The scripture readings for this week revolve around the theme of hearing the voice of the Lord, especially in regard to the situations of life. It's a common theme that we encounter in the Sunday readings: God speaks and we listen. It's what we should expect, so we gather together to hear and understand what God has to say to us. We come to listen, to be encouraged, to be lifted up in our inner person, to commune with God here at the table of the Lord, and then to go forth with renewed strength.
However, what we hear today has the potential, perhaps, not to be as well received as what we hear on other Sundays. That's because this week scripture talks about everybody's favorite subject: personal sin. It tells us about human wickedness and its consequences, and we learn that God places the responsibility for sin with all of us. Not only do we get warned about sin but we learn that we have to communicate God's intentions to others. Then add to it that we are to be held accountable ultimately for the wickedness we allow. It's not just that we are responsible for ourselves alone, but that we bear responsibility for others as well.
In the first reading today God speaks to Ezekiel and tells him that the burden is on him to warn the wicked and to point out the error of their ways. If Ezekiel fails to do it, then he will be held responsible himself. I had to give it quite a bit of thought, and I went back and forth with myself on whether God was speaking just to Ezekiel or to everyone. Then I recalled that, by virtue of Baptism, we each share in the office of priest, prophet, and king. All of us, not just the Old Testament prophets, or even the preachers and apostles of both ancient times and ours, share in the burden of identifying and eradicating evil. All of us have the job of setting the world aright. Still, we have to interpret correctly and be careful not to rush out judging others. We want avoid going out in the style of certain fundamentalists and accusing everyone we perceive as being a sinner.
Before we can effectively deal with sin in the world we have to know what sin really is. In the second reading from Romans, St. Paul spells it out rather clearly. He says we ought to love one another. Every sin has as its source the absence of love or the failure to love. Whatever prohibitions we can think of are remedied with love. Whatever commandments there are can be fulfilled with it. The main sin that plagues humanity, rather than being found on a list of vices, is the failure to give to others. This was true in Jesus' time, and it's true in our time as well. Sin is the failure to give of ourselves because true love is the gift of oneself to others.
In the gospel Jesus reinforces what we heard from Ezekiel: we have to take the courage to relate to others—to express ourselves with courage and to be good listeners in return— and be a voice of true righteousness in a world that may not care to think about the tougher responsibilities of life. It's not so much about piety and purity, though that is part of it, as it is about compassion and self-sacrifice. It's too easy to say "I don't sin like that… I don't commit adultery. I don't kill and steal. I don't say judgmental things about others, at least not in their presence, and I keep my less acceptable opinions and prejudices to myself. Therefore, I'm doing what I need to do."
The truth is that we all could do a better job of giving from ourselves to others. What true righteousness is all about is being able to meet life with a generous heart. The most courageous act that one can do is to give completely of oneself to others. Love lets go and doesn't clutch. Love's hands are always open, as is its heart and mind.
Giving isn't just about giving of what we have materially, although that's a huge part of it. The true giver gives from a deep place in his or her being. The giver is always oriented toward others. To give means to relinquish one's time and energy. Love involves the aspect of surrendering as well: it surrenders where we have the strongest reservations and it opens up to all who are in need of acceptance, forgiveness, sustenance, and material assistance among a host of other things of which we might let go. Love opens its arms in the fashion of Jesus crucified and refuses to succumb to the fear of loss. After all, do we really believe that everything is in God's hands and plans? Do we really mean it when we pray "Thy will be done," or do we shudder in the fear of our world ending as we know it?
The best hope for the future of humanity is to let go and let God be God. We take what we have and give. We empty our being just as Jesus poured out all that he had. It's the lesson for us to teach the children of today, and the lesson for those who are wise in their maturity. We realize that nothing we have is ours to hold forever. Everything we have was given to us for a little while just to share, and in giving, in loving, we attain salvation.