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Posted by on Oct 1, 2023

Not too late to change

Not too late to change

I attended a play recently in which the world and all within it was beautiful and peaceful until spirits of anger, fear, doubt, distrust, and other negative emotions began to surround and disable the healthy functioning of the people. Eventually a wise old man went into the forest alone to seek wisdom and a solution for this terrible problem. He was advised to seek the solution through the air, the water, the earth, and fire. The wise ones of the mountain told him the people would need to pass through trials involving these forces and elements in order for life to return to the peaceful state that had existed before the coming of those evil forces. The people passed through these challenges and emerged into a community, singing of the wonders of life.

This play took the place of the more traditional ones for the festival in which it was performed. In those traditional plays, there is a dragon (from one or another of the world’s traditions) that somehow is threatening the people. With the help and guidance of angelic or spiritual forces, specifically Michael the archangel in some stories, brave people are able to tame the dragon. The dragon then provides power and help to the community to support life for all.

I have been reflecting on the difference in these stories. The first left me and many others with a sense of incompleteness. The forces that had upset the lives of the people had not really been addressed. They had not been transformed in any meaningful way. There was no reason to assume they would not return at a future date to cause even more harm. Anger was not transformed into forgiveness. Fear did not give way to courage. Doubt did not grow into a readiness to explore deeply and find inner, hidden truths. Distrust didn’t grow into a willingness to take a chance on reconciliation and healing. There was no redemption or transformation of the deep, and often fearful powers that can cause such pain and suffering in human life and damage to our ecosystem. The dragon-powers within each of us that can cause such hurt and suffering in human life did not receive the gift of transforming grace. In the traditional stories, the dragon-forces are brought under control and improve life for all. A much more satisfying result.

These thoughts fit into my reflection on the readings this week. The prophet Ezekiel spoke to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Prior to his time, the assumption had been that God’s judgement and any punishments for wrongdoing were communal. If others in a family or a community had broken the law, everyone would have to suffer the punishment. God was seen as a judge whose decisions affected all, whether guilty or not. So the sins of the parents were punished in the lives of their children too. If a child was born blind, for example, the question might be asked, as it was yet in Jesus’ time, “Whose sin was it that caused this”– the child’s or the parents’?

Through Ezekiel the Lord asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord reminds them that if a good person turns from doing good things and chooses evil, that person will bear the guilt. But if a person who has been doing evil things turns away from evil and begins to do the right thing, that person will live rather than die. It’s never too late to turn away from evil. It’s a question of individual decisions and actions. God will always give life to the one who chooses to do the right thing. (Ez 18:25-28)

And what is the right thing? St. Paul reminds the Philippians that humble, loving service to each other in the community and beyond is the calling of Christians. We are to be humble as Christ was humble. To make his point even more clear, he quoted an early hymn in which we are reminded that “though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself … coming in human likeness…” Jesus even accepted death on a cross – a shameful, humiliating death. (Phil 2:1-11)

In his teaching, Jesus made the same point about our choices as individuals, by telling a story. “A man had two sons…” He asked each of them to do some work in the family vineyard. One son refused, but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The other son said, “Sure, Dad.” But he never quite got around to going into the vineyard and doing what his father had asked him to do. Jesus posed the question to the religious leaders who were questioning him, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Of course, the answer was clear. The one who initially refused, but then changed his mind and did what had been requested.

Jesus made it clear that the ones whose actions, professions, or status in society made them the least likely to be counted among those pleasing to God, would be welcomed into the kingdom because they heard and believed his message. Those whose positions seemed to make them more likely to be pleasing would find themselves excluded because of their failure to believe it and change their lives. (Mt 21:28-32)

We each must decide, again and again it seems. How do we live out our calling to service? Where are our talents needed? Where is a kind word, or a smile, or a simple act of forgiveness going to be the key that helps another person to hope and continue onward on their journey? How do we help to bring reconciliation and transformation of the dragons within ourselves and in our society to build a better world?

As we enter into a new month and a new season, may we be ready to listen and to allow ourselves to be transformed into sources of healing and reconciliation in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, and our world. It’s a beautiful world, just waiting for us to wake up and grow together in love.

Readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A


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