October 1, 2017 – Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Fairness is a tricky word.

As a Christian, I should long for a world designed to be fair for everyone. A fair world would mean that none of the world’s population would lack access to basic needs like healthy food, adequate shelter, safe drinking water, employment that offers a living wage, affordable healthcare, and basic human rights. Bringing about this type of a reality would require a herculean effort, sacrifice, and a spirit of cooperation among world leaders and the world’s population. It’s the type of thing that seems almost impossible to imagine. Still, desiring and working toward a world where everyone has enough is an important part of being a disciple of Jesus.

Things change, though, when I begin to consider the word ‘fairness’ from a more self-centered point of view. I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt put out because someone landed a job I thought I should have or someone else got invited to more parties than I did. I hear it from my kids, too.

“Daaaaaad, you NEVER take us to Sonic”

“Why can’t I have a friend spend the night?

“I don’t want to clean. We ALWAYS have to clean!”

I’m sure my kids and I could create a list of these moments and statements that would be as lengthy as it would be embarrassing. My point is that there are often striking and revealing differences exposed when we consider fairness for others as opposed to our daily more self-centered sense of fairness. For this scripture reflection, I want to focus on this week’s First Reading and Gospel. In both of these passages, we are presented with a choice: see the world through God’s eyes or see the world through our own eyes.

In the First Reading from Ezekiel, we are asked to consider what happens when someone sins. Back when Ezekiel was walking the earth, it was believed that if someone experienced suffering or death on earth, it was the direct result of their ancestors’ sins, going back many generations. This belief was a great source of oppression and further suffering for many of God’s people over the centuries. God, through Ezekiel, suggests a different way: individual responsibility. If we are to pay the penalty for sin (death), it will be the result of our own individual sinfulness and not the culmination of bad deeds performed by members of our family tree, many of whom we could not possibly have ever known. Through this new understanding of sin and personal responsibility given to us by Ezekiel, God demands true justice and fairness for God’s people.

The Gospel also challenges God’s people to reconsider how they classify fairness. Combined with last week’s Gospel about the vineyard owner, we are left with many questions to consider: What difference does it make when someone chooses to begin living righteously? Is turning one’s life around by choosing to follow Jesus not enough? Must that person be penalized somehow or made to feel less than because they came to do the right thing at a later point in their life than another person? At the moment of Jesus’ ministry highlighted in this passage, Jesus is trying to make the point that these religious leaders are getting too hung up on laws and traditions, which is causing them to miss the whole reason God caused that faith (which underpins those laws and traditions) to be: Help people repent from their sinful ways and turn to God. He even needles them a bit by suggesting that tax collectors and sinners are entering heaven before them. This kind of speak would have been unheard of at that time. It’s one of the many things that ultimately led to Jesus’ arrest and death sentence.

So, what are we to make of all of this? To me, through these readings, God is challenging us to look at all laws and societal norms through God’s eyes and not our own. We are being challenged to set aside our own selfishness and focus on God and others. When we do that, when we choose to work towards a more fair and just world, we will inevitably lead lives more pleasing to God.

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