Sunday, October 01, 2023

Rejecting the Path to Pool & Prison

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 24 (25):4-9; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

Picture: By on Omar Ram Unsplash

My dear friends, did you hear about that unfortunate private-hire driver who drove his car into a condominium swimming pool in February? Refusing to heed the directions of two security guards and his passenger, he drove 60 metres along a tiled footpath, insisting that he knew the way, and that the pool was only rainwater. Thankfully, apart from a few broken pots and damaged tiles, no serious harm was done. Still, for committing a rash act endangering human life, this poor chap was recently sent to prison for two weeks.

Why didn’t he listen to those who knew better? We can’t say for sure. Perhaps he was complacent. He was, after all, a professional driver. Whatever the reason, doesn’t his stubbornness mirror that of Jesus’ opponents in the gospel? Like the son who says he’ll work in the vineyard but doesn’t go, the chief priests and elders of the people pay only lip service to God. They refused to heed John the Baptist’s call to repentance, despite witnessing even the tax collectors and prostitutes repenting. And when Jesus too calls for repentance, they dare to question his authority (Mt 21:23).

Like that driver, perhaps their stubbornness is born of complacency. After all, in a sense, they too are professionals. And yet, in proudly assuming that they know the way, they fail to recognise the pattern of true righteousness exemplified not just by the Baptist, but also by Jesus. Who, though his state was divine, humbly emptied himself even to the point of accepting death on a cross. Not only does their stubbornness blind the religious leaders to the right path, it also keeps them from seeing the pitfalls of the wrong one that they’ve taken. As the prophet Ezekiel reminds us, repentance is nothing less than a matter of life and death. Not just on earth, but even unto eternity. And not just for the leaders, but also for all who follow in their rash footsteps. For if one blind person guides another, both will fall into the pit (Mt 15:14).

Complacency, leading to stubbornness, causing blindness, resulting in rash choices that endanger life. This is the dangerous itinerary that our scriptures are warning us to avoid. And this warning is, of course, particularly relevant to a religious professional like me. Something I need to continually bear in mind. Such as when I may be tempted to use my ministry to feed my own ego instead of the flock. Or to prioritise the preservation of institutions over the protection of victims of abuse. But it’s not just professionals who are prone to complacency, right? Aren’t ordinary respectable people prone to it too? Such as when we allow our hearts to be so burdened by the worries, and intoxicated by the pleasures, of life that we forget to cultivate a personal relationship with our tender, merciful and caring God. Or when we fail to ensure that the daily choices we make–at home, in school, and at work–actually match the faith that we profess here in church. 

Sisters and brothers, as that unfortunate driver eventually discovered, the way of stubbornness and complacency doesn’t bring us to a happy place. What must we do to let the Lord guide our steps along the Path of true life today?

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