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Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Word This Week

We can never hope fully to understand God: especially God’'s generosity. We are very good at working out who is deserving of good fortune and who is not - unfortunately for us, God’s gifts go to those God chooses, not those we choose. An example is forgiveness: those who have done the most wrong are those who receive the greatest forgiveness when they turn to God - perhaps at times we begrudge this gift. Today’s lesson is simply this: God’'s ways are not our ways, God’'s thought are not our thoughts.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9.

There is an important contrast in the readings today, between human justice, so much based on revenge and retribution, and the justice of God, which so often seems gratuitous and merciful. Isaiah speaks the words of the Lord to those who accuse God of ‘giving in’ by forgiving the wicked man who turns back to God. God, Isaiah reminds us, is rich in forgiving, and as far away from the human point of view as possible. This is a simple, but deep reading: there are two main sections: first the call to the wicked man to change his ways, with the assurance that he will be forgiven: this can be read with a sense of pleading or appeal. Second comes the answer to an unspoken accusation that this forgiveness is weak, that it is not right: ‘my ways are not your ways - it is the Lord who speaks’. You must understand why God says this, in order to convey to the listeners the full meaning of these phrases. Have a look at the third verse of the Psalm in order to broaden your understanding.

Second Reading: Philippians 1:20-24.27.

Paul is surprisingly unclear in this reading - but perhaps it is deliberate. Half way through he says that he is in a dilemma, he cannot make his mind up: should he be glad to be alive in Christ, or should he be keen to die and so be with Christ? To live or to die, that is the question. So perhaps Paul’s lack of clarity in the first half of the reading expresses his confusion, and as reader, perhaps this is one occasion where not being clear might serve the purpose of the reading better. Build up to the words ‘...I do not know which I should choose’, and imagine (but don’t give) an exasperated sigh just before those words. Then Paul comes down to earth and explains his predicament: this must be stated very clearly, as a momentous choice between life in Christ (which is Paul’s duty) and going to be with Christ in death (which is what he would much prefer). The last line seems to be tagged on, almost as an afterthought, by the compilers of the Lectionary. The best way to interpret it in this context is to see it as Paul having decided to stay and continue to guide the people in the way of Christ.