Students of American history will be familiar with the title – fairness doctrine. It was the policy of the Federal Communications Commission from the late 1940’s stating that a broadcast company, radio or tv, had to air both sides of a controversial issue in a fair and balanced way. It was designed to guarantee a diversity of viewpoints and failure to do so was subject to FCC enforcement, which the Supreme Court held to be valid in a decision on the matter in the late 1960’s. Interestingly enough, the fairness doctrine has been officially abolished and is no longer a policy of the FCC.
Today’s first reading and gospel texts present us with the theological version of the fairness doctrine. Here, the principle is whether God should extend mercy to the lifelong sinner who repents and whether God should punish the lifelong person of virtue who falls from grace. The prophet Ezekiel presents the fairness doctrine in rather stark and straightforward terms: no mercy will be granted to the virtuous man who commits iniquity, while mercy will be extended to the reprobate who repents at the end.
Jesus, however, nuances the discussion just a bit. He presents the case of two brothers who are asked to carry out a command of their father. The first son promises to do so, but he does not follow through on the promise. The second son, on the other hand, refuses to do so, but later on thinks better of it and fulfills the command of the father. Once again, the fairness doctrine is set in rather straightforward terms: it is the person who actually carries out the will of God in his or her life through actions and deeds who are faithful to the Father. Lip service alone does not cut it; positive actions are what counts.
Lest we go away feeling good about ourselves and our understanding of God’s will, we still must consider the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. If we are to follow the will of God, we must imitate the one who did so perfectly in his life, the Lord Jesus. While actions are important and essential in fulfilling the will of God, so too is the attitude with which we carry out these actions. Jesus, the son of the living God, while on earth did not exalt himself or set himself as God’s equal. Jesus renounced any claim to honor and titles. Instead, he lowered himself to the status of a slave, taking our place in dying for our transgressions. Our attitudes must be that of the Lord Jesus, otherwise our external actions will have no value whatsoever.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a moral exhortation to his favorite community, and yet morality is never separate from Christ. As Karl Rahner points out in referring to Paul in this letter: “When he is preaching about morals he is thinking of Christ, when he is thinking about Christians and when he is thinking about the rest of mankind, he thinks of the Lord. He thinks of the Lord as of someone nearby, someone who once lived among us and has simply gone away and is in heaven; he thinks of the Lord as of one abiding with us in his Spirit, in his word, in his brother and sister, as of one who is coming, who would penetrate ever further into our lives, who would absorb our lives ever more completely in himself, who with his Spirit and his power, with his own history which is still going on, is engaged in one tremendous advent. And he is close to us as well, in the destiny that leads our lives toward a single goal, to death and to judgment, which may be nearer than we think. The Lord is near. He is close to all of us. Are we close to him?” (Biblical Homilies, p. 139)
It is a strange phenomenon that someone can be close to you, but you are not close to them. How often do our children try to snuggle close to their parents, and sometimes we embrace them in return and we share that closeness, while at other times our minds are elsewhere and we only share an incidental closeness of space. God seeks to embrace us fully. May we return that embrace fully in our words, actions, and attitudes. We pray together with the Church throughout the world: “Let us pray for the peace of the kingdom which we have been promised. Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in your unbounded mercy you have revealed the beauty of your power through your constant forgiveness of our sins. May the power of this love be in our hearts to bring your pardon and your kingdom to all we meet. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.nccbuscc.org/
Monday, September 26
Psalms 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 and 22-23
Tuesday, September 27
Psalms 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7
Wednesday, September 28
Psalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Thursday, September 29
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 or
Psalms 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 4-5
Friday, September 30
Psalms 79:1b-2, 3-5, 8, 9
Saturday, October 1
Baruch 4:5-12, 27-29
Psalms 69:33-35, 36-37
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 2
Psalms 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.nccbuscc.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.