26th Sunday Ordinary Time

by Bishop Marty Shanahan

A few years back, a dear friend of mine shared a wonderful little book with me. The author is Mark Sanborn, a motivational and inspirational teacher on leadership. He titled this particular book: You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader.

It is a wonderful book with many insights into leadership and the role and behavior of leaders. One line struck me in particular. It has stayed with me for years. He said:

“The measure of a person’s character and integrity can be measured in the distance between their lips and their life.”

I think this fits particularly well with our Gospel today.

But it is not always evident to the modern Western mind or ear, what is really going on in today’s Gospel.

There is a context to this story.

Jesus is in the temple and the temple authorities publicly confront him for leading a discussion in the temple courtyard. Remember the core value of the Ancient Mediterranean culture is HONOR. Honor is considered utmost of value. What is heard and said publicly is, in Jesus’s culture, the most valuable thing.

Jesus had just confronted the temple authorities with the question about John the Baptist, and the only way the authorities could preserve their honor was to admit they did not know the answer to Jesus’s question about John.

So, Jesus poses the parable about the two sons.

Now remember, honor is public, and in the Ancient Mediterranean culture, the one who did what was right, would be the second child – the one who honored and respected the elder and said “yes” to his father’s request.

Now they are stuck! The authorities know the culturally correct and acceptable answer would be the second child, but Jesus throws in a twist; he doesn’t ask which child did the right thing, he asks which child did what was asked?

Now the temple leaders are stuck again.

I believe Jesus might have done this to make a point – that the Reign of God does not first belong to those who publicly say one thing and privately do another, but rather, the first in the Reign of God are those who struggle in their relationship with God, maybe even reject the invitation of God, but ultimately who are led to do the will of God even when others do not believe in them.

It reminds me of Mark Sandborn. “The measure of a person’s character and integrity can be measured in the distance between their lips and their lives.”

I find it true in the Spiritual Life as well. On one hand, holiness is very simple, straightforward, and clear with a few ambiguities and struggles, but living into that holiness can be tremendously challenging.

I will leave you with this thought to ponder…

On Tuesday, I met with what most of you would refer to as an inmate, but whom we now refer to, as an Offender.

He has been “down” as they say, meaning he has been in prison for over 25 years. He will be released within the next month. He and I were talking about what he is feeling and thinking, and what his plans are, etc.

I said to him, “Jim, what is your greatest fear about being released?”

He looked at me, and without hesitation he said, “Fr. Marty, my greatest fear is not being believed by anyone!” He went on, “I mean, no one in here really believes me, so how will anyone out there believe me?”

I wonder what the greatest fear is, in our lives?

– Bishop Marty