Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Scoreboard!
I want to speak today about scoreboard, collaborators, blue collar sinners, you and me.
First of all, scoreboard. I love sports. I have tickets for the BUCS. I am a rabid Yankee fan. I like tennis, and sometimes I’ll even watch golf, although I am not sure that golf is a sport. Like all sport fans, I speak with absolute authority on what should have taken place the day after the game. A former parishioner of ours, the late Jim Fregosi, had been an all star professional baseball player and the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies. Jim once told me that part of the fun of sports and a goal of every good franchise is for everyone watching to feel that he or she is an expert in the game.
There are certainly a lot of experts in the Tampa Bay area. We have radio stations with non stop analysis of every move that the coach makes, what he should have done last Sunday and what he’ll never be able to do this Sunday. I guess that’s all fun, but none of it matters a bit. All that matters is scoreboard. The term scoreboard refers to the final score of the game. If a team wins, no matter how well or poorly one or more players appear to have played, the winning team has scoreboard. If someone says, the quarterback threw two interceptions and only completed seven passes, the quarterback can still say, “But I have scoreboard. I won.”
There is no argument to that.
And the Lord said to the chief priests and elders of the people, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before you.” They may have made huge mistakes in their lives. They may have been terrible sinners. But they responded to the call of the Lord. You chief priests and elder of the people didn’t respond to the Lord. The tax collectors and prostitutes have won the game of eternal life.
They have scoreboard.
Now, about collaborators and blue collars sinners.
The tax collectors and prostitutes were white collar and blue collar sinners. The tax collectors were collaborators with the pagan Roman occupiers of Israel. They had a nice, clean job, being paid handsomely by the Romans for determining how much each of the people had to pay. Worse than this, they were cheats who usually assessed the people more than they gave the Romans, thus further lining their own pockets. All this, of course, was enforced by the Roman soldiers standing behind them. Levi was a tax collector. He was a white collar sinner. He collaborated with the pagans against his own people and God’s people. But when Jesus called Levi, he left his table, changed his life and name. He became Matthew, the saint whose feast we celebrate September 21st. By the end of his life this once sinful collaborator as well as many of his companions who responded to the Lord had scoreboard over the so called righteous leaders of the people.
The prostitutes who followed Jesus also had scoreboard. They were blue collar sinners. Theirs was not a life of white collar comfort. They had to work hard to make a living by drawing others into sin. They accepted being treated poorly for the sake of the money they were given. But so many of them changed their lives when they were called by the Lord. Even though they had been terrible sinners, they ended up in the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s scoreboard.
The first son of the Gospel parable had scoreboard. Maybe he did not immediately respond to his father’s call, but he did go to the vineyard and work there. His brother didn’t. He spoke a good game, but the final score was Son number one: 1, Son number two: 0.
All of this is an introduction to something we need to recognize: as long as we are doing our best to respond to Jesus’s call, to God’s will for us, we have scoreboard. Too many of us are down on ourselves for our past lives. Many of us can truthfully say, “I have made major mistakes. I have been a sinner.” But we are here now. We are doing our best to follow the Lord. We try our best to take what we have receive here, the strength of Christ, the power of the Gospel, and integrate this into our daily lives. We may have been sinners, but we are trying our best now. You and I need to stop beating ourselves up. We need to remember that the changes that we have put into our lives have given us scoreboard.
In today’s first reading, from the prophet Ezekiel, this question is posed: “Are God’s way’s unfair? Is he wrong to condemn a virtuous man who turns to a life of sin or reward a sinful man who turns to virtue?” The answer is that those who win the race, win. Those who stop running, lose. I often mention to people that it would be easier for us in our lives if we would just run directly from the starting line to the finish line. But we are human beings. We run off course at times. What matters, is that we get to the finish line even if our Guardian Angels have to work overtime to convince us to get there.
What must it have been like for Levi the tax collector, who was now Matthew, or for Mary Magdalene, the former prostitute who was now dear to God, what must it have been like for them and others like them to stand with Jesus? Were they self conscious? Did they agree with the elders and chief priests that they did not belong in the presence of a holy man? Or did they recognize that this man called Jesus had drawn them away from whom they were to become who they are, committed followers of God? They deserved to stand with the Lord because they had responded to his choice of them and had in turn chose him. And yes, people could look down on their past, because they were sinners. But they were no longer sinners, they were now followers of Christ.
What must it have been like for them to stand with the Lord? It must have been wonderful. All that mattered was him and the wonderful future of love, eternal love and eternal life, that he gave them. The past no longer mattered. The scorn of the chief priests and elders of the people no longer mattered. All that mattered was Jesus.
So also, for you and for me. We cannot let our pasts destroy us. We have to focus in on the Lord in whose presence we move and live and have our very being. We have to stop beating up on ourselves for the past. We have to ignore the comments of people who want to throw our past mistakes in our faces. We have to be concerned about one thing and one thing only: being in the presence of Jesus forever.
If we do this, we will have scoreboard.