God’s Prayer to Us

The following headline made Section A of last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal :

“Mass Shootings on the Rise”

The report said the mindset of the shooters in these incidents is often the same: “a real or perceived deeply held personal grievance, and the only remedy they can think of is an act of catastrophic violence against a person.”

Or maybe against God? “Life ain’t fair” is a common human grievance and the results of that perception fill every newspaper every day. Those who pray often include the phrase “why me, Lord? It’s not fair.” Well, in this Sunday’s first reading (ez 18:25-28) the tables are turned. Listen to the prophet Ezekiel as he quotes God:

“You say, ‘The LORD’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?”

There’s a headline for you: “God says Humanity isn’t Fair!”

Ezekiel was one of many prophets who wrote such grabbers to send a message: when someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is their own fault—they made a bad choice by abusing God’s gift of free will. They separated themselves from God, and by doing so, deprived Him of the love to which he was entitled. That’s unfair!

Throughout the centuries before Christ’s arrival, many prophets followed Ezekiel, trying to turn humanity around. The greatest of them, John the Baptist, was able to get the message across to some of the worst of humanity, but he couldn’t convince those who felt they were the best of humanity—the chief priests and elders of his day—to share God’s gift of love with others. Jesus knew this and in Sunday’s gospel reading (mt 21:28-32), tells them so:

“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.”

Not fair.

Nevertheless, God sacrificed his only begotten son to demonstrate for us how to make best use of this gift of life so it will last forever. As Paul tells the Philippians in our second reading (phil 2:1-11), this gift of life was meant for sharing, not hoarding it as if we were entitled to a glory above all others.

“Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes, “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.”

A death from which he escaped and left the doorway open for us to follow him through. It’s a narrow doorway, and a long pathway leads to it. We are walking it with a crowd of others, each of whom feels just as entitled to make it through that doorway at the end. When any of us starts feeling more entitled than others, let’s remember God’s prayer to be fair: “Whatever you do for one of the least of my brothers, you do for me.’”

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