"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
September 25, 2011: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Ezekiel 18:25-28
Synopsis: Actions speak much louder than words.
In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel talks about the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s sins. In those days, there was no real distinction between the individual and the community: guilt for national apostasy fell equally upon all. An important aspect of this reading is that each person is free to turn away from sin and toward righteousness, and vice versa. The sinner is not automatically damned by his past; if he repents, he will save his soul.
At the same time, a respectable person is not automatically saved by good deeds; he can lose his soul any time by turning away from God. In the end, Ezekiel says, one is judged by his actions and humble obedience to God.
The second reading is a beautiful hymn about Christ. The Lord doesn’t just tell us that he loves us; he shows us: “Though he was in the form of God, Christ Jesus . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a slave . . . he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death.” Christ not only gave us an example to inspire us, but is the very pattern by which we are conformed to him.
In this week’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of two brothers. One refused to obey his father, but later changed his mind and did what he was told. The other brother said all the right things, promising to do what he father said, but didn’t. “Which of the two,” Jesus asks, “did the father’s will?” The story was directed at the chief priests and elders who said all the right things, but in their arrogance did not do God’s will or honor Christ.
Key verse: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend” (Phil 2:10).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation” (No. 1850).
Pope Benedict XVI: “With this parable Jesus reaffirms his predilection for sinners who convert and teaches us that humility is necessary in order to accept the gift of salvation. St. Paul, too, in the passage from his Letter to the Philippians on which we are meditating today, urges us to be humble” (Angelus, Sept. 28, 2008).
Life application: Oscar Wilde once said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” The good thief on the cross next to Jesus was saved because he accepted responsibility for his crimes and humbly repented of his sins. A whole lifetime of wrongdoing did not prevent him from going to heaven. This week’s readings, however, also serve as a warning: a whole lifetime of good deeds can count for nothing if, in the end, one refuses to honor God and is no longer willing to “bend the knee” at the name of Jesus.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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