No More Excuses!!!

As a teacher, I hear all kinds of excuses on a regular basis. Excuses as to why a student didn’t do his homework, why a student failed her exam, and why it just wasn’t possible to study because of hectic work schedules. Parents are even worse than the kids. My son has allergies and that’s why he sleeps in your class. Our daughter has to have tests read to her because she can’t stay focused enough to read the test questions on her own. My kid thinks you’re picking on him and that’s why he’s failing school. This is part of school culture in recent years and it’s part of our larger North American culture as well.
In fact, blaming others for our problems is at epidemic proportions because people don’t want to feel responsible for anything anymore. Instead, they pass the buck and try to deflect the attention away from themselves by pointing at someone or something else. Human genetics makes a great scapegoat: “I’m overweight because my mother was overweight, and I inherited her slow metabolism.” “I have a drinking problem because my parents were alcoholics.” Then there’s our environment as the scapegoat. “I’m in a dead-end job because I never had the opportunity to get an education.” “I can’t worry about donating to the food bank because I can barely pay my own bills.” “I can steal office supplies from my company because everyone else is doing it, and they’re underpaying me anyway.” “I don’t have to correct the store clerk who forgot to ring up some merchandise but bagged it for me anyway, because they’re a big store with big markups, and they can afford to lose a little inventory.” “I’m unhappy in my life because people always take advantage of me.”
I’m not sure if we really believe these excuses or if we’re just trying to make someone else feel sorry for us—but either way, we hide behind them and blame them for our shortcomings, and we absolve ourselves from any responsibility for changing our situation, because after all, we’re only victims of our circumstances. I suspect that the reason we keep repeating these excuses is because we know deep down they are not true.
In our first reading today, God, through the prophet Ezekiel, attempts to restore Israel to its former glory. The people have suffered a tremendous blow—their land has been conquered and they have been carried off to the land of their conquerors to live as exiles. Their faith in God was challenged and they came to the conclusion that God was punishing them. But they also refused to believe that they had done anything bad enough to deserve this amount of suffering. So they remembered that when he gave them the ten commandments God had said that he would punish children for the iniquity of their parents to the third and fourth generation (Deuteronomy 5:9), and figured that that must be what was happening. They weren’t responsible for their own situation; it was their ancestors’ fault.
Through Ezekiel God shows them that this is not the case. Yes, their ancestors sinned; they made some poor decisions and intermingled with pagan neighbors, and now the descendants are dealing with the natural consequences of those choices. But that was not an excuse for continued resistance to God. And while it’s true that children often suffer for bad decisions made by their parents and that sometimes genetics and environment can contribute to disposing kids to certain behaviors, ultimately each of us makes our own choices. The choice to continue in the dysfunction is often the easier path; it’s what we know best. But we can learn other ways and other behaviors; we don’t have to continue living the patterns we were taught. But somehow the idea of blaming others is easier to grasp than actually facing the problem.
Another way of saying it is this: your past doesn’t own you; you do have choices. For good or for ill, what’s past is past, and what matters is what you do now. As Ezekiel declares in verse 31, “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”
That happens to be darned good advice for the sons in the parable we hear in Matthew today. Both of them made a statement about their future actions; one said no, I won’t do what you want, and the other said yes, of course I’ll obey. But when it came time to act, neither one allowed their past to dictate their present. The one who said ‘no’ actually said ‘yes,’ and the one who said ‘yes’ actually said ‘no’ by his actions. In both cases, even though their past didn’t dictate their present, their present did shape their future. The one who acted in obedience did the will of his father, and was rewarded for it. The one who acted in disobedience, even though he’d told his father what he’d wanted to hear, was made lower in God’s sight.
Our environment obviously has an influence on our thoughts and actions. But God tells us that we do have choices, and our choices matter. It doesn’t matter what’s popular and prevalent in our culture and society; what matters is what God is calling us to do, and how we respond to that call. Is an obedient response going to be unpopular? Possibly. Will it be difficult? Possibly. Are those legitimate excuses for acting in disobedience? Absolutely not. The bottom line, in Jesus’ explanation to the chief priests and elders—and probably to anyone else who will listen—is that we can no longer make excuses because of birth or background or culture. If you hear anything this morning hear this: all that matters is who we are and whose we are. We are free because we belong to Christ. We are no longer trapped in a predetermined life because our parents were in debt or drank or gave us everything we asked for or didn’t hug us enough as children. The bad news is that we can no longer use them or our culture or society or anything else as an excuse for our choices.
One of the things that often confounds us as Christians is whether what we believe is more important than what we do, or whether what we do is more important than what we believe. Both are important because what we believe actually changes who we are; the choices we make, the things we do naturally flow from the core of our identity. We are called to be in covenant with God. We are called to be held accountable to God’s standards. We are called to confess our willful sins and to “screw our heads on right”, the meaning of the Greek word for conversion.
The reality is that we sometimes have to accept the consequences of bad choices—our own and those of others. But those bad choices don’t define us. We live in an environment that is sometimes hostile to Christian discipleship and being a servant after the example of Jesus. But that environment doesn’t hold us back from doing what’s right. We’re called to follow the one who gave his life for us, a call that seems impossible to follow. But the one who calls us also is with us and helps us to meet that call. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.” (Ezekiel 18::32)


About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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