A question of integrity
A reflection for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
by Gabrielle Sinclair
What does integrity look like?
This question of integrity is always calling me to account, continually running in my subconscious. In any room, I find myself drawn to it, and on the flip side, repelled by the lack of it, my subconscious at work at every moment.
I guess then it's no surprise that integrity was the dominant theme that jumped out for me in this Sunday's readings. Jesus is teaching in the Temple after his festive arrival in Jerusalem, where the high priests are trying to trip him up, yet he turns the tables posing a question for them.
How often have I found myself questioning someone's motives or integrity only to find myself falling short of the standards I want to hold others to?
In recent months, I have, as have many others, found myself taking stock of my place in the world. A newly heightened awareness of my own white privilege has pulled me up short. As I peel back the layers of my blindness to its pervasive slipstream. I cannot unsee the depth of cultural bias in how my community, with inherited colonial values, is run and maintained and how I am a beneficiary. My integrity has taken a beating.
Jesus questions the high priests using the parable of the two sons. The first son refuses to work. However, he later goes to the vineyard to work. The second agrees but never turns up for work. The high priests agree that it is the first son that does the will of the father. Jesus then uses the illustration to talk about the tax collectors and prostitutes, followers of John that the society judged as lacking integrity. They are the ones who were open to repentance on the path to which John was pointing.
Jesus' reprimand for the high priests that others are "going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you" is for us, too, if we aren't open to the way of the kingdom. The challenge then for me, for us, arrives when we have a new awareness of a better path. Do I have the courage to take it? To live more consciously, to live with integrity?
All the readings this weekend speak to this, waking up to what is just, to listen and know God's ways. The psalm begs God to dismiss the sins of youth when we didn't know better, when our mind was closed to a bigger truth. Ezekiel commands the House of Israel to listen, to renounce sin, to choose integrity and therefore choose life over death. Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, calls for the people to be “united in your convictions and united in your love”, to work for a common purpose, to put others before themselves.
Many figures, religious and cultural heroes, have come before us to open our eyes to the reality of oppression and cultural bias. We have heard it often as a history lesson or indeed a sermon. Yet often we do not imbibe the reality, the personal, the here and now. Instead, we compartmentalize and distance ourselves from our complicit inaction.
The crux of the parable is about obedience to God's will. I have come to understand the concept of obedience in a more profound way working in formation in a Benedictine context these last few years, and it bears out here. The root of the word obedience is "to listen" and, more importantly, "to hear". To listen "with the ear of the heart" (Rule of St. Benedict,
Prologue, 1) is one of the first invitations St. Benedict offers in his rule for living.
I can be guilty of hearing something many times before I take the time to discern its value and really hear its message. We can too quickly dismiss important things which speak to our core values, which demand our attention, because we have not inclined the ear of our heart. This is Jesus' point to the high priests: they had missed the message of repentance of John, they hadn't been open to hear or witness the change in the people who had.
"In you, I hope all day long because of your goodness, O Lord...guide the humble in the right path" (Psalm 25).
Humility is indeed a courageous and life-giving opportunity as we grapple with untangling ourselves from the sins of our youth. I am learning "how to be an antiracist". This means I don't always get it right. I am still unlearning my unconscious deference to social norms. However, I'm working to better recognize in myself, in systems, and in the community assumptions and prejudices which I can no longer let slide.
Some are already working tirelessly in the vineyard, advocating for the dignity of all, but as with the first son, it is not too late to join them. There is much to do and many arenas where we need to continue the dialogue, to spark the sleeping consciousness of good people who are too comfortable. We are all being called to be more and do more, to awaken to the pull of our integrity and the will of God, which is first and foremost love.
The readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, are
Gabrielle Sinclair has worked in ministry roles in Australia for over 20 years, including in the Australian Bishops Office for Youth, and now in formation for
Good Samaritan Education in the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition. Gabrielle's love of music and her background in television and theatre production never fails to provide a creative lens to life's ever changing paths. Gabrielle is married to Patrick, and they have 3 children, Baden, Niamh, and Fintan.