Sunday Scripture Readings

twenty-sixth sunday

in ordinary time,

september 29

Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25;

Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

OUR GOOD NEWS: God is always ready to forgive; we need only show willingness to accept through mutual forgiveness. At times we cry out against God for not being fair. This was especially true during the prophet Ezekiel's time, after the Babylonian army had destroyed Israel's temple in Jerusalem and forced her leading citizens into far-away exile and slavery. These latter citizens complained with apparent justification: "Our ancestors sinned, but we are punished. God is not fair!" - His way is erratic and arbitrary, and doesn't conform to rule. So long as someone suffers punishment for past sins, He doesn't care whether or not it's personally deserved. God vigorously responded in the style of disputation. "Your way is not fair!" It conforms to no rule, is "twisting" (crooked, perverted). The exiles were no better than their forebears; in refusing to repent they got what they personally deserved. But prophetic word of consolation quickly offset word of judgment. God's mercy overrules strict justice; He doesn't hold our past against us; He's "not fair" to our advantage. Thanks to His marvelous, limitless forgiveness, we can be restored to friendship with Him, empowered to renounce sinfulness and delivered from a past that can haunt and paralyze. Alike to the despairing and the falsely self-confident, Ezekiel declares that the present orientation of one's life toward or away from God is the real issue. We're quick to blame others - God, parents, environment, grade school teachers, "the system" - instead of setting our own lives in order. The ultimate reason, of course, is that repentance demands too much. It calls for thoroughgoing change in thought and daily lifestyle, right doing rather than whining in prayer. Nevertheless, the life God promises isn't a reward for obedience but a gift offered and received upon reorienting one's existence (meaning of "repent"). To live means standing in God's presence. Virtue or righteousness refers to a faithful orientation rather than to human perfection. In sum, instead of whining and complaining about God being unfair, we must accept what can't be changed and take practical steps toward reform where possible. For his part, God's so-called "unfairness" is to our advantage. He doesn't hold the past against us and always gives us another chance. Jesus' brief story (Gospel) is little more than an expanded proverb with an obvious message. God doesn't want polite but hypocritical words, for that isn't obedience at all. Merciful and quick to forgive (first reading and psalm), he tolerates willful, even blasphemous disobedience provided repentance follows. Divine judgment differs radically from justice dispensed according to human law. God remains faithful, always ready to receive repentant sinners. He never abandons us; we abandon Him. The World Judge shows astounding partiality to our happiness, reluctantly condemning those who condemn themselves through refusing to make needed changes in their lives. Hating others, no matter how evil their behavior, is never a virtue because it is contrary to God's example revealed through Jesus' forgiving attitude. Those demanding justice from God against others bring it upon themselves, to their eternal ruin.

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