Are We a Stiff-Necked People?

Reflection for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Jason Miller, FAN Director of Campaigns and Development

This reflection was originally posted in our September 9th newsletter

This Sunday’s readings are familiar to us: the First Reading tells of the Golden Calf where God tells Moses, “I see how stiff-necked this people is,” (Ex: 32:9) and the Gospel is a variety of parables of which we are all very familiar, including the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep.

When reflecting on these readings, I stumbled across a cartoon from David Hayward, who goes by the moniker “Naked Pastor”.

When I saw it, I immediately thought to myself how “stiff necked” the 99 sheep were! When we hear the parable of the Lost Sheep, we often think only of the one sheep that was lost, not the other 99 who may have been acting stubborn, just as when hearing of the Prodigal Son, we only focus on the “lost” brother, not the other brother. We might also actually view the 99 sheep as just that—sheep rather than as an analogy for human beings who reject others. In fact, the 99 were the lost ones, just as the “faithful” brother in the Prodigal Son had some shortcomings of his own. (Anger and jealousy for starters.) Both the 99 sheep and the “other brother” were “stiff necked” just as the Israelites in the Old Testament who decided to worship the Golden Calf instead of God. The Israelites were so “stiff necked” that they didn’t even realize that they were going through a crisis of faith and disobeying God. Like the 99 sheep and the “other brother” they were so certain of themselves that they were doing the right thing. But were they?

When Jesus tells these parables, he’s addressing the Pharisees, which today has become a synonym for self-righteous hypocrites as they were so obsessed with following the letter of the law, they believed themselves to be better than everyone else. The Pharisees too were “stiff-necked” and did not understand Jesus’ message—they accuse him at the start of the Gospel of welcoming and eating with sinners. (Lk: 15:2) But who was really sinning by turning themselves away from God?

As we enter this week and continue to reflect on the readings, let’s ask ourselves: are we too so “stiff necked” that we turn away from God and worship our own golden calves of materialism, self-centeredness, and false prophets? Are we following Jesus by welcoming and eating with sinners? Or are we Pharisees who reject the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son and judge others who are different from us?

Do we even welcome and eat with our own neighbors let alone those we might silently judge as “sinners”? Today our neighborhoods, communities, and churches seem so divided. Are we welcoming our immigrant sisters and brothers? Are we breaking bread with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers? Our Muslim sisters and brothers? Those who have different political viewpoints? Or are we so “stiff-necked” that we reject them like the Lost Sheep or Prodigal Son and don’t realize that in fact we are the ones that turned away from God and sinned?

I’ve been in the D.C. area for 11 years and have worked at FAN for almost six. In this time I have encountered many who believe that they have all the answers, that others should listen to them, that they are in fact the “Chosen One.” We know this to be false. At a time when we are so divided, we need to turn to God and work together using our “both feet” of faith and action to solve the great challenges of our time and welcome those some have deemed “the other” and we must be wary of false prophets and Golden Calves.

Jason Miller
FAN Director of Campaigns and Development

Published in: on September 10, 2019 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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