28. Sep, 2017

When a sinner becomes law abiding and honest, he or she will gain eternal life

Are We Doing the Will of God – Our Complicated Response

The accusation of injustice against God in the 1st reading (Ezekiel 18:25-28) refers to God judging us individually, as people responsible for our own actions. The injustice is ours because we would prefer to blame other things, other people. … BUT THERE IS NO EXCUSE!

God is clear in setting out how we are individually responsible for our own actions. A righteous person that turns away from righteousness and commits iniquity, shall not have eternal life – there are no excuses for wickedness. Similarly, when a sinner becomes law abiding and honest, he or she will gain eternal life. Clearly, we are responsible for our own fate and have no one to blame for our wrongdoing before God but ourselves.

The reading from Ezekiel is about accountability. However, our notion of our own accountability is complicated because we have biases about ourselves. We tend to think that we are in the right, whilst others are in the wrong. If it’s not the case, this presents a serious challenge to our self-image. We want to think we are good and justify many things to maintain cognitive consistency.   

The Gospel directly challenges the way we think about our self. The way we tend to think we are righteous can come at the cost of the truth. Certainly, the priests Jesus confronted thought they were at rights with God. The truth is that often we justify and excuse (mitigate culpability) our behaviour through blame of circumstances or often, others. Often, we hold other people accountable for our own faults. We do this as we need to fool ourselves that we are righteous, in order to protect our own self-image.

The Gospel challenge is for us to be truthful and confront our biased image of our self. Is that self-image in harmony with the truth?  In truth, which son are we?

Psychology offers ample evidence that we safe-guard our self-image by justifying our behaviour. We even distort our memories to do this. This leads to cognitive dissonance because there is no harmony between what we fool ourselves into thinking about ourselves, and who we know we are, deep down. Naturally, this leads to anxiety and depression.

We experience this disharmony very readily if we sin gravely. However, what is concerning is we habitually ignore minor indiscretions to protect ourselves from thinking we have actually done something we know we should not have, or omitted to do something we knew we should have. Turning someone away when they seek our help may not be a mortal sin, but let us admit to our self that we haven’t done the will of God.

The Challenge

We all would like to think we are good Christians, myself included. I don’t think this is the case. Even I try to justify my lifestyle to myself, fooling myself I am a good Christian. The truth is, my life isn’t in full harmony with the Gospels. Am I really doing the will of God? I know that I am not when I’m honest. This honesty with our self is what the Gospel is trying to achieve – our being honest with ourselves.

We represent the second son in the Gospel (Matthew 21:28-52). We have said to God and ourselves, “Certainly” I will do your will. Have we? I have not.

St Paul offers a bit of a litmus test so we may objectively take-stock of our discipleship.

  • Are we united in love with a common purpose and a common mind? As a Christian community just in Moora, we are not.
  • Is there competition among us or conceit, are we self-effacing? Yes, yes, and no.
  • Do we, as individuals, think of others interests first, put others interests first? I don’t always.
  • Is our mindset the same as the mind of Christ? Often not.

Thanks be to God we have this opportunity to take stock, to be challenged to recognise our own biases, to convert, to strive more sincerely to do the will of God, and to recognise our absolute need of Gods help to do this. Amen.

Image: http://slideplayer.com/slide/9159451/