In his book the gifts of the Jews, author Thomas Cahill proposes the thesis that without the Jews and their faith western civilisation would not have come into existence. The Jews lived by beliefs that were different to those held by the people around them. They saw history as linear not cyclic. The pagans looked at their world as an endless cycle of events over which they had no control. The Jews on the other hand saw themselves as players in history and actively creating their story. The God they believed in had entered their history, chosen them, given them a task to perform, and was constantly reforming their understanding of themselves and the God who gave them life.
Another gift they gave the world was personal responsibility. Each individual is answerable for their actions. Commendation and condemnation are allocated according to that the individual has done, not because you belong to this family or that.
Ezekiel, a prophet who lived six hundred years before Christ, was one voice that brought this sense of personal ownership of actions into the consciousness of the Jewish people. Upright people who renounce their integrity will be held accountable for that renunciation. Sinners who renounce the evil that has been characteristic of their lives will be regarded as virtuous. A person’s past may be considered as a reformed wrongdoer may still have to make amends for what they did in the past, but in the sight of God they stand as a new person. In reverse, the virtuous person who has deliberately gone off the rails may be remembered for the good they did, like a corrupt society leader, but will be held accountable for the wrong doing they have practised.
Jesus in today’s clash with the chief priests and elders sees him challenge them for not taking responsibility for their lives even though they can see the goodness of God at work in the lives in the changes that are taking place in the lives of tax collectors and prostitutes. These men and women listened to the preaching of John the Baptist and not only re-evaluated what they were doing with their lives, but made changes to live in accord with divine teaching. The sting in the example Jesus uses is that the respectable people were like the son who enthusiastically said yes to his father’s request so presenting himself as obedient but in reality was all huff and puff and no substance.
On the other hand, the one who refused his father’s request had a change of heart and went to work, is the one who receives implicit commendation from Jesus. What underlies the story is personal accountability and responsibility. This is what the spirit of Christ empowers us to activate at all times and in all places.
Fr Adrian Farrelly
|Oct 20, 2014
|26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 28.09.2014