“The Lord’s way is not fair,” so the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading describes the view of the people of his day. When we have no satisfactory answer to natural or physical happenings we too may wonder about God’s way. But this reading is not about the weather or physical health. It is about spiritual well-being and our openness to living our lives in obedience to God the Father, in discipleship with God the Son, and in fellowship with God the Holy Spirit. Our human nature tends to buck the narrow yet freeing yoke Jesus invites us to put on.
Is the Lord’s way not fair? St. Paul in the second reading from Philippians has the answer. God’s way is to humble himself by becoming man, then in obedience suffering and dying, and then forgiving those who did it. God’s way is to continue to offer himself through Holy Mass and to provide guidance and forgiveness to us through His church. Christ’s sacrificial love should put in perspective the crosses we bear, the questions we have, and motivate us to seek to discover and then do his will.
That is an insightful thought as we acknowledge Respect Life Sunday. All of October is Respect Life month and dedicated to Mary, the mother of Life. The theme this year is “Be Not Afraid” for Jesus promised to be with us until the end of the age.
Rightly we begin with prayer for the unborn and advocacy for the end of abortion. We begin with the obvious principle that unless there is first life, no other rights or opportunities will exist. We also pray for and seek to accompany mothers who have or are facing tough decisions in difficult times. Programs like the Mother Teresa Fund and Project Rachel offer support and listening ears. Check out the diocesan website about them.
Respect life also includes respecting the disabled, those in their last days and all those vulnerable who our secular culture marginalizes and demeans as unproductive, a waste of resources or not worthy. The advocacy of assisted suicide is of special concern since it tugs at the heart but demeans God’s creative gift and God himself.
Among the high profile respect life realities today is racism which some call the original sin of our country. It is a subtle but real presence not only in the distant past but today. All people in our diversity are children of God who gave us all life. As brothers and sisters all persons are to be respected and allowed to live with dignity and opportunity.
Respect life also ought to include those who face so many challenges economically, socially, educationally, medically. In other words, respect for life includes us all in some way.
We search for some context to put all this into perspective. It comes down to each of us personally as disciples of Christ. Whatever are government policies, media focus or contradicting group gestures or actions, it comes down to what is in our heart and whether we have the courage to build on the grace of baptism and the teachings of Christ to treat others with respect and therefore witness the call of Christ: what you do for the least of my children you do for me.
Attacks on life and the dignity of all persons come from courts, politicians, media, education professionals, corporations and so many other persons and institutions who declare the God’s ways are unfair. Sometimes standing up for life in all its manifestations seems overwhelming, even heartbreaking. We might be tempted to throw up our hands and conclude there is no hope.
The Lord through Ezekiel turns the table and challenges us: are not your ways unfair. As we look at the state of the world with its violence, poverty and injustice, and note so many individual lives broken and hurting, it should cause us to pause about our ways. The gospel reading reveals the world’s ways. The father asks both his sons to work for him in the vineyard. One says he will not, but out of a guilty conscience or some other motivation changes his mind and does so. The other son answers yes sir, I will go, but does not.
Neither brother responded in the way we should. One son’s actions conflicted with his words and the other did not practice what he preached. If we are to be people of integrity we must both profess and practice what is right, moral and true whether convenient and comfortable or not.
Father Dominic Grassi told of his experience as a youth soccer referee. There was no arguing with the referee allowed he noted. If a player did argue there would be a yellow card of warning. If the player argued again he confronted a red card which suspended him from the game. The rules which the referee applied were the rules of the game, not to be changed or compromised. He said it taught players respect, patience, and not blaming others. In graphic language he said, it taught us to keep our mouths shut, not to argue but to live faithfully the rules that are for the good of all.
We know from experience that Christian discipleship is demanding and that sometimes out of personal interest we would like to change the rules, but that cannot be because God’s way is what is best for us. God’s ways are not open to change or compromise for which we should be grateful. Someone said, “We grumble because God put thorns on roses. Wouldn’t it be better if we thanked God for putting roses with the thorns.”
There is a moving portrait of Jesus looking down on our world with tears streaming down his face, tears of disappointment and of love. Whose ways are fair? Whose way offers real forgiveness. Whose way leads to peace in this world and lasting joy in the next? God’s or the worlds. Whose way we follow will make all the difference today and forever.
“Be not afraid, for I am with you, all of you, until the end of thee age.”