Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!

Ezekial 18:25-28, Philippians 2, 1-11 + Matthew 21, 28-32

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Jesus sometimes says the most outrageous things.

The day before he had cleansed the Temple of its moneychangers. He goes back the next morning and the chief priests and elders come out to talk to him. And what does he tell them? "Amen I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you." Ah yes, the how to win friends and influence people communications strategy. But Jesus was saying truth to power: the rich and powerful did not believe John the Baptist, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. That says something about the rich and the powerful -- and about the tax collectors and the prostitutes.

Behold one of the hazards of being rich and comfortable. When a prophet comes along, you might not understand what he or she was saying to you. This isn't to say that the rich can't read the signs of the times correctly, only that it is harder for them to do this. The poor, on the other hand, heard the Word of John the Baptist and believed.

Today we also hear the great Christological hymn of Philippians (the second half of the reading), a very ancient piece of hymnody developing doctrine later elaborated by councils and creeds regarding the divinity of our Lord. Christ did not grasp at equality with God but rather poured out himself (the Greek word here suggests a complete and total emptying) and then three different descriptions are given to emphasize His true and real humanity, followed by a reference to his humility, and his obedience even unto his death on a cross. This "brief history of the passion" is then paralleled in a "second verse" of the hymn, which depicts Jesus as Lord of all. The teaching here is that the example of solidarity we are called to model is a total giving.

Paul's word's prefacing the hymn call us to a communitarian approach of concern for others, with each person having concern for others. Not much comfort here for those who think that glorifying the seven deadly sins is an appropriate way to run an economic system.

And Ezekial? Well, he's grumpy as usual, pointing out the consequences of our actions, and we do hate that don't we? Following the Lord is life, turning away from the Lord is death. Remember his context -- the Law of Moses, which specifically prohibited oppression of the poor, and one of the crimes for which Ezekial condemns the princes of Israel is their oppression of the poor. But in the grumpiness is nevertheless the promise: if the wicked forsake their evil ways, they receive the gift of life.

Thoughts about orthopraxis:

How do we pray for the wicked? Do we try to be in solidarity with them, so we can understand how to offer healing and reconciliation and redemption to them? What should a person say if e.g. caught in the elevator with Michael Camdessus, president of the IMF? How do we show that we are looking out for others as Paul admonishes us? How do we model in our own lives the solidarity demonstrated for us by Christ?

And are we ready to sit at the table with the tax collectors and prostitutes in the Reign of God?

If we are willing to do this then, are we willing to do this now?

What would we do if they moved next door?

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