Choices have Consequences

Homily for October 1, 2017
Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

When I was growing up in Milwaukee, I shared a bedroom with my two brothers.  To save space in our room we shared a bunk bed that had three levels rather than two.  My bed had wheels and rolled into a storage area under the lower bunk.  It was a tight fit!  One consequence of that close-fitting—one that especially pleased my parents—was that I had to neatly make my bed every day.  It gave a new meaning to the phrase, “You’ve made your own bed, now lie in it.”

That phrase came to mind as I reflected on today’s scripture readings.  Our first reading and gospel are all about personal responsibility and accountability, and our second reading presents Jesus as a model for us.

In our passage from the prophet Ezekiel, God responds to those who complain that he has rejected what was considered ancient wisdom:  that the sins of parents are visited upon their children and other descendants.  It was embodied in the saying, “Parents eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ez. 18:2).  In contrasting the harsh judgment faced by those who turn from a lifetime of virtue to commit sin and the mercy shown to those who turn from sin and do “what is right and just,” God reminds us that it’s not where we start in life that matters but rather where we end up.  Each day is a new opportunity and a challenge to live in a godly way.  Because we possess the God-given gift of a free will, we can also choose to sin.

In a similar way, Jesus tells us in the gospel that following God’s will is not merely a matter of good intentions or saying the right words.  It requires action.  He uses the example of two sons—one who was disobedient at first but later changed his mind, and one who said “yes” with his lips but did little more.   The chief priests and elders gave others the impression that they followed God’s will.  However, when John the Baptist and then Jesus called them to conversion they responded with indifference and sometimes fierce opposition.  At the same time, tax collectors, prostitutes and others who were publicly labeled as sinners had a change of heart.  Many became friends and disciples of Jesus.

Choosing the way of virtue or the way of sin has consequences.  Likewise, following God’s will or rejecting it also has consequences.  These consequences are borne not only by us but also by those around us.  In his letter to the church at Philippi, St. Paul reflects on one of the positive signs of those consequences:  unity in heart and mind.  Holding the center of such unity requires humility:  a realistic and honest understanding of who we are, “warts and all;” a willingness to learn; and a desire to give our lives in service to God and others.

The cross, Paul reminds us, is a consequence as well as an invitation.  It is the bed we make and the one on which Jesus invites us to lie in the hope that one day we, like him, can rise from it to greet the light of a new day, now and in eternity, and to share with others the life that we have received. +