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26th Sunday in ordinary time: Learners for life

Today’s readings: Ezekiel 18, 25-28; Philippians 2, 1-11; Matthew 21, 28-32.

Religious deception is quite a serious problem in a believer’s life. Jesus struggled against deception in religion in his days, and in today’s gospel he uses a fictitious story of two sons to illustrate that in religion it’s not a question of maintaining the appearance of something that does not correspond to what we carry in the depths of our hearts. Jesus is also very blunt in his judgment, to the extent that he posits the tax collectors and the prostitutes, categories that by default were outcasts and excluded from religious life, as in pole position vis-à-vis God’s kingdom.

In times when institutional boundaries were very marked and important, priority was given to the so-called right doctrine. The emphasis was on orthodoxy, on adherence to the entire deposit of faith and doctrine without any dim possibility of questioning or casting doubt on any one of the tenets of faith. At the time of the Inquisition, people were tortured and killed in the name of orthodoxy. Up to recently, theologians were ostracised for speculating or venturing on innovations in matters of doctrine.

Today, a blessing to be acknowledged, orthopraxis has priority over orthodoxy. Orthopraxis highlights and enhances the right practice of everyday life rather than just the right confession of doctrine. In life, we all pursue happiness, fulfilment and wholeness. We all have intuitions that in some way or other enlighten our path and guide us in the choices we make.

There are times when we do not give heed to these intuitions and persist in doing the opposite of what we believe we’re supposed to do. C.S.Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce, writes: “I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road”. Wrong choices are also part of daily living and can be part of a learning process.

If and when we are resourceful people, we’ll have the wisdom and boldness to understand where we are going wrong, to reverse our actions and to grasp what is beneficial or corrosive to a meaningful life. This is what Jesus is highlighting with today’s gospel story. There is always space for rethinking in life, and as long as we maintain the inner freedom to understand and to change course, there is hope.

Graham Turner, a senior journalist for nearly 50 years, has recently written an inspiring book, That Other Voice, which tells the story of a journey in search answers to the ultimate spiritual mystery of life. In the foreword to the book, Rowan Williams writes that the book introduces us to a wide variety of people who have actually learned about change by learning to listen at a new level of intensity. This is the very opposite, he writes, of a naive belief that there is an inner light that will give us infallible guidance in our problems.

It is the capacity to listen at a deep level of intensity that makes of us learners and that gives us the humility to keep listening and, if need be, to change course where we acknowledge mistakes and weaknesses.

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