Bulletin: September 27, 2020
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the past several weeks, the word of God has drawn us into the mystery of mercy. Today’s readings deepen our reflection, reminding us how blessed we are to know God’s kindness and sharing practical ways to show compassion to others. The prophet Ezekiel cautions God’s chosen people, emphasizing that bad behavior naturally leads to painful consequences. The psalm responds prayerfully: “Remember your mercies, O Lord.” In this prayer, we ask for the mercy of recognizing our sins and receiving the strength to act differently. In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul invites us into a daunting challenge of mercy: “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” If we scoff at Paul’s challenge as impossibly naïve, the Gospel gives us a chance to reconsider. Our natural instincts of self-preservation might reject merciful behavior initially, but like the son in today’s Gospel of mercy, we can change our minds.
The prophet Ezekiel scolds God’s chosen people for demanding more than they deserve. Acting like spoiled children, the Israelites complain when their wicked actions lead logically to negative consequences. Nature has built-in punishments for bad behavior: laziness leads to unpreparedness; overwork leads to exhaustion; overindulgence leads to poor health; violence leads to injury. The natural world brims with corrective countermeasures to our poor choices. Why is it, Ezekiel wonders, that we become upset when sin leads to predictable and natural punishments?
Animals never object to punishment, only humans. A wounded gerbil wouldn’t shake her fist at the skies and ask, “Why me?” But as Ezekiel knows, human beings complain constantly. Humans are supposed to be more logical than animals, yet we irrationally protest natural consequences that we do not like, such as pain or death. Mysteriously, our bitterness against nature is rooted in our unique capacity for greatness. Unlike every other creature in the universe, we humans are made in the image and likeness of God. We may live in the natural world, but God calls us every minute to supernatural glory. Though we are mortal, God’s mercy has destined us for immortality. Our hearts long for perfect bliss unlike anything we will ever know on earth. No wonder we demand so much from God! Preserved for glory as we are, we experience pain when earthly life falls short of our divine expectations. Jesus shows us the antidote for that pain—service. Though we share in the kingship of Christ, we must demonstrate our royalty as Jesus does, by serving others. As Saint Paul tells us, Jesus is God, yet takes the form of a slave—our slave. The Gospel encourages us to imitate Jesus in this way. We may object to being a servant at first, and even grumble about it. But God’s strength can help us overcome natural objections and enter gracefully into our supernatural role, heirs to the kingdom of God.