Our Liturgical Setting:
Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.
Who should announce these before the first and second readings, and before the gospel acclamation? They're not Scripture, nor homiletic, so they shouldn't be delivered from the ambo. They're a modest teaching. So let the presider say them from the chair. Let the lector turn toward the presider and listen.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.
|Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, September 25, 2011
Before the first reading:
Early Hebrews liked to believe that children inherit the guilt for their ancestors' sins, and that sinners cannot really reform. In prior verses, Ezekiel demolishes these traditional beliefs. But this makes the people respond that God's ways are unfair!
After the psalm, before the second reading:
Paul tells his dear friends that what will endear them to him even more is if they behave like Christ. Then he describes Christ by quoting an even older Christian hymn.
Before the gospel acclamation:
Jesus upbraids the religious leaders of his day for failing to recognize the hand of God at work in events of their lives.
To pay for use of the words above, please subtract an equal number of optional words from other places in the liturgy (click here for some suggestions).
In today's gospel (Matthew 21:28-32)
Jesus speaks of obedience to God and of disobedience, of repentance and of obstinacy, and of the "last" taking the honors reserved for the "first." Jesus might just as well have proclaimed this passage from Ezekiel. To see why, read the gospel. Then come back to this passage.
The Theological Situation: In chapter 18, Ezekiel challenges two old beliefs common among his people:
- That children inherit the guilt of their ancestors,
- and that God is more strict than merciful.
The chapter begins with prophet announcing that God wants the people to stop repeating (and believing) an old proverb, "Parents have eaten green grapes, and their children's teeth are set on edge." He goes on to describe God's response to three generations of a certain family. A certain man is good; he does not worship idols, commit adultery, or charge interest on loans. He shares food and clothing with the poor. He is fair in his judgments of others. Such a man is upright in God's eyes, and he shall live. Now this man has a son "prone to violence and bloodshed," who chooses to do everything wrong. He is not upright, and by God's judgment, shall not live. And there is a grandson who, "in spite of seeing all his father has committed, does not imitate him." He acts more like his grandfather than like his father. So he does not inherit his father's disfavor with God, but rather is upright; he, too, shall live.
Not content just to upset the people's old belief about inherited guilt, Ezekiel attacks their convictions about "once a sinner, always a sinner." He asserts that it is possible for a wicked person to renounce his sins, begin respecting God's law, and live uprightly. Such a one will not die but live, says the Lord through Ezekiel. None of his crimes will be remembered against him. At least not by God, for the implication is that the people rather enjoyed remembering the sins of others, and condemning them over and over. Why else would Ezekiel need to make this prophecy?
Likewise it is possible for a good person to turn away from uprightness and to forfeit the favor of God and neighbor. Such a person's past good deeds will be "forgotten from then on." He shall die for his sins.
Now it's these two challenges to old beliefs, these assertions that children are not to bear their parents' guilt and that both the upright and especially the wicked can reverse their ways and reverse their standing in God's eyes, that precede the verses of today's selection. These are the new prophetic revelations that make the people say "God's ways are unfair." Ezekiel's response is unsympathetic and uncompromising. "This is the way God is, people, despite what you used to think. It's your own sins, not your fathers', that have got you into trouble. Repent, take responsibility. It's possible. You can live. No excuses! 'I take no pleasure in the death of anyone -- declares the Lord Yahweh -- so repent and live' (18:32)"
Proclaiming It: Ezekiel is very contentious here. He deserves a vigorous proclamation. A good way to deliver this in your Sunday congregation would be to imagine you are Jesus in that heated discussion with the chief priests and elders. Their arrogance is getting to you, so you reach in your pocket, pull out your copy of Ezekiel, open it and say,
"Oh yeah? Well, listen to this: 'You say the Lord's way is not fair! Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way or your way that's unfair? . . .'"
Don't be afraid to sound vehement. Ezekiel wasn't; he was talking (and you'll be reading) about issues of life and death.
A Two-Sentence Homily Starter: Reverend Preacher, now that you're reminded of the context in which Ezekiel spoke this oracle, ask if your own congregation labors under some obsolete beliefs or practices from which God might want to liberate them. What's keeping them from accepting responsibility or from believing that new life and conversion are really possible?
The Theological Background:
If you read last week's introduction
to this series of readings from Philippians, you know how intimate Paul was with his audience. That personal, even vulnerable tone continues in the first two paragraphs of this selection.
What Paul does next is very interesting. By all means, proclaim the long form of this passage. (Don't even ask the preacher/presider for permission to use the long form. If anything, ask the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship why there's even an option here.) Here's why the "extra" paragraphs (really stanzas) are so important:
Evidence in the Greek-language original (well, in the oldest manuscripts we have) shows these paragraphs were originally a hymn (or, less likely, a poem). Paul is quoting something even more ancient than his own letter (its style and vocabulary convince scholars it's not Paul's own composition). Both Paul and the church in Philippi must have known and revered this early formulation of the mystery of Christ. When we read this today, we're getting back to basics about as far as we can get. It's possibly the oldest surviving public statement of the Christian creed. (The oral traditions about the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus didn't take written form in the gospels until after Saint Paul's death.)
So the lector should prepare for this by savoring this text slowly and reverently. Notice the cycle:
- Jesus, though divine, did not cling to his divine prerogatives
- but emptied himself,
- even to the point of dying on a cross.
- God then raised him,
- giving him the most exalted of titles,
- so that all creation is destined to honor him.
The English translation available to us doesn't seem poetic or worthy of singing. Until the right poet/musician comes along who can render the passage more beautifully, it's up to you speak it faithfully, with the solemnity that its venerable status calls for. (Tony Carlin, Music and Liturgy Director of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Napa, California, USA, says the right poet/musician may have arrived. He recommends "Ken Canedo's new 'Jesus Christ Is Lord' (OCP [Oregon Catholic Press]) - we're singing it this weekend [September 24-25, 2011]. Also, of course, Walker's better-known 'At The Name Of Jesus' (OCP).")
|Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all
quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular. |
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group.
Dan explains the texts verse-by-verse, and sometimes word-by-word, with cross-references to other Bible passages. Especially useful if you're puzzled about the meaning of a word or phrase in the readings.
Bible Study pages of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, Mississippi.
Includes a short biography of Ezekiel. There are line-by-line interpretations of the texts, many like what one might say or hear in a sermon.
Father Roger Karban of Belleville, Illinois, USA, writes a newspaper column about every Sunday's readings. Here are his essays for today's passages, from:
Read all of Father Karban's recent columns here, well in advance, at the site of FOSIL, the Faithful of Southern Illinois.
Archived weekly column of the late Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.) From the site of the Saint Louis Review.
The Text This Week; links to Lectionaries of many churches, homilies, art works, movies touching scriptural themes, and other resources on the week's scripture
Saint Louis University's excellent new liturgy site
Most welcome here are
Reginald Fuller's commentaries.
(Caveat lector as of August 28, 2011. Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact future URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).
The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.
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Last modified: September 21, 2011