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A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F. | October 1, 2017
A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2017: Ez 18:25-28; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Philippians 2: 1-11; Mt 21:28-32
Of all of the parables in scripture, I have always been intrigued by today's Gospel, The Parable of the Two Sons (Mt 21:28-32). I am immediately reminded of my grandmother's wisdom "Actions speak louder than words."  Indeed, many scripture scholars world concur with her, and note that is precisely the point of the parable.  Others probe into the context of the times and suggest a slightly different, though related, point. My own reflection has led me to see value in both dimensions.
Some scripture scholars tell us that in the context of Jerusalem (a city occupied by the Roman Empire) in Jesus' day there were two central institutions that were important for supporting Jewish life: the Temple -- with the Chief Priest in charge, and the Sanhedrin -- with the Council of the Elders presiding.  Unfortunately, those two institutions were not able to forestall the cultural, educational, and linguistic shifts affecting and threatening Jewish life due to the influx of Greco-Roman peoples. By default, the institutional leaders seemed to give permission for collaboration with the Romans by their own failure to assert and mitigate the foreign domination with its demoralizing effects. Ordinary people were seemingly left to fend on their own with little moral leadership -- some became tax collectors and others prostitutes.
However, numbers of tax collectors and prostitutes had heeded the call of John the Baptist to repent, and Jesus contends this is evidence of the authenticity of John as God's minister, while also indicting the institutional leaders - who did not heed John's teaching, and seemingly failed to curb the moral decline of Jewish life.  The analogy is drawn between the leaders who presumably said "Yes" in obedience to God's Covenant, and the son who originally said "Yes" -- but those both became disobedient.  Similarly, the tax collectors and prostitutes are sons and daughters of God's Covenant who were disobedient, but then were converted, and are compared to the (originally disobedient) son. Indeed, actions speak louder than words!
But what are we to make of all of this today? 
As we begin the month of October I invite us to attend to a message of wisdom borne out by the various anniversary dates listed on a calendar commemorating landmark events on the long journey toward racial justice in the US.  Here are just a few of them:
1962 - September 30-October 1 - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black orders James Meredith admitted to Ole Miss; On Oct. 1, Meredith became the first African-American student at Ole Miss after President Kennedy orders U.S. marshals to Mississippi to ensure his safety; white race riots ensue.
1962 October - Leflore County, Mississippi, supervisors retaliate against voter drive, cutting off surplus food delivery 1954 October 4 - Student demonstrations take place against integration of Washington, DC public schools.
1957 October 7 - The finance minister of Ghana is refused service at a Dover, Delaware restaurant. President Eisenhower hosts him at the White House to apologize Oct. 10.
1958 October 8 - A Federal judge in Harrisonburg, VA rules that public money may not be used for segregated private schools
1957 October 9 - Florida legislature votes to close any school if federal troops are sent to enforce integration. 
1956 October 15 - Integrated athletic or social events are banned in Louisiana.
2011 October 16 - Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is dedicated and President Obama gives the keynote address.
1954 October 19 - Federal judge upholds an Oklahoma law requiring African-American candidates to be identified on voting ballots as "negro".
1958 October 20 - Thirteen blacks arrested for sitting in front of bus in Birmingham.
1962 October 23 - FBI begins Communist Infiltration (COMINFIL) investigation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
1960 October 26 - King's earlier probation revoked; he is transferred to Reidsville State Prison.
1960 October 28 - After intervention from Robert F. Kennedy, King is freed on bond.
1954 October 30 - Desegregation of U.S. Armed Forces said to be complete.
It's been only seven weeks since the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, VA.  But it has been 38 years since the U.S. Bishops in their Brothers and Sisters to Us challenged Catholics and all people of good will to renounce and repent of racism and to act to create racial justice in our land. Our leaders have said all of the right words -- speaking out against racism and white supremacy, and announcing they have created an ad hoc committee against racism, chaired by Bishop George Murray of Youngstown, Ohio. But what have we done?  What has changed?  What will you do?
"A man had two sons . . . Which of the two did his father's will?" (Matthew 21:28, 30)
The above image is from the Public Domain.
Author information Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F.

Erica and Harry John Family chair of Catholic Theological Ethics

M.A., Religious Studies - Maryknoll School of Theology; Maryknoll,  NY
Ph.D., Religious Studies - Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Dawn M. Nothwehr holds The Erica and Harry John Family Endowed Chair in Catholic Ethics at Catholic Theological Union.  The mandate of the Chair is to promote the Roman Catholic Consistent Ethic of Life, advanced by Cardinal Bernardin.  She is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis, Rochester, Minnesota.

Nothwehr’s current research explores issues of ethical normativity – especially how moral wisdom of peoples beyond the North Atlantic regions enriches and informs classical Christian ethics.  Her ongoing research engages environmental ethics through the lens of Franciscan theology, particularly the effects of global climate change on the poor.  The dialogue between religion and science, as well the ethics of power and racial justice are of equal interest. Her study attends to mutuality as a formal norm within a feminist ethics of power. Additional involvements include: the praxis of empowerment of the poor and vulnerable, moral pluralism, and relations in moral disagreement.

A Board Member of the Catholic Theology Society of America, she also was Convener of the Moral Theology section and Co-Convener of the Women’s Consultation in Constructive Theology.  In the Society of Christian Ethics she is Co-Convener of the Environmental Ethics and Theology section.  Dr. Nothwehr was listed among the top twenty-five eco-theologians in The Heartland of the U.S. by The National Council of Churches of Christ Ecojustice Programs in 2012.

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