In the readings for this Sunday, Oct. 1, things escalate quickly in the God-isn’t-fair theme. Last week, we had to be happy for people who get stuff that we don’t, and this week we are told flat out that it’s not God who isn’t fair, but us.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
The readings for this Sunday, Oct. 1, complete our journey from the past few weeks where we’ve moved from discovering God’s unfair ways of generous love that gives us what we need rather than what we deserve, to God flat out telling us that it’s not him who’s unfair, but rather, us. The difference between us and God is that God is ready to forgive people the minute they’re sorry, whereas we want to make them suffer for it; make them feel the error of their ways. God knows how they’ve suffered already, and just wants to bring them healing.
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
Remember your mercies, O Lord.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
You can read the full text of this Sunday’s readings here:
Very often in Scripture, when God wants to make a point, he builds a story up and then throws in a surprise ending to really get our attention. The Jewish prophets did this and Jesus did it in his parables. The past few weeks were a build-up to God getting around to telling us that we’re not fair. We accuse God because God is so loving and merciful and wants even the worst people in the world to get to heaven. Us…not so much. We’re more comfortable in the “make them pay” camp. Even after people are sorry, we want to make them feel the hurt that we did. But, not God. Think of all the times that Jesus met sinners. He treated them nicely and with respect, and the second they understood what they did, he told them to know that God loved them and leave that old pain and suffering behind.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians uses Jesus as the example of what we should all be like. Even though Jesus is God, he didn’t walk around trying to make everyone treat him properly. The only thing he was concerned with was making us know that God wants us to be treated properly and to treat one another properly. And properly means with profound mercy. Mercy means being kind and forgiving even when someone doesn’t deserve it.
The story that Jesus told about the two brothers was really about the religious people of Israel and the people they considered sinners. They weren’t wrong–the tax collectors and prostitutes were sinners. But, the difference was that the tax collectors and sinners accepted it and asked for forgiveness. The religious people were sinners, too, but they thought they were perfect and refused to change. We understand from this that we need to be honest with ourselves about our failings. God is honest about them–he knows everything we do and loves us all the same. So, we should acknowledge when we mess up, and let God make us whole again. God’s not interested in making us pay–he paid on the Cross. God’s only interested in restoring us to our proper dignity.
Do you ever get punished when you misbehave? Why do you think your parents punish you (hint: it’s not because they like to see you suffer)? If your parents don’t agree with your answer, let them tell you why they do.
The two sons in Jesus’ story are pretty accurate to real life. Parents are always telling their kids to do stuff, and very often, the response will be “ok”, but nothing happens. Or, in a bad (not judging–just saying that sometimes people are in a bad mood), a child might answer a bit fresh, but then think better of it and do what was asked of them. Which son are you most like? Why do you respond the way you do? What might change your attitude a little bit and make you more responsive? Maybe you’ve been on the other end of that–maybe you’ve asked for something and got a response like one of the brothers. How did it make you feel?
As adults, we know that there are some sins, some crimes, that it’s not easy to just “let go.” It’s not socially responsible to let violent criminals loose when they realize what they’ve done wrong. So, what is our responsibility in cases like that? How do we balance the need for a criminal to “pay his/her debt to society” without trying to keep them down emotionally or spiritually? How do we express mercy while protecting the innocent public?
A little lectio
The ancient practice of prayerfully reflecting on bits of Scripture is known as lectio divina. Want to try it out with your family? Head over to Lectio Divina for Kids to find out how to adapt this prayer practice for your kids.
A little Bible study
Want to do a little Bible study with your kids? Here are some tips:
- During Ordinary Time, the Church pairs the Old Testament and New Testament readings in a way that each sheds light on the other. Ask your kids to look for the common theme connecting the two readings. (Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it is subtle.) How does the “dialogue” between the readings help you understand them better?
- Get a New American Bible, Revised Edition, and take a look at the footnotes for these readings. How do they change your understanding of what is going on?
- Take a look at the context for the readings—what happens before, or after?
- Read the NABRE’s introduction to the book of the Bible that the readings are taken from. How does that help you understand the readings?
- If you don’t have a copy of the NABRE at home, you can view it online at the USCCB website at the Daily Readings web page. (The link will take you to today’s reading; click forward or backward on the dates to get to Sunday’s readings.)
For even more resources for breaking open this Sunday’s readings, head over to The Sunday Website.
The image for Breaking Open the Word at Home is taken from a 17th century illuminated manuscript by an anonymous (but very talented) artist. The text is from the beginning of the Book of Sirach, chapter 1, verses 1-12, which begins: “All wisdom is from the Lord and remains with him forever.”