Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 25, 2011. The readings for today can be found here http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092511.cfm Thanks as always for reading and your comments and feedback!
Some of you may have heard of the popular Catholic-Christian songwriter Matt Maher. He’s written a number of albums that are religious in nature and seem to fit well both at Mass and just to listen on your iPod. Over the last couple of years of celebrating Mass on a college campus where we favor Christian contemporary music over traditional hymns, I’ve really become a fan of Maher’s. So I was happy to hear a few weeks ago that he had a new album debuting.
Trying to find out about it, I did what all you hip kids do, I went to google to find out when the new album was coming out. As I typed Matt Maher in the search line, the auto-fill in and search results instantly popped a headline I didn’t expect “Matt Maher sentenced for manslaughter.” Yeah, didn’t expect that headline to pop up. So of course my curiosity was peaked and I clicked the link (is it any wonder my ADHD is out of control and I can’t get anyting done)
Well as you might have guessed – it was a different person who happened to share the same name. This Matt Maher had quite a different story. Just a little over 2 years ago, Matthew Maher had been drinking, got into a car, was driving home at a high rate of speed on the Atlantic City Expressway. Matthew struck the vehicle of 55 year-old Hort Kap, husband and father of six children, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Matt was arrested and charged with aggravated manslaughter. He was eventually sentenced to 5 years 5 months in prison, in which he must serve 85 percent of his time.
Prior to going to prison, Matt presented the story of his life called,”I’m That Guy” to over 34 schools in three months reaching over 7,000 students. In this powerful testimony of how “decisions determine destiny” Matt explains that he was “That Guy” who grew up achieving in every area of his life. He was a role model, active in his community, excelled in academics and athletics, earned himself a full scholarship to Temple University, and eventually signed a professional contract as a soccer player. Now he is “That Guy,” a drunk driver, who killed an innocent man and who now resides in prison.
It’s sad that such a tragedy had to make Matt Maher realize a truth that he should have known – that drunk driving kills innocent people… That it wrecks many lives and families. It’s sad reading his website where there’s updates from jail. Where he’s sitting in a cell every night. And you know the depth of his remorse when he said in an interview “If they told me I could leave prison tomorrow, I would refuse because God is teaching me so much and I have more to learn.”
Watching videos, you see Matt breaking down as he apologizes to the family face to face in court. You start to tear up as you see Mr. Kap’s son hug Matt in a sign of forgiveness. And as you read on his website, Matthew has said that he will dedicate himself to honoring the memory of his victim, by telling this story about choices, consequences and how our actions can change countless lives–for the good or bad.
In a similar way, Jesus is talking about the same thing – how our actions can change lives, specifically our own life – for the good and bad. And not just for consequences that can wind up with someone being in jail, or hurt, or killed – but for all eternity.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells this brief story about two brothers are asked to do something. The Father asks them to go take care of his vineyard. The one says no, feels bad and then decides to go. The other says yes and then decides not to. Jesus uses this minor story to get to a bigger issue. He is worried about the religious experts and their salvation. Because after this brief story, he quickly refers to the fact that prostitutes and tax collectors (who were doing more than a civil service of collecting money for the government – they were helping the enemy Romans in suppressing their own people AND basically stealing from their own people by charging a little bit extra that they could pocket themselves) when they heard the word of God preached from John the Baptist, they made a radical change in their life. They had a conversion of heart. The religious experts didn’t. They dismissed the teaching of John assuming they “knew” God well enough that they didn’t need his prophetic calls. They were now having that same arrogant indifference towards not a prophet, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
So Jesus is worried that a great tragedy is unfolding. That if they continue to chose to be blind to His presence, if they continue to be deaf to His words, they’re making a terrible choice that can result in a tragedy – them missing being a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
You and I need to constantly be reminded that the call to repentance, the call to conversion, the call to turn away from sin is something we need to hear over and over because the devil is not going to cease trying to tempt us. There’s never going to be a time where we have completely overcome them. Jesus knows that – it’s why that parable is somewhat comforting, because neither son really acts appropriately. The correct response to the Father’s command should have been “Yes Father” in word and in action. Yet, Jesus moves past the failures on both of the sons parts to highlight the one who had the change of heart.
For Matthew Maher, he can probably recall a number of bad choices that resulted in the tragedy he has to live with. The decision to drive to wherever he was going to party, the decision to have that extra drink or two, that choice to get behind the car and drive home. And as he replays those decisions and choices, he’s left with having responsibility for what he did, knowing that while he is doing something good now, he can’t change those choices and undo the damage he’s done to his life, or bring back the life that his actions killed.
For you and I, our story is still unfolding. There are choices and decisions we are confronted with every day that will either bring us closer or further away from the Lord. Jesus hasn’t given up on us. Our Loving Father looks at us, His sons and daughters, hoping that we will learn this lesson, and avoid a tragedy in the making.