Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
Proper 21 -Year A - Sunday October 1,2017
|Br. John Forbis, OHC|
If extortionists and those who sell their bodies are getting into heaven before me, I may never get there, since I am neither one of these.
Then, Jesus responds, “Oh really?!?!?”
If I were to be honest with myself and you (and I am not often), I could come up with many ways in which I have prostituted myself and others both subtly and not so subtly. I could also dig up ways in which I was and am colluding with and benefitting from criminal behavior in our world. When much of it has occurred in the places and communities where I lived, I kept silent about them. So I’m lost.
And Jesus says again, “Oh really?!?!?”
He teaches us about a God who longs for us to turn to him, especially when we feel lost and hopeless about deserving any kind of redemption. His cry is for us to turn and live. The problem with the Chief priests and the elders in the Temple with whom he was speaking is that they felt their righteousness was beyond reproach. They were beyond a God who is merciful, and they were beyond that need for mercy. They are dead already as long as they cling to this insistence.
In much of his teaching and actions, I sense that Jesus does not condemn prostitution and criminality as much as self-righteousness. It is the kind of self-righteousness that will not enter through the door of salvation and join the party. The invitation is issued to them as well as prostitutes and tax collectors. In the end, we are all the same. We just delude ourselves into thinking we aren’t. But most importantly we are in this together.
As we read in Ezekiel, those who strive to remain righteous through getting it all right saying and doing the right things ritually and lawfully only can betray themselves. How? By assuming that they deserve God’s love and redemption more because of their faultlessness. God is not remotely interested in perfectionism. God’s interest is in humanity, all its messiness and complexity.
The invitation is offered to those who muddle through as best as they can and are able to turn to God when it all goes wrong. And I could easily respond, “Oh, really!?!?!?” And Jesus persists, “Really.”
Yet, once we get to the table, we will have to face the fact that whores and crooks are there and may have even been there before us. The Israelites protest that’s not fair. But as we heard affirmed for us last week by Brother Bob, no, God isn’t fair. God’s grace is wider than fair, wider than us and our own prejudices and our own righteousness. God’s grace is for all God’s people. And yes, that even includes you and me. Amen.