1. Ezekiel 18, 25-28
- It begins with a complaint: You say: The Lord’s way is not fair! I
am almost embarrassed to say it, in front of this congregation. Would anyone agree with the complaint?
- During the second read-through, I recall how I have wondered about the God we have received from our
elders in the church. The innocent suffer along with the guilty in this world. Atrocities
occur, the authorities are complicit or directly responsible – and God is silent. Many of my listeners
have lived this inequity themselves. That is the inner doubt I want to touch with my word.
- And then the
prophet speaks for God. Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, your ways?
In other words, if we act with evil design why do we try to shift the blame? In my reading today
God’s judgment will be decisive.
- This is the same prophet who was commanded to keep watch over Israel.
Ezekiel speaks for each person’s accountability before God. In the case of wrongdoing: Because
of the iniquity he has committed, he must die. In the case of good: He has turned away
from sins, and he shall surely live.
- I place the emphasis on the phrase turn away from that
appears three times. In each case the person takes the decisive step, whether toward death or life.
And the consequences are final. Scripture always makes the choice a stark one, helping us to make
up our minds without the complications we see in daily life.
- Climax: The reading ends on a positive note: If
he does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. I have just reiterated
a central theme of the scriptures. God urges the people through the prophet to choose life in the
- Message for our assembly: God is not indifferent to the choices we make between death and life.
Neither am I in my reading.
- I will challenge myself: To make the prophet’s appeal
to choose the path of life attractive to the church. The prophet says it twice, and that gives me a second
chance to let the message sink in.
2. Philippians 2, 1-11
Passion Sunday we hear this Servant Song, a priceless heritage from the early Christians. But today we
hear something more, the context in which the apostle quoted it.
- Actually the reading begins with the context. I
remember that I am reading a kind of farewell letter, so the apostle is telling them the thing that would complete
my joy. The first four words: If there is any … are
said in a rhetorical sense, and those who listen have no doubt about encouragement in Christ, solace in love, participation
in the Spirit, compassion and mercy. Yes, we should experience all these as members of the church!
So the opening words are meant to affirm what is coming after.
- Then he pleads for all the graces that build
up the community. First come the virtues of communion: The same mind, the same love, thinking one
thing. Then follow the attributes of a life of service that makes communion possible: regard
others as more important than yourselves, looking out for others. This is, in
fact, the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus!
- Finally he offers his listeners the example of Christ, in the words
of the ancient hymn. During Holy Week we pay closer attention to the humiliation and exaltation of the
servant, but today we are supposed to keep in mind his life of service to his brothers and sisters. So
I will emphasize the form of a slave and he humbled himself, becoming obedient.
- Climax: So, on this day
I will pay closer attention to the apostle’s appeal to adopt the mind of Christ: Have in
you the same attitude.
- The message for our assembly: In the midst of our movements and retreats and favorite preachers, we must give the
highest place to the faith that unites us and our calling to serve one another. I do not hear the word
‘judge’ in this reading.
- I will challenge myself: As I read the phrase Regard others as more important than yourselves, I
will have in mind some other person whom it is very difficult for me to regard in such a way.
Gospel. Matthew 21, 28-32
I hear a quick story about two sons, and then I hear the conclusion that Matthew’s church adopted. Both
parts are important and need to be taken together, even though they can stand alone.
- What is your opinion? That
question is embedded in the Gospel account, but that is just a device to get us to answer. And I will ask
it pointedly to my listeners so that they will have to answer for themselves.
- Once I have gotten them alerted to the issue at hand, I begin
the story. Son, go out and work in the vineyard today. We have all
heard orders like this.
- The first son said “I will not” but changed his mind and went.
The second son said, “Yes, sir,” but did not go. I only want to make
clear that, in neither case did their words mirror their actions. That is all I need to do, because in
our culture everyone knows and accepts that actions speak louder than words.
- Which of the two did his father’s will?
I will not emphasize the masculine forms that are used throughout the story, but rather the actions of saying and doing.
But I will pause again after the second question to let the congregation answer for itself. They
will certainly answer just as the audience did in the Gospel, so the sentence with the answer is anticlimactic for my reading.
- Here comes the interpretation,
which applied to the church of Matthew’s time when Jews and Christians were in a bitter conflict. It
will probably not be the same one our homilist will give today. My main interest is in this reminder about
the marginalized people, the outcasts of society who were attracted to the Good News and still are today: tax collectors
and prostitutes. Are we ashamed of this? Do we become less authentic as church
if we fail to welcome them today?
- I could make my climax the question Jesus asked his adversaries. Or I could take
the interpretation as the climax. For me the climax is in the question.
- Message for our assembly: Notice the theme of
conversion at the very end of the reading, that is most relevant to all of us: Even when you saw, you did not change
your minds and believe. Our life is all about turning back to God.
- I will challenge myself: To engage my listeners with Jesus’ questions.
Word to Eucharist: Each of us in today's procession has come to work, like
the son who thought better and put in time. To some extent the remarried who are present but cannot join us at the table
have gone through a rethinking. Let us pray that they will be enabled soon, encouraged even, to get into line as well!