Readings for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 21:23-32; Philippians 2:1-4,14-18; Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32

“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” So wrote Martin Luther in the first of his famous 95 Theses. Luther was concerned that, for many in the Church, repentance had become nothing more than some words spoken on rare occasion to the local priest. Do we ever think of repentance in this way – as just words and nothing more?

The prophet Ezekiel addresses such an attitude in our Old Testament lesson. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.” We must renounce sin not only with our words but also by our actions. Otherwise, saying “I’m sorry” is just empty words. (Ezek 18)

Yet even in the work of repentance, we have God to help and guide us. The Holy Spirit gives us “a new heart and a new spirit” that are pleased to do God’s will. Even better, God promises to forgive all our sins – not on the basis of a pure confession but on the basis of Christ’s perfect offering of himself.

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus faces a hostile group of church leaders who challenge his authority. They are rejecting Jesus. And they do so out of a stubborn refusal to repent and risk the loss of their own claims of authority. Meanwhile, tax collectors and prostitutes are coming into God’s Kingdom (Matt 21)

In the Epistle lesson, Paul calls us to imitate the mindset of Jesus by humbling ourselves and putting others’ interests before our own. By doing so, we shine the light of Christ into a dark world. (Phil 2)