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Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

The Word This Week

“Once a sinner, always a sinner.” That seems to be the attitude of the self-righteous in the first reading and the Gospel; they object that God is unjust, because he gives sinners another chance. But God tells them quite clearly that such attitudes are the real injustice - to allow prejudice and hardness of heart to come between repentance and forgiveness. The words of Christ in the Gospel must have struck a chill into the hard hearts of the so-called righteous chief priests - even today they can make us stop and think: “Prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.” All our outward show matters little, if it does not correspond with what is deep in our hearts; all our words are meaningless, if they do not correspond with the way we live our lives.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28.

Another prophet, another rebuke: the reader’s problem is that the context of the rebuke is only revealed half way through. You can do little about this, except be aware that the listeners will not have much idea about why God is saying this until about line four - when it comes, make it clear. The main part of the reading is  the two contrasts: the repentant sinner, and the upright man going off the rails. Be clear in your own mind about what God is saying, and make sure you deliver that to the listeners. Especially emphasise the last line: ‘...he shall certainly live, he shall not die.’ This is an affirmation of God’s mercy; proclaim with its true weight.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-11.

This reading contains the most famous, and the most beautiful part of the letter - the great hymn of Christ’s ‘self-emptying’. The first part sees Paul trying to explain the Christian life, as one of selflessness and sacrifice: ‘always consider the other person to be better than yourself.’ All of this practical advice (which is easy to read) is justified by reference to Christ, which is where the hymn comes in. This hymn is not easy to read - no poem is. Make sure you use the Lectionary (as you always should) because it splits the hymn into ‘sense-lines’ which are easier to read. The theme is this: we should be self-effacing, because Christ, who was and is God, emptied himself to be a slave, when he became man, even going as far as to embrace death on a cross. But his obedience in emptying himself resulted in far greater glory, as he was raised above all others. If we imitate him in his selflessness, we shall be one with him in glory. This is one of the most important readings in Scripture, explaining the mystery of the Incarnation: Christ had already sacrificed so much before he even arrived at Calvary, by becoming one of us. All this shows how much God loves us