Reflection for Sunday – October 1, 2023
Readings: Ez 18:25-28; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32
Preacher: Sr. Barbara Moore
Our readings from Philippians and Matthew contain some powerful insights into Our Christian faith. Paul, in one of his original letters, shares with the Philippians behavioral patterns that set a rather high bar for them and for us. “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” He lists modes of behavior that reflect Paul’s ideals for the community, ideals that reflect his understanding of Jesus Christ. The litany is a powerful one. Paul invites the infant church to be unselfish, humble, caring for others, and to have a unity of heart and mind. “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus…” Again, this is a very high bar for each one of us.
Paul adds that Jesus “emptied himself…coming in human likeness.” To empty oneself. What might that mean for us as we engage our 21st century world? Paul invites the early church and you and me to be compassionate, merciful, unselfish. And to be humble men and women “looking out not for our own interests but also for those of others.” All these qualities speak to relationships and how communities are called to live and act then and now. When we reflect on the advice Paul gives this early Christian community, we might say that our 21st century Christian community can use the same advice.
These days many of our Christian Churches are divided over “life” issues, LGBT concerns, transgender issues as well as the role of women in leadership. Paul’s advice is as relevant today as it was in the 1st century.
Both the Old and New Testaments contain stories and parables about sons and brothers. Today’s parable reflects that quality of emptying one’s self at the request of a parent. One son refuses to work in the vineyard but changed his mind. The other son said he would go but never did. Jesus was making the point that often those who seem to be obeying the law are not, and the unexpected ones, try to do so. He illustrates this message by saying that tax collectors and prostitutes, the hated and “sinful” members of the community, are “entering the Kingdom of God” before the well-respected “holy ones.”
To illustrate his views about the behavior of the brothers in the parable, Jesus reminds his listeners that the marginal and outcast folks accepted the word of John the Baptist rather than the “righteous” ones. John was emptying himself and the unlikely understood that and followed him.
Every day in subtle and not so subtle ways you and I are invited to “go out into the vineyard” and try to meet the needs of the other. At various times we are both of the parables’ brothers and the beauty of today’s reading reminds us of that fact.
Perhaps this coming week, opportunities to “empty” ourselves for another will be presented to us. As we face these invitations, the Letter to the Philippians may give us encouragement. “Have in yourselves the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” The Jesus who “emptied himself” for all of us.