Humility and Selflessless By Father Joseph Scolaro
First reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28 Responsorial: Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Second reading: Philippians 2:1-11 Gospel passage: Matthew 21:28-32
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that Original Sin is “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” The pride of Adam and Eve, the desire to take things into our own hands, is something with which everyone has first-hand experience. We only need to look around us to see that this primordial weakness plagues each of us in its own way and brings so much darkness into our world. Pride in many ways is a defining feature of the human experience, as we all find ourselves caught in that battle between doing what we should do, and doing as we would like to do instead. The joy of our faith though, is the knowledge that we can overcome this weakness and be transformed by God’s grace.
Following the story of Israel, we see the battleground where this struggle is carried out. The chosen people constantly find themselves turning from God, trusting in their own designs, and only returning to God when they experience hardship and defeat. Ezekiel is a prophet in one of those times of defeat, as he writes from exile in Babylon to a dispirited people. In the First Reading he responds particularly to those who believe God to be unfair in his punishment. There was a common perception that sons were punished for the sins of their fathers, and Ezekiel responds that this is not true. God judges each according to his deeds, and has mercy on those who change their ways. When seen in the light of Original Sin, Ezekiel’s prophecy points to the possibility of being forgiven for all the sins due to our inherited brokenness and finding a path to redemption.
Psalm 25 captures a spirit of appreciation for this mercy. The psalm recognizes that God, more than simply forgiving us, continually challenges us to grow and be transformed. There is a recognition that God has been merciful, “The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not,” and yet he also leads to further holiness, “He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.” He accompanies us on the long road to salvation.
And of course it is through Christ that it becomes possible for us to overcome Original Sin and be transformed. Just as the great sin of pride is our downfall, so it is fitting that the great virtue of humility in Christ would be our redemption. In his letter St. Paul describes the beautiful act of self-emptying in which Christ took on human form. Despite his divinity, Christ lowered himself to save us. He revealed the antidote to the pride of Original Sin in his obedience to God and selfless love, and it was through this descent that he was raised up. St. Paul therefore calls us to that same humility and selflessness.
In the Gospel then, Christ presents a simple example to show the power of his mercy when it comes to this transformation. Confronting the Pharisees, proud in their righteousness, he compares a son who says yes to his duty but does not carry it out, to a son who says no to his duty but eventually does carry it out. As much as the second son had said no, what defines him is not his past but the transformation. Christ makes the parallel with prostitutes and tax collectors who listen to John the Baptist, as their past is forgiven them and they are praised for their conversion. It is the proud, however, like the Pharisees, who as much as they attest to be faithful, do not have the humility to open themselves to conversion.
We are called then to open ourselves to God’s mercy. If we are contrite, we can take courage that our past sins will not be held against us and that true conversion is possible. It is only that inherent pride, wherein we refuse to be humble and obedient, which can hold us back. We thank God for His generosity in washing away Original Sin and its effects, that utterly undeniable part of us, so that we can have hope of sharing in Christ’s glory.