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God's Word on Sunday: We have the blueprint to remake world

  • September 20, 2020

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 27 (Year A) Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

God is so unfair. The just suffer, the wicked prosper and the world is not a just or peaceful place.

These are perennial complaints about God’s relationship with humanity. Ezekiel lays the blame where it belongs — with human beings. When we walk in God’s ways, acting with fidelity, compassion and justice, we — and the societies in which we live — prosper and are at peace.

The laws of God are given to us because they work. They create an environment in which people can thrive and be happy. We depart from this path at our own peril. Even if we do not sin personally, collective sin affects the entire community. Though we might not act personally in unjust ways, we all benefit from unjust structures and systems.

Much of our daily life and standard of living is fuelled by injustice of one sort or another. We enjoy cheap goods produced in the sweatshops of poor countries, often under miserable conditions. Individually and as a people we reap what we sow.

This is evident in the environmental crisis, climate change, racism, economic difficulties of all sorts, as well as violence and terrorism. These conditions are for the most part created by human actions and choices.

The first step towards conversion and transformation is self-reflection and being willing to acknowledge these darker areas of modern living. The image of divinely ordained human community presented in the Old Testament is very clear. It is based on generosity, active compassion, non-possessiveness, respect for the rights of others and special concern for the weak and vulnerable.

It is not rocket science — we create the world in which we live and have no one to blame for the mess it has become except ourselves.

There is no need for God to “punish” us, for we do that quite well. Humanity has been given a blueprint for humane and spiritual living by God. We can remake the world by following this pattern in all human endeavours.

The Christ-hymn in Philippians contains the master pattern for Christian life. Paul insists that compassion and love are fine and necessary, but there is one further step to living fully in Christ. Being of one mind and heart and doing nothing from selfish ambition counteracts the all-too-human focus on the self.

A loss of human solidarity and focus on the common good is at the root of much of our world’s troubles. The Spirit urges us to think in terms of “we” instead of “I.”

Paul proposes Jesus as the model for selfless and compassionate living. Jesus let go of status, power and prerogatives — in effect, emptying Himself — and assumed a lowly and vulnerable role as a human being. Not only that, but He also became a servant of all, devoid of self-seeking and ambition.

His concern was obedience to God and service to others regardless of cost. It was because of this that He was exalted to the heavens and given titles and power. Renouncing self and serving others is not weakness and diminishment but empowerment and transformation.

Who does the will of God — those that talk a good talk or those who actually do what God asks? In the parable of the two sons, one son responded to the request of the father with unctuous assurances, but he did not go into the fields as requested. The other son refused — he was somewhat of a rebel — but in the end, he went into the fields and did what the father had asked.

Jesus pointed out that the second son did the will of the father, albeit with a bit of grumbling. No amount of God-talk and superficial piety will cover up human disobedience and refusal to walk in God’s ways. The quality of our obedience is measured in what we do, not what we say or promise.

The faithful have been seriously let down by some in responsible religious positions, even those seen as spiritual teachers. On the other hand, profound spirituality and sanctity can often be found in those who might be dismissed by more “respectable and religious” folks as sinful, deficient and unbelieving.

We should be very careful about attaching a good or bad label to anyone’s faith or person, for we could be dead wrong. The evidence for our faith is in our deeds and how we treat others.