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Terrance KleinSeptember 27, 2023

A Homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28 Phil 2:1-11 Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”

Parables are like dreams. You play all the characters, and each of them contains a message for you. And for the same reasons, they are also a bit like some New Yorker cartoons.

The Sept. 18 edition contains a Ngozi cat cartoon. A bearded and bespectacled young man, still in his bathrobe and slippers, shares a cup of coffee with his cat. The man is standing, while the cat is slouching, quite human-like, in the man’s ergonomic desk chair. The cat wears headphones. Is he listening to a favorite podcast or his preferred tunes? He is at a desktop computer, whose screen appears to offer financial trends and strategies. The cat says to the man, who presumably thinks of himself as the cat’s “owner,” “Have you ever thought that maybe I don’t do anything all day because you won’t let me do anything all day?”

Granted, the cartoon capitalizes on the notion that cats are self-indulgent and essentially unresponsive to their owners. Being owned by chihuahuas instead of possessing a cat, I cannot speak to the feline stereotype. But if my theory about parables, dreams and New Yorker cartoons is true, that cat is you, just as the younger brother in Jesus’ parable is you, the one who changes his mind and does his Father’s will.

Parables are like dreams. You play all the characters, and each of them contains a message for you.

There is some of that cat in all of us, a cat who needs conversion, and daily! We are all prone to settle into ourselves, to make our routines, however self-indulgent they may be, the center of our worlds. And we are a bit addicted to the instruments that facilitate our fancies, whether it is headphones that block out the exterior world or endless web searches that indulge our fantasies about getting rich, about objects to own and about worlds not our own.

And like that cat, we resent those who intrude into or challenge our self-absorption. We have a way of turning their needs and expectations of us back at them. If they did things our way, if they did what we wanted rather than make requests of us, all would be wonderful. The cat tells his putative owner, “Have you ever thought that maybe I don’t do anything all day because you won’t let me do anything all day?” Is this not another version of the parable’s younger brother: someone who cannot respond to others because he cannot get outside himself?

But we are also the other character in the cartoon: just a guy with a cat, a version of the parable’s older brother, someone trying to do his best. There are parts of our lives where we are attentive and docile to the will of God. We work hard for those whom our Lord has given us to love. We have that part of the parable covered.

Today’s call to conversion is addressed to our inner cat. The world does not revolve around us. To be honest, it probably does, but if so, our world is entirely too small. Our goal should be to set aside our stream of grievances, our fantasies and our expectations and to encounter the world that God gives us as a blessing and burden, as a burden destined to become a blessing.

St. Paul’s epistles are not parables. No, the apostle’s language is direct but equally worthy of prayerful reflection. How unlike our inner cat is the Christ!

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).
More: Scripture

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