem fair that someone who lives a life according to the law but then turns from God in sin should lose everything.

The problem of course is that Godís ways are not our ways. We try to make God over in our image. We imagine that we have to obey the commandments and live a life of goodness so that God will love us. We earn Godís love. As long as we think this way, what God tells Ezekiel to prophesize makes no sense. I think it is safe to say that most of us think that is how it works: God holds back his love until we are good, and then God extends his love and favor to us. The reality in the kingdom of God is exactly the opposite. First God loves us. When we start to realize how deeply God loves us and wants to shower us with his blessings, the more we respond by loving God back. Anyone living a life in deep love with God will naturally lead a ďgoodĒ life. It is Godís love that allows us to keep the commandments and live a good life.

With this model in mind, the Lordís ways as revealed through Ezekiel start to make sense. Regardless of what I have done in the past, once I start to realize how much God loves me, and I start to respond to that love, I will start to fill my heart with the love of God. That is entering the kingdom of heaven. This doesnít mean that there are no consequences to all the bad things I might have done in the past. If I am truly fill with Godís love, I will be driven by that love to seek out those I have hurt and try to repair that hurt. But once I have let God into my heart, there is no room for sin, past or present.

Conversely, regardless of how I have live my life up to now, if I turn away from Godís love and close up my heart to God, I will have lost the kingdom of God because I have cast God out of my life.

So what does all this have to do with you and me? Everything. If the way salvation works is that first we become aware of Godís love for us, and then we enter into his kingdom by responding in love, then salvation doesnít happen unless we become aware of Godís love. How does God make us aware? Through human beings. As we listen to Paulís hymn of praise for the most important act of Godís plan for salvation, we hear that it starts by God the son becoming human, so that all humans might better know the depth of Godís love for us. And now that Jesus no longer walks the earth, he has called us to continue his mission of making Godís love real to people here on earth. So in baptism we say we will do our Fatherís will. We say that we will ďput on ChristĒ and become his body here on earth. Then we come together here again and again at the table of the Eucharist to be formed more deeply into the body of Christ so that when we leave here, we make Godís love present to the world out there. We donít come here to get away from the world, to be some elite group that has it made. We come here so that we might have the grace to go out and bring Godís love to the ones who need it most, regardless of their social status. Because salvation starts with Godís love being delivered through human instruments. Without baptism, without people being formed into the body of Christ, there is no salvation.

Letís make sure we are not like the son who said he would do the fatherís bidding but doesnít. Letís all mean it when we pray in a few minutes: thy kingdom come, thy will be done. And realize that we have been called to be the instruments to bring about that kingdom.

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