Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Ezekiel 18:25-28, Philippians 2:1-11, Matthew 21:28-32.
Liturgical Worship is us Taking Personal Responsibility for our Life
A quote attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola reads, “Work as if everything depended on you. Pray as if everything depended on God.” This quote is apparently in bright contradiction to the sacred Scriptures that liken us to being sheep, even as Psalm 23 reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” Then, other parts of sacred Scripture are consistent with the Ignatian idea of personal responsibility, such as Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This relationship between depending on God for what we need and using those gifts and graces to live a life of virtue is perfectly summed up succinctly in the Pater Noster prayer and through long-form in today’s Readings at Mass for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A.
Chapter 18 of Ezekiel, which some collections have subtitled ‘Personal Responsibility,’ is cast in a unique hypothetical format, with several verses beginning with the word ‘if’ or the phrase ‘but if’ to teach the way of virtue through theoretical situations. In the instant case of today’s First Reading from Ezekiel 18:25-28, we should preface it with verse 20, which debunks the idea of punishment for sin being transferred from one generation to the next in favor of individual responsibility and accountability, saying, “Only the one who sins shall die. The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. Justice belongs to the just, and wickedness to the wicked.” In vv. 21 through 24, the Lord teaches that He rejoices when the wicked turn from their sins to follow Him and says that none of their crimes shall be accounted against him. However, the just ones who turned from justice to do evil shall die, and none of the justice they did shall be remembered.
Some might think it is unfair for the Lord not to remember the good things that the wicked man did before he turned evil or that He forgets the evil things that the man did before he turned good. A part of us wants our whole life to be judged and graded on a cumulative scale and averaged out. We want God to consider that we were excellent students during some periods of our lives and failing students in others. However, overall, we were above-average students, and that cumulative grade should matter on our judgment day. To these detractors, the Lord says, “You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or is not your ways unfair?” This is a reasonable response from God, given that He has communicated to us His standards from the beginning. Therefore, who are we to ask for personal exceptions to the standard?
In our Gospel Reading today from Matthew 21:28-32, Christ Jesus employs a parable to illustrate Ezekiel’s call to personal responsibility, saying to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He replied, ‘I will not,’ but afterward changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He replied, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus told them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.” It is truly comforting that we serve a God as magnanimous and merciful as this, that He does not hold our ‘no’ against us, as long as we get around to saying ‘yes’ before we die. Again, He is like the landowner who called laborers to his vineyard and paid them the same wage no matter when they arrived.
The reason why our call to holiness is a personal call, why the sacraments only infect those who consist freely to them, and why we stand alone before God on our judgment day is because we are only obedient to God to the degree that we love God, and if we love God, we also love neighbor and self, and if we love self, we take responsibility and ownership of our baptismal call to be holy, because we have found nothing in this life that is greater than eternal life with God. This is why we attend the Holy Sacrifice – not because the precepts of the Church obliged us to, but because we have a sense of there being no other good outcome for our life lest we respond to the call of divine love that burns within us and draws us nearer to its source.
Indeed, the more we consume Christ the Holy Eucharist, the more we become like that which we eat, and according to the Apostle Paul in today’s Second Reading from Philippians 2:1-11, we might adopt Christ Jesus’ attitude of personal responsibility even to the point of giving up His life for those whom He loves, writing, “. . . Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.