A reading from the prophecy of Ezekiel
“Thus says the Lord: You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair.’” Many of the Israelites felt that the Babylonian Exile was not fair, that God had not protected them. Ezekiel, speaking as though with God’s voice, wants them to know the truth. “Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is not fair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
Before, during, and after the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century BC, numerous prophets tried to warn the people to turn away from their sinfulness and lack of faith. This is one of those numerous warnings. Here, Ezekiel wants to make sure that the people remember that they have another choice—to turn away from wickedness. We have the same choice many times throughout our lives. We always have another choice, another chance, no matter how far off the path we may have wandered.
(Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9)
“Remember your mercies, O Lord.” Pope Francis has spoken and written repeatedly about God’s unbounded mercy for each of us. Amid our several societal challenges, have you sought God’s mercy, for yourself and your family but also for our country and our world? We all need God’s merciful healing power.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians
This passage is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in the Christian Bible.
“Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those 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.”
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Jesus is talking to the “chief priests and elders. Jesus tells them a parable of two sons whose father asks them to go out and work in their vineyard. The first says, “I will not,” but afterwards changes his mind and goes. The other son says, “Yes, sir,” but does not go. “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Jesus asks. The priests and elders answer, “The first,” and Jesus tells them, “I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
The chief priests and elders were the leaders of the people and were considered the holiest and wisest, but they were among the enemies of Jesus because he threatened their power and prestige. Tax collectors and prostitutes were at the bottom of society, and yet, they “got” Jesus. They saw their own sinfulness and turned instead to Jesus. Many of the rich and powerful do not truly “get” Jesus and follow him. Often, the people we might think of as unworthy because of their position in society are those who will enter the kingdom of God first. We should never “look down” on them but rather “look up” with them.
Painting: Jews Mourning the Exile in Babylon, circa 1832, by Eduard Bendemann. Public domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.