Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
By the Reverend Doctor Victoria Marie
As I reflected on today’s readings the theme that emerged is: our response to God. In the first reading Ezekiel is saying that when we turn away from what is just, we die. When we return to acting with justice, we save our lives.
When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 18:26-27.
Looked at in today’s context we can see that the inequity and injustice motivated by greed for land, money, and resources have led to death. For example:
We are experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times that, with literally dozens going extinct every day. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century…. 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities.
Wars, pollution of all kinds, the displacement and impoverishment of people at home and in countries all over the world, are being motivated by the pursuit of profit, all of which contributes to death. Although as individuals and communities, we may not be able to stop the onslaught but each action of justice and love that we do, contributes to life. Our response to God as people of God is to contribute to life by acts of love and justice.
The second reading suggests that if we are followers of Christ, we should be of the same mind as Christ and so, have the same love as Christ (Phil 2:5). Jesus modelled what our response to God’s love and compassion for us should be, that is we should put the welfare of others before our own.
Today’s Gospel provides us with the difference between a lip-service and active service on what our response to God’s love and compassion for us should be. It demonstrates the meaning of repentance. Most of the commentaries on this Gospel reading suggests that it’s about the belief of societal outcasts versus the disbelief of the Jewish religious establishment. But I think the Gospel is much more encompassing. It’s about right action versus right belief. Verse 32, where it is translated as, “did not change your minds”, is more correctly translated, “did not repent.” To repent is a process of returning to our true selves, back to the state in which God created us, that is, our default state of goodness. Our default state calls us to model God’s care and concern for the peoples, flora and fauna of the Earth. Therefore, saying I believe in God or I am a good Christian, or good Jew, or good Muslim, or a good person or a good whatever, is of no consequence. It is not a matter what we believe. Rather, it is a matter of what we do. Here are a couple of examples, one of self-styled good Christians; the other what some would call a derelict.
The first example is presented in the documentary film, God loves Uganda, which shows how American conservative evangelical missionaries and organizations have promoted homophobia in Uganda by convincing Ugandan parents that homosexuals are out to get their children. Their campaign has been so successful that it resulted in the death of David Kato, an activist for LGBTQ rights and an atmosphere where Uganda’s LGBTQ people are struggling just to stay alive.
The second example happened on the bus the other day. As I sat down, I heard this loud voice from the back. It sounded like a guy I knew “back in the day.” He was drinking and trying to share whatever it was. He was saying he had stomach cancer and drinking helped. He was shabby. Most passengers looked disgusted. He took out a cigarette as soon as he got off the bus at Main Street. Several people immediately asked him for a smoke. With a smile, he gave one to each one who asked. The relief I felt has he got off the bus was replaced by admiration for his generosity to strangers.
Now in these two examples, which of these would you say model’s God’s love? The promotion of hate can never be the will of the God of love.
The Good News, today’s Gospel is that in spite of our current actions, there is hope, hope for all. This hope resides not in whether or not a person believes but in how a person acts. There is hope even though we, as yet, may have not acted in response to God’s love. Remember in the first reading, we are told that returning to our innate goodness is life-giving. Each good deed is a step in that direction. Therefore, today’s readings are an invitation, alerting us that it is never too late to renew our covenant with God. It is never too late to respond to God’s love with love.
Victoria Marie is is co-founder of the Vancouver Catholic Worker, on unceded Coast Salish Territory. She is a priest, spiritual director, and pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Roman Catholic Women Church Community and author of Transforming Addiction: The role of spirituality in learning recovery from addiction (Scholars Press, 2014). This reflection is a shared or dialogue homily where Vikki gives a short “homily starter” then those present offer their reflections.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.