26TH SUNDAY A – 2020
These readings present the charismatic agent and the institutional authority over against each other. Both are necessary, but both must be humble about their role and their field of action. St Paul’s words, in the Second Reading, provide the key for establishing the balance between them. “If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy”. All these conditions, as articulated by St Paul to a fractious and divided community in Corinth, suggest a tender vulnerability in him, but also a crucial instinct for the genuine, for the quick of life and love in our present reality. He is alluding to that quality of wholehearted trust and commitment of the lover towards the beloved, which, alas, is at best occasional in the experience of most of us, but which, on the contrary, is the constant quality of God’s commitment to us.
The Gospel parable is identifying that same quick of sincerity shining through the heart of the tax-collector and the prostitute whose public professions mark them as being contrary to all that is conventionally regarded as good and holy, but whose experience of compunction makes them turn, at this moment, to choose the True and the Good in Jesus. In stark contrast to them, the guardians of public morality and keepers of religious practice, having little to trouble their consciences, feel little or no compunction and have correspondingly little love or gratitude in their hearts, with no thought of acknowledging their sins with baptism at the hands of the crazy Baptist.
If that was then, what of us, today? We are living through a time, in our society, when the State is increasingly dissociating itself from anything like a recognizable Christian morality and the Covid authorities, rather than the bishop, tell you if you can go to Mass. It is an immensely interesting time, for all its challenges, but it is also uncomfortable; because it gives us, Christians, and those of us who might be seen as guardians of Christian morality, nowhere to hide. There is a book of rules, somewhere, but few know where to find it. So, how are we to live? St Paul puts it elegantly and forcefully, in that Second Reading. “In your minds you must be the same as Christ”; and that means doing the right thing, even if it means infringing some law, as Jesus did, repeatedly, in connexion with the Sabbath law. And so, it is actually as important to look out for one another’s safety, today, as it is to follow Church teaching, as Paul’s text puts it, “Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of their own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.” There is a lot of that happening, already, in our Covid world, and Christians should be to the fore, in the matter of good behaviour. Wearing a mask properly, nowadays, is not just a matter of good manners; it is a moral issue.
The dynamism necessary to keep this mindfulness alert in us is all part and parcel of that quick of life and love in the relationship with Jesus Christ. An essential part of that task is the maintenance and nurturing of that relationship in prayer and lectio, all of which means dedication and work. It is a time for taking responsibility for our Christian stance, because there is no guarantee that there is anyone out there that is going to help. A challenging time, yes, but exciting; another aspect of “the new normal”.