Deacon Cornellís Homily


Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32


September 24-25, 2005, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Most of the commentaries on today's readings point out that all three readings are about how much God loves us, and how one of the most demonstrations of this is God's infinite capacity for forgiveness. In the reading from Ezekiel, we hear the prophet explain the God loves without counting the things we have done wrong in the past. The wonderful hymn from Philippians celebrates how much Jesus gave up to become human so that we might be saved. And the passage from Matthew's Gospel talks about how those who were considered terrible sinners were being drawn into the kingdom by God's love as proclaimed by John the Baptist and then by Jesus. Knowing that God loves us with this passion, and forgives us is important because it is the basis of salvation, it is the core of the the Good News that we proclaim as Christians.

I think these readings also talk about something else that is almost as important: how we respond to this incredible love and forgiveness that God has for us.

One scripture scholar titled the parable Jesus tells about the two sons as "The Better of Two Bad Sons". I like that title because it reminds me of something we need to hold on to, especially in some of the debates going on in our society right now. Just because Jesus talks about one response being better than the other, doesn't mean that it should be held up as ideal. It is obvious that the ideal is someone who says yes and does his father's bidding. But faced with the choice between the son who says yes and does not follow through and the son who says no but later does what his father asks, we choose the second son as the better of the two. Quite a few commentaries recall the phrase "Action speaks louder than words."

But I am not sure that is the really the point that Jesus is trying to make. After all, the chief priests and the elders, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were not bad people. They were not doing bad things: they were trying to keep the law, and teach others to do so as well. Their problem was not what they were doing but how or why they were doing it. They were not responding to God's love but instead they were acting in response to what they saw as God's judging or condemnation. The tax collectors and prostitutes were not necessarily acting all that nicely but they were being drawn to and then responding to God's love. The chief priests and elders, for the most part, are doing things according to the book; they are following the rules as they stood but they were not acting out of love.

This is something we talked about in the Generations of Faith adult sessions this past weekend. Why we do what we do is often more important than the particular thing that we do.

For example, why do we come to Mass every week? I am sure there are many different answers to that question, especially if we are honest. Some come because they were taught that if they don't they will go to hell. Some come because that is what they have always done. Some come because some one else made them come. While none of these are bad reasons, they sort of fit the profile of the second son, the better of the bad.

Why should we come to Mass every week? The ideal reason is we come because of who we are. This God who loves us and forgives us called us to be followers of Christ, and through Baptism we have become part of the Body of Christ. We started our initiation into this vocation of being the Body of Christ in the baptismal font, and we continue that initiation week after week in this sacrament of Holy Eucharist. We come to Mass every week to give praise and thanks to God because that is what Christ does. The Body of Christ gives praise and thanks to God because of who Christ is. It is as simple as that. The more fully we enter into this initiation week after week, the more fully we become part of the Body of Christ, and the more naturally we gather the following week to give God thanks and praise.

Over the past two weeks, Fr. Butler talked in his homily about the mission of the Church to be the instrument of God's forgiveness. Why do we need to forgive those who hurt us? The answer is the same as the one to the last questions. Because that is what Christ does. Christ forgives and if we are the Body of Christ there is no other way we can act. If we are truly part of the Body of Christ, forgiveness is not hard, and it is not optional; forgiveness is the only way that Christ acts.

The beautiful hymn in that second reading expresses the same thing about God. The second person of the trinity became human not because the Father made him, or because there was some reward in it for him. Jesus willingly emptied himself of his Godhead to become human because that is who our God is. Jesus died for us not because he wanted to suffer or because anyone made him; he died for us because of who he was. There was no other way this God made human could act. Jesus was authentic. He always acted out of his true nature.

That is our challenge: to be authentic. This is a two step process: first, discover our true nature, and then act consistent with that nature. We discover our true nature by realizing that, in the first place, we are loved by God. We are loved totally, infinitely, unconditionally, and without end. I am, and you are, and everyone we encounter is. That is our true nature, creatures who are loved passionately by our Creator. The challenge then is to be true to that nature. There is only one way that someone so loved can act and that is to love back. The only way that someone who is so forgiven by God can act, is to bring forgiveness to others.

It is true that actions speak louder than words. But even more importantly it is true that only authentic actions save.