CNS photo/Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters

Receive the Gospel joyfully

  • September 18, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Sept. 28 (Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32) 

No one is responsible for anything — we are all victims. If that sounds strange, that’s because it is — and yet it is one of the attitudes present in our culture. If we get in a scrape, the blame lies elsewhere — society, upbringing, personality disorders and genetics — but not with us. Even God is sometimes blamed, or accused of being unfair. God’s job is to give us a smooth, easy, and happy life and to respond to our demands. 

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in the mid-6th century B.C. in Babylonian exile, was dealing with the same attitude. The Israelite exiles were blaming everyone but themselves for their plight, and God was at the top of the list. Ezekiel responded that they had no one to blame but themselves. 

He pointed out that God’s expectations are very clear: we are to live with integrity, justice and compassion in our personal lives and in the societies that we build. When we do so, we flourish; when we fail, we suffer the consequences — it’s that simple. When we chose the wrong path, sooner or later we will experience the consequences — God does not have to punish us. 

On the other hand, it is never too late to get back on track and experience the blessings that go with a life in harmony with God. The word ‘conversion’ means ‘to turn towards.’ Sin is a state of being trapped and isolated in the self with all of its urges, desires and fear. That is a lonely and unhappy place to be, despite what people might say, and it can be classed as a preview of what hell would be like. Even turning towards God in sincerity of heart is a tremendous step away from this dark place. 

Self is the primal root sin and the source of all other sins as well as our alienation from God. Paul saw this clearly, and he begged his community, if they had been blessed by love, the consolation of the Spirit, or the encouragement of Christ, to make his joy complete. They could do this by being of the same mind, heart and love, and doing nothing out of selfishness or conceit. 

Paul insisted that faith in Jesus was meaningless unless it was manifested in the life of the community. He proposed the example of Jesus Christ as the model for individual and collective Christian life. 

The antidote for self was self-emptying and expending oneself in humble service as Jesus had done. Rather than losing out or being deprived, those who take this path will discover that they are enriched and empowered in ways that they had never imagined. 

Walking in faith is measured in what we actually do rather than empty promises or pious platitudes. We have all seen individuals who might grumble and protest but in the end do what is right. At the same time, there are those who say all the right things and project a good image for the sake of others but ultimately forget about their promises and go their own way. Sometimes there are those who deny God but lead an exemplary life while others might fill the air with religious rhetoric that bears little or no resemblance to their personal lives. 

The one who does the will of God is the one who actually does it — even with some reluctance, a rather crooked path, or religious confusion and doubt. Grace is always ready to turn us around in our tracks — a human life cannot really be measured until it is finished. Jesus marvelled that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God before many pious and ‘righteous’ folks. Why? It was simple — they knew and felt their need for grace and mercy. They were aware at how destructive their lives had become and how much it was hindering their relationship with God. They received the Gospel humbly and joyfully. 

Many with less self-knowledge and an inflated evaluation of their own spiritual state and moral achievements felt no need of the word that Jesus preached. In fact, they greeted it with resentment, rejection or indifference — just as many do today. 

Faith, love and holiness are very practical things and are best expressed in actions rather than empty talk.