18Aug 18 August. Saturday, Week 19

1st Reading: Ezekiel (18:1-10, 13, 30-32)

Each individual is responsible to God, for our own actions

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right, if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully, such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God. If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.”

Responsorial (Ps 51)

R./: Create a clean heart in me, O God

Create a clean heart in me, O God;
and renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not cast me out from your presence,
and do take not your Holy Spirit away from me. (R./)

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you. (R./)

For you take no delight in sacrifices;
burnt offering from me you would refuse.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (19:13-15)

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these little children

Little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. ” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.


Personal responsibility: duty and privilege

Ezekiel highlights personal responsibility in a way quite novel in his day. Before him, merit and responsibility were largely seen in societal, collective terms: Israel as a whole was either faithful or unfaithful. By contrast, the prophet Ezekiel focuses on the conscience of the individual. In his eyes, too many people sought to justify themselves by the virtue of the community or of their ancestry, while their own hearts and practices were against the Lord’s will. Or else people were blaming their sorrows on the mistakes of the ancestors and failing to look into their own hearts for renewal. He first takes the people to task for a proverb that they repeated as a way to shift blame from themselves. They should never again say: Because fathers and mothers have eaten sour grapes, their children’s teeth are on edge. Ezekiel insists: If your teeth burn with an acid taste, it is because you yourself ate the sour grapes. Only the one who sins shall die, only the virtuous person shall live, everyone belongs to the Lord. He then reads an examination of conscience to the people and puts to them a serious, adult stance on personal responsibility.

The gospel provides a new context for this. We hear Jesus say, “Let the children come to me. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” As we allow the impact of today’s readings to be felt in our lives, we realize that our following of the Lord must be clear and simple, pure and spontaneous like that of a child. Note that what Jesus draws our attention to is the candour of children, rather than their traditional Jewish duty of unquestioning obedience to parents. The focus of his ecclesial image is more familial than patriarchal .


Bringing children to Jesus

We’ve just read how parents brought their children to Jesus for him to lay his hands on them and say a prayer. Parents always want what is best for their children. They recognize Jesus as someone through whom God is working in a life-giving way, and so they bring their children, their loved ones, to him. In our own times, parents who have an appreciation of Jesus and his message and life will have the same desire to bring their children to him. They recognize Jesus as God’s unique gift to us and they want that gift for their loved ones because they want what is best for them.

Some public figures have bizarrely claimed in recent times that to baptise a child is to infringe its human rights. By what right can we impose an identity and a vocation upon an infant, unable to choose for itself? But this question ignores the central idea that, like life itself, baptism is primarily GIFT, even if some sense of moral responsibility will be based on it when one becomes a discerning adult.

The gospel recalls a struggle between people trying to bring children to Jesus and those who are trying to stop them. The disciples are resisting the desire of the parents for their children. In the midst of this struggle, Jesus is not a passive spectator. He insists, against his disciples, that the children are welcome. The gospel assures us that in our own struggle to bring our loved ones to the Lord, and to bring ourselves to him, the Lord is always working with us. The strength of his desire to have others meet with him and, thereby, find life will overcome the various obstacles that are placed in the way, our loved ones coming to him. We need to trust that the Lord will find a way, bringing people to him, in spite of the resistances that may be there, of whatever kind.

One Response

  1. Brian Fahy

    At war’s end my mother and father newly married, had no place of their own to live. They went with their newborn baby boy to relations of my father, his brother, Tommy and wife, Lily, and they were made welcome in that coal miner’s house. My mother, a quiet Irish girl and feeling shy in her new surroundings in Lancashire, wheeled the pram into the kitchen. Lily was having none of it. Where is that baby, she asked. Bring him in here. The pram was placed in a warm and cosy corner of the main room, close to the fireplace. That is his place now for as long as he is here.

    My mother never forgot this incident. Lily was non-catholic, as we oddly used to say, defining people by a negative. She was protestant and in my mother’s words, she was the best of the lot. For eighteen months that baby enjoyed the centre of attention in that little house, until mum and dad got a new council house of their own to live in.

    Children are the centre of life or they ought to be. They need all our love and warm embrace. They need and deserve that warm place in the heart of the house, beside the coal miner’s hearth. As someone once said children are not lesser human beings. They just happen to be smaller. Let the little children come to us. Oh and, that little baby was me.

Scroll Up