Putting on the Mind of Christ
Read September 28, 2014 (Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time) Mass readings at USCCB.org.
* * *
Most of us live in a world of extraordinary luxury. We can have pretty much whatever we want whenever we want it. We have multiple fast food options at any hour. Satellite TV with DVR and on-demand movies is almost standard. Many stores offer instant credit with little or no criteria to allow us to indulge our shopping whims. When the rest of world fails to cater to our over-busy schedules, which are often more focused on entertainment than fulfillment, we cry “Foul!” Needless to say, humility and sacrifice don’t always come naturally; we don’t bow down to much of anything willingly. This week’s readings draw a direct line from our selfish inclinations to our salvation.
I Don’t Deserve This. In the first reading from Ezekiel, he and the other Israelites are living in exile in Babylon. They think things can’t get any worse, but Ezekiel knows better. He predicts further devastation including the destruction of Jerusalem, which the Israelites thought was untouchable, and an even worse exile to come. The reading is part of Ezekiel’s reproach of the Israelites for past and present sins as he calls them to take personal responsibility for their plight and mend their childish, self-centered ways. How often do we see this entitlement or victim mentality around us in people who are obsessed with what they do or don’t deserve? How often do we see this in ourselves when we do a good examination of conscience? Ezekiel states in very clear language where that kind of thinking leads us if we fail to repent. Mercifully, God is patient and compassionate with us, always willing to take us back when we do (Psalm 25).
Surely You Don’t Mean Me. In the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is back in Jerusalem, and He’s letting the Pharisees have it. With His Passion now not far off, His teaching seems to be taking on a greater sense of urgency. His interactions with the Pharisees are rather direct, eventually leading up to a long, scathing discourse in which He denounces them for their hypocrisy. The Parable of the Two Sons is an extension of the first reading posed as a question. Which is better, to eventually do God’s will or to simply pay it lip service? The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees don’t see their reflection in the mirror Jesus is holding up in front of them. The beliefs they profess are phony because their actions don’t follow. What do our actions say about who we believe Jesus is? Do we stand out as disciples of the King, or do we just blend in with everybody else?
My Lord and My God. The climax of this week’s readings is arguably from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In this passage, Paul lays out his theology of the cross, which is really a summation of all Christianity. Paul essentially states that the key to Jesus’ divinity is His self-emptying humanness, His refusal to cling to godliness. Instead, His Passion demonstrates that divine love knows no limits. Jesus died the absolute worst, most humiliating death imaginable to show us how far God is willing to go to reach us. Paul concludes by unmistakably establishing Jesus’ lordship in a way every Jew of the day would clearly understand. The “name above all names” to which Paul refers is Yahweh, the unpronounceable name of God; he couldn’t be using stronger language here. We must submit to the lordship of the One who became our servant. Jesus is the one to whom we must ultimately bow down, not Caesar or anyone else, because no one else could do for us what He has done. Understanding that and living accordingly is what it means to put on the mind of Christ.
Catholicism 101. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is something of a scriptural gold nugget. Located in northeastern Greece, Philippi was the first European city Paul evangelized. Accordingly, it gives insight into the origins of European Christianity, which has had a decidedly profound influence on world history. However, this week’s passage goes even further. While Paul wrote Philippians during his imprisonment in the mid-50s A.D., many scholars agree Philippians 2:6-11 quotes an early Christian hymn. As such, it is one of the earliest texts of the New Testament and one of the earliest records of what the first Christians believed about Christ.