Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 28, 2020 Cycle A
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.B., Chaplain
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
 Washington, D.C.

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Sunday Reading Meditations

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the two sons. When the father asked his two sons to go to work in his vineyard, one initially refused but later changed his mind and obeyed, while the other said he would go to work but did not. The first son repented. He thought about what he had said to his father and changed his mind. When Jesus asked his listeners which of the two had done the father’s will, the answer was unanimous: “The first” (Mt 21:31).

Repentance is a central theme in Jesus’ preaching. Since the beginning of his public life, he has kept saying: “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15b). In order to believe, it is necessary to change our minds. What God desires the most is our conversion.

Conversion is movement from ourselves toward God. Conversion is to conform our will to God’s will.

In order to highlight the importance of repentance, Jesus uses the extreme examples of the public sinners of his time, tax collectors and prostitutes, because they believed and changed their minds. The problem is not in being a sinner but in not recognizing the need for conversion. Salvation begins when a sinner turns away from sin unto God. In the first reading, our Lord says: “But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, […] he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ez 18:28).

Religion without conversion was a problem in Jesus’ time and still is today. We can be religious but not feel the need for conversion. Perhaps we think we are good enough and do not even need to go to confession. Thus, we can use religion to justify ourselves. However, religion makes us question ourselves instead of confirming our position. The path is a long one. Christian life is not static but demands constant changes of heart and mind. We are called to holiness.

If we think we do not need conversion, we are full of pride, following our own plans in life and perceiving God as a distant concept instead of the living presence who is constantly calling us.

In the second reading, Saint Paul helps us understand how much we need conversion. First, he invites us to think about how we do things: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory […]” (Phil 2:3). When we do things, what are we looking for? Are we seeking our own glory or God’s glory? Second, the apostle invites us to look at others in a completely different way. He says: “[…] humbly regard others as more important than yourselves […]” (Phil 2:3). Can we look at others in that way? Is it possible for us to put the other in the first place? Thirdly, Saint Paul calls us to a completely different way of living. He writes: “… each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others” (Phil 2:4). When we think about ourselves, what comes first, my interest or that of others?

With these criteria from Saint Paul, it is very easy to understand that we need to change our minds. We need to repent. Conversion of the heart requires our decision. However, we are not able to change ourselves. The transformation that conversion accomplishes is the fruit of God’s grace. Thus, it is God’s love that changes us. In the Gospel, Jesus says: “… tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene changed their minds and lives because they encountered Christ. They welcomed him into their hearts. They entered the kingdom of God because they turned away from their initial refusal, accepting the invitation to work in the Father’s vineyard.

Today, let us pray that we, too, may be open to Christ’s call to conversion.  Amen.