“Your ways are unfair!” We hear this complaint in our first reading from the exiles in Babylon who thought they were being punished for the sins of their fathers; but in reality, they were using this ‘complaint’ as an excuse to continue to sin themselves. How often has each of us voiced this same complaint? “Your ways are unfair Lord!” We see so often in society today people choosing to shift blame rather than be accountable for their own sinfulness. But God tells them “no” – you are each held accountable for your own relationship with God – turn from sin and you shall preserve your life. That is a message for us as well.
We have free will – the ability to choose the path we want to follow and the actions we undertake. At any time, we can choose to turn from sin and right our ship. Our pride and focus on self, so often cause us to buy into sinfulness like the first son in our gospel. The lesson of the gospel though is to turn from sin – like the first son! God in his mercy is patient as He waits for us to change. It is not the sin which condemns us but the refusal to change. The question is, how do we get past “your ways are unfair!”? We need to lessen ourselves that others might increase. When we do, it is God himself who becomes more visible. God rejoices in those who recognize their sinfulness and strive to transform their hearts wrapped in God’s mercy and the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.
Saint Paul points to the answer in his letter. It is through humility – the humility of Christ which others have modeled since and to which we are called. Humility is a recognition and an acceptance that all things come from God, that we are nothing without him, leading to a desire to do His will in all things. It understands that God’s way is fair and leads to freedom which leads to hope! It calls us to focus on others over ourselves. It is the ability to lessen ourselves that others might increase. When we do, it is God Himself – the author of humility – who becomes more visible. Growth in humility leads to freedom and a growth in holiness. Humility leads us to seek to do His will.
As humble servants, He calls us to have mercy and compassion for the poor, for it is that same mercy and compassion he seeks to give to us. By seeking out the poor and all those in need, by coming to know them and looking them squarely in the eye, by seeking God in their very presence, we come to understand ourselves better – seeing in them what God sees in each of us. A need for forgiveness and mercy and compassion. A need for acceptance and hope and love.
God calls us to turn from our sinfulness embracing Him with a continual “YES Lord!” We just cannot say “yes” once in our faith journey. We have to repeat that commitment many times through our lives as we mature, and as life presents new challenges to test our faith. Faith is a day-to-day commitment, a “yes” said over and over again in large and small ways. Through our presence at liturgies and worship, through our continual prayers and development of our prayer life, through our care for the poor and each other, and through our participation in the life of the church.
As Vincentians, we come face to face with circumstances of injustice and unfairness. Many times people struggle due to circumstances beyond their control. Sometimes we meet people who struggle with accountability. But we also see time and again people who embrace their crosses, count their blessings, and thank God for what they do have. We are reminded that God didn’t promise us fairness – he promised us freedom – freedom to choose love – freedom to choose not to sin – freedom to choose to pursue hope! Through our encounters helping the poor we can learn how to accept our crosses, trust in God’s will and grow in humility. For as St. Vincent tells us ‘in the poor, in their struggles, we see God himself!’ They teach us humility by their living examples. They are not perfect – they make mistakes. Neither am I perfect. What those who are suffering have learned though is humility and gentleness in ways I can only aspire to. Watch those who are suffering and a common trait is care for others. Do I pay attention? Do I accept the gift they give me with gratitude? Do I set my pride and self-importance to the side that I might see the presence of Christ in all situations?
Father, I am a sinner who has offended you. Grant that my heart might be touched by your presence in the poor and the suffering. Help me to see the gift they offer me. Help me to let go of my pride, my self-importance, my lack of patience, my deceit of even myself that I might recognize you waiting in the distance for me to journey toward you. Allow me to embrace those in need that I might feel your loving embrace of me. I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen