26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Sunday Church at Home
during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic
Not one who says, but one who does.
The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:
Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
All reply: Amen
Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All reply: Blessed be God for ever
Leader: Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection set the pattern which we are called to live out in our daily lives.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
First Reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28
Introduction to the reading: Ezekiel was an Old Testament prophet who ministered to the Jewish people exiled in Babylon six centuries before Christ. In today’s reading, he takes up a question we have probably asked ourselves: Is God fair or unfair in his dealings with people?
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
Thus says the Lord: “You say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
The word of the Lord.
Responsorial psalm: Psalm 25:4-5.6-7.8-9
R/: Remember your compassion, O Lord.
O Lord, make me know your ways.
Teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth, and teach me;
for you are the God of my salvation.
I have hoped in you all day long.
Remember your compassion, O Lord,
and your merciful love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth,
nor my transgressions.
In your merciful love remember me
because of your goodness, O Lord.
Good and upright is the Lord;
He shows the way to sinners.
He guides the humble in right judgement;
to the humble he teaches his way.
R/: Remember your compassion, O Lord.
Second reading: Philippians 2:1-11
Introduction to the reading: Paul wrote from prison to his Christian converts in Philippi, a city in what is today north-eastern Greece. While he was in prison, the Philippians had sent someone to bring money for his support and to stay with him. Paul thanks them by quoting an early Christian hymn which he felt described Christ as a model for the way all Christians should live.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Word of the Lord.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord, and I know them, and they follow me.
Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
At that time: Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Reflection on the Readings
The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.
About 30 years ago, a young Australian woman called Margaret was travelling around India on the hippy trail. She was seeking – as she put it – spiritual enlightenment and the two other things that generally go along with rock and roll. And one day, when she was in Calcutta, she was walking through a little dark alley a long way off the main thoroughfare, when she came across a small boy who looked about 5 years old and, apparently, had been beaten and left to die in the gutter. His little body was covered with bruises, bites, cuts, sores and all kinds of injuries. But he was still alive. She didn’t know what to do, but she had to do something. She couldn’t bear to leave him there. So, she did the only thing she could think of – she brought him to Mother Theresa’s hospice in Calcutta. And she asked if she could bring the child into the house. And that was fine. So she carried him in and laid him down on one of the beds.
And then she went away back to her hotel. But she didn’t sleep well that night. She needed to know if he was going to be all right. So the next morning, she went back to see him. He was still very ill. And it just didn’t feel right to leave him there and go away. So, she asked if she could stay for a day or two and help to look after him. And so she did. She nursed the child devotedly day and night. And, after about a week, as the child started to improve, she began to help with nursing the other sick people in the hospice. Days became weeks. After about three months, Mother Theresa came to her while she was working and – without any unnecessary preliminaries – simply asked her whether she had ever considered entering religious life.
Margaret was very taken aback, but also moved and flattered by the offer, because she knew that it was very unusual for Mother Theresa to ask people directly to join her congregation. But she said. “Well, you see, I’m actually not at all religious. Both my parents are atheists. I’ve never been to church in my life. I’ve never even been baptised. I’m not sure I’m really the sort of person that becomes a nun.” “Oh,” said Mother Theresa, “Don’t worry about that. When the actions of the heart are right, the words of the mind will follow.”
And that, I think, is what both Paul and Jesus are telling us today.
Paul had great affection for the community in Philippi. Philippi was an important Roman colony and its inhabitants enjoyed favour under Roman law. Military veterans settled there and Caesar Augustus exempted the city from many taxes. Paul had had a vision that summoned him to preach in Philippi (Acts 16:9). It was the first European city evangelized by Paul and his companions Silas and Timothy. The Christian community in Philippi had supported Paul and he had warm relations with them, as evidenced in the letter. When Paul wrote to the Philippians he was in prison (1:7, 13, 14, 17), probably in Ephesus.
During his arduous travels it must have given Paul encouragement and good feelings whenever he thought of the Philippians and their high esteem of him. Those memories and feelings would have also been a consolation to him in his imprisonment. Still, Paul is not shy about encouraging the Philippians to be Christians not just in good feelings, or lofty words. He wanted them to put their words into action. They were not to act selfishly, or seek praise for their good works. With the Philippians, we are also challenged by Paul to act in daily life in ways that match our words and our ideals.
Paul quotes a powerful hymn which emphasizes the selflessness and humility of Jesus:
(Jesus) humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Jesus says “Yes” to God and that reflects the parable of the two sons. There is a lot of tension behind today’s gospel. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and today’s story takes place just after he has driven out the buyers and sellers from the Temple precincts, infuriating the religious leaders. The leaders should have recognized this prophetic action and seen the hand of God working through the words and works of Jesus. Opposition to Jesus is getting intense and soon these religious leaders will agitate for his death.
Jesus directs this parable to the Chief Priests and the elders.
First, God is the father of the two sons. The first son says, “no way, dad. I’m not going to go out into the hot sun and work with prickly vines, breaking my back pulling weeds, trimming vines, heaping manure around the stalks. Not for me. I’m your son and don’t need to stoop to the work of slaves.”
This the attitude of those, who have heard God’s call for working in his Kingdom and just are too busy, too shy, too self-centered to spend our time and energy being compassionate to the people we encounter, the family into which we are born, the enemies who compete with us for wealth, power, and fame. No, I’ve not got time to care about others: no, I’ve not got energy enough to accumulate, acquire, and build my reputation. There is only so much time in my days, and I need every minute for me.
We’ll note that this son goes along – for a time. Then something happens that changes his mindset. Many spiritual writers will say that this person came into suffering which opened his eyes and thus his heart. There is repentance, there is change in attitude toward others and toward what is of lasting value in his life. He goes, without fanfare, without shouting, “Hey, Dad, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll go work in your vineyard and do what is for others and for the Kingdom.”
There is also the other son who quickly responds to the father’s request. “Certainly, Father. I’ll get right to it and make the vineyard the envy of all.” Then he goes his own way, seeking out whatever pleases him or gains for himself things, control over others, and the bowing and scraping that make others one’s servants.
The parable is a reminder that, despite our past and present misdeeds and our stubbornness, we are again offered a chance to change and find welcome in the kingdom of heaven. This is a good news parable for anyone who has chosen a path away from God and God’s ways.
The parable is both a challenge and an invitation to change. It is not enough to say, “I am a Catholic,” unless our lives reflect the identity we claim. Our initial “Yes” to serving God has to be backed by action. And this is an even greater challenge now as we live in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. For 6 months we have been in lockdown with our lives turned upside down, unable to attend mass. But now things are easing up in level one. On Monday, we begin public weekday masses and I am so excited to be able to celebrate with people again! So we need to ask – what follows? What’s the vineyard to which we are being sent to labour for God these days. How can we be doers of the Word of God.
Now is the time to take notice of the good work that many are doing. There are inspiring stories of people feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, risking their lives serving in medical centres and emergency wards, etc. Some may be Christian and others are not, but in their “Yes” to serve others, we recognize the Spirit of Jesus present and inspiring them. We recognize the work of our bountiful and gracious God and we give praise in the words of Paul’s closing words,
“And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
I like to think that Paul sees Jesus as the third son who willingly, quickly and totally says “Yes” to the Father, goes and does the work he has been assigned to do.
What is interesting as well is the fact that in the parable there is no mention of how things turned out? How hard of a worker was the first son? Did he meet the quotas, fulfil minimum hours? There are no measurements in the story: just someone who changes his mind and heart and, after all, responds to an invitation. Maybe that is what is pleasing to God, our desire and efforts to do what God wishes and, at the same time, leaving plenty of room for God to step in and fill the gaps, big and small ones.
The first son had a change of heart which encourages us to ask: where and how must my heart change? Towards whom must my heart soften and forgive? We may be in the middle of a pandemic and limited to the confines of home and work. But even in there we can do some important work, pray for a renewed heart and for the desire to act on it.
Today we do not want to make a list and present it to God showing our past performances. We may have much we would rather not show to God, others, or even revisit ourselves. But through this parable of “the second chance,” grace is given to enable us “to change our minds.” We can start anew. This parable is Good News indeed, for those who think it is too late to change, or can’t change. Jesus reassures us today that we have his help to redirect our lives – to say “Yes” to the God who calls and enables us to change.
From today’s Gospel reading:
A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, “Son go out and work in the vineyard today.” He said in reply, “I will not,” but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, “Yes, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Did you notice in today’s parable there is no mention of how things turned out when the first son changed his mind and went into the vineyard? How hard of a worker was he when he finally got to the vineyard to work?
Did he do what was expected of him? There are no standards or measurements of success laid out for us in this story. The emphasis is just on someone who changed his mind; who in the end, responded to an invitation.
Maybe that is what is pleasing to God: our desire to serve and our attempts, if at times feeble, to respond – while we leave plenty of room for God to step in and fill in the gaps. The big ones and the small ones.
So we ask ourselves:
- Shall we pray today for healing from past hurts caused by those who lied to us or disappointed us?
- And shall we ask for the ability to forgive them?
- What’s the vineyard to which we are being sent to labour for God these days? How can we be doers of the Word of God?
Prayer of the Faithful
Leader: Let us turn to our heavenly Father and put before him our needs.
We pray for the Church: (pause)
that we may more and more put on the attitude of Christ and empty ourselves so that God can raise us to a new life of faithful relationships and loving service.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for the grace of conversion: (pause)
that God will help all who have made poor or destructive choices to change course and follow Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for healing of our attitudes: (pause)
that God will free us from the desires to control or be selfish, and help us to strive to serve others with love, patience, and humility.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for healing of the earth: (pause)
that God will inspire us to act boldly in addressing climate change and other abuses of the earth so that those who are suffering may be relieved and that the future may hold many blessings for the human family. LORD HEAR US
We pray for all medical staff and researchers in this coronavirus pandemic: (pause)
that God’s healing Spirit will guide them in their work of healing and finding a vaccine.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time, especially for Rosalia Sikhakhane, Jean Dodds, Joy Bruno, the deceased members of the Ursuline family, friends, associates and benefactors, Frank and Christopher Arokiam, Stan and Mary Ferreira
We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time, especially for Div De Villiers, Olga, Gabriel and Joseph family.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for Tshiamo Matlapeng-Vilakazi who died during the week.
Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord.
All: And let perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Leader: Let us pray our PRAYER for discernment
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death
I will not fear for you are ever with me.
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
(Prayer by Thomas Merton)
We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.
By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us.
I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment,
feed my soul at least spiritually.
I unite myself to you now as I do when I actually receive you.
Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us:
All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Leader: O God,
you alone judge rightly
and search the depths of the heart.
Make us swift to do your will
and slow to judge our neighbour,
that we may walk with those
who follow the way of repentance and faith
and so enter your heavenly kingdom.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:
Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.