Weekly Reflection (27 Sep 2020)

26th Sunday of Year A

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

Do I conceal my sins and window-dressed my life?

We want to be perceived well by our peers, our friends; and by the society in general. Hence, we put on a facade. If I have any shortcomings, I try to hide them. If I have done something dishonourable, I try to justify my actions. And if I carry hurts in my lives, I try to window-dress my life so that my hurts are concealed. This is even so in the Confessional, where I confess only my venial sins, concealing my most serious hurts and my most serious sins. If this is the way we lead our lives, despite our best efforts, we will not be happy. God gave us his healing grace but we did not accept it. So, we live in constant fear that someone might discover the truth about us. We are relentless in defending our wrongful actions. We live in constant denial of our true self. We are not happy.

But therein lies the greatest irony of all. With my own mistakes, I am a zealous defence lawyer. With another’s mistakes, I am a harsh judge. This is especially evident in the world of social media. The Internet is a harsh place. It does not tolerate any error, all mistakes must be exposed and the offender humiliated. Even if the wrongful act takes place years or even decades ago, it does not matter. It must be exposed and the offender severely dealt with. Spread it around, go viral! Collectively, we are harsh judges, juries and executioners. We bear no qualms in destroying the person’s reputation and livelihood.

While many of us may not be one of those vicious keyboard warriors described above, in truth, we are no different. Let us ask ourselves: How often do I gossip? How often do I cast judgement on another but ignore my own shortcomings? How often do I jump to my own defence even though deep down, I know I have done something wrong? In truth, all modern communication media have done is speeding up a process that we have been doing for a long time. As Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3)

Judgement belongs to God and God alone. God is a fair judge. He does not look at our past. He does not look at how well we window-dress our lives. Ask ourselves: Have I carried past hurts in my lives? Though God has forgiven me, have I not forgiven myself? Have I committed acts of evil, but kept these away from prying public eyes? Sometimes, we window-dress our lives so well that that we deceive ourselves. We believe our own lies. Let us gather the courage to discard our facade and ask Jesus to enter into our hearts. In the First Reading, the prophet Ezekiel explains that when a person changes his/her behaviour, what the person was or did in the past becomes irrelevant – God will judge the person on his/her inner disposition of the heart in the here and now. Thus, “when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it” (verse 26); and “when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life” (verse 27). The Gospel is full of such examples, from the repentant tax collector (Lk 18:10-14) to the humble centurion (Mt 8:5-13).

St Teresa of Calcutta said, “When we judge another, we forget to love that person.” When we are judgemental, we forget that like me, that person too is a son or daughter of God. Like me, that person too is loved by God. As St Paul said, love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:6-7) Yes, my brothers and sisters, love endures all things. Even when we are gravely wronged, it is act of love to endure the wrongdoings of another, in the hope that our act of love may soften hardened hearts and bring about conversion. The Second Reading this week encourages us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (verse 3-4). This is the example Jesus shown us. We are challenged to emulate our Lord: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (verse 6-8). As a sinless man, no one can be more gravely wronged than our Lord Jesus was. But in spite of that, while hanging on the cross, Jesus prayed for those who wronged Him: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Am I able to endure injustice and love in the same way Jesus did? My brothers and sisters, if we are willing to accept the grace, the Lord have already given you and me the grace to forgive those who injure us. And the amazing thing is, forgiveness does not just benefit the other person. It is also for my sake that Jesus has given me this grace. For the forgiveness I give away is the grace I need to heal from my own hurts. It is only when I can heal from my past hurts that I can be true to myself; that I need not window-dress my life any longer.

Jesus tells us the Parable of the Two Sons in the Gospel this week. In the parable, the first son initially refused the father’s request to work in the vineyard but later changed his mind and went to work anyway. The second son, on the other hand, agreed to work in the vineyard but did not go in the end. Jesus then asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” (verse 31). “The first,” they answered. Jesus told us this parable right after he refuted the chief priest and the elders (Mt 21:23-27). The implication is clear, that the chief priests and elders were like the second son. They window-dressed and put up a facade by paying lip services to God. But their hearts were not righteous. Whereas for repentant sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, they were like the first son. They did not pretend to be something they were not. They privately acknowledged their shortcomings and carried out the father’s will. It is like the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Lk 18:10-14), where the Pharisees window-dressed his life with lip-services. It was the tax collector who acknowledged his sins. And because he was true to himself, it was the tax collector who went home forgiven and justified.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3) God bless you, my dear brothers and sisters.

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