Weekly Scripture


In the first reading, Ezekiel tells us that each of us is responsible for his or her own conduct, and will be judged accordingly. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Philippians that self-seeking and rivalry have no place in the Christian community. In the Gospel Jesus tells us that “actions speak louder than words”.

FIRST READING: Ezekiel 18:25-28

In this reading, Ezekiel tells his fellow exiles in Babylon that each individual will be held responsible for his/her individual sin. For the Israelites this was a radical new teaching. Until now, they believed in what is called “corporate responsibility”. In Ezekiel, we read the ancient proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and their children’s teeth are set on edge (18:2). The idea of corporate responsibility meant that they were now paying for the sins of their ancestors. Hence the words, “the Lord’s ways are not fair”, found at the beginning of today’s reading. Ezekiel states clearly that we are responsible only for our own sins. If the sinner repents he will experience a whole new beginning with God. Conversely, if the virtuous person sins, he will pay for his sins.

SECOND READING: Philippians 2:1-11

While in prison, Paul has heard from his visitors about the bickering and divisions occurring amongst his beloved Philippians. From the deepest recesses of his heart he appeals to them to change their destructive ways. Because they have been baptized into Christ, they are called to live in a fellowship that should be characterized by love, humility, mutual respect, altruism and unity. As their model for this transformation process, Paul holds up for his readers Jesus. Look at Jesus: even though he was God, he was willing to surrender his equality with God in order to become fully human. He was willing to forgo his innocence to take on the sins of humanity. Because of his willingness to change, God filled him with his glory. In placing before them the self-emptying of Christ, Paul is suggesting to the Philippians a radical de-centering of their lives from self-absorption to self-giving.

GOSPEL: Matthew 21:28-32

This is the first of three consecutive parables in Matthew on the theme of judgment day and how we will be responsible for our poor choices. In each of the three stories, the result is predictable. The one who is faithful to the call will be rewarded, and the one who does not respond will be sorry.

Before we get to the choice in today’s parable, we should note that this story does name some key themes found in Matthew’s gospel:

   The importance of doing and not saying, “Not all who say to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter . . . but only the one who does the will of my Father” (7:21).

Repentance. Neither son acts as he should, but the first son repents, changes his mind and fulfills his Father’s order. In today’s first reading, we see that God rewards repentance: “If someone turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life (Ez. 18:27).

In today’s gospel, when Jesus asks the chief priests and elders: which of the two sons did the Father’s will, he is inviting them to pass judgment on themselves. The first son stands for sinners (tax collectors, prostitutes, etc.) who initially said “no” to God, but are now saying “yes” to Jesus. The second son represents Jesus’ audience, the religious leaders of the Jewish people. They are the recipients of God’s revelation. They, or their ancestors, at one time said “yes” to God, but now they are saying “no” to him by their rejection of Jesus. The first group in cooperation with the grace of God was able to have a change of mind and thereby open their hearts to Jesus. The latter group refused to have a change of mind and heart and therefore were shut out of the kingdom.

It seems that the Pharisees were giving a superficial “yes” to God. They said their prayers, went to the temple, kept the law, but at a deeper level they were saying “no” to God. They were rejecting his revelation in Jesus. Could this      happen to us? It’s a scary thought — a superficial “yes” covering a deeper “no”.