For Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011: Proper 21, Year A

The Reading            Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The prophet Ezekiel was born into a priestly family in Jerusalem toward the end of the seventh century before Christ. By the time Ezekiel was 25, he was one of thousands of unhappy exiles in Babylon.  Hebrew prophets are often at pains to connect the travails that individuals suffer with the bad behavior of all of Israel, but Ezekiel’s message is different: turn from your own sins, and through the Lord God, you will live.

The Alternate Reading            Exodus 17:1-7

As we encounter the Israelites this week, they’re complaining again, this time because there isn’t enough water. This passage is often read as a text against whininess and lack of faith. Of course, the Israelites have a point: in the desert of Sinai, to wonder where the water is just good sense. For his part, Moses seems to take the questioning personally in calling the place Massah and Meribah, which means ‘test and quarrel’. God, however, being God, provides.

The Epistle            Philippians 2:1-13

The city of Philippi, once an important city, lies in ruins now, but its name lives on in part because of today’s reading, one of the great love-hymns of the Church. Not only has the very Son of God Almighty willingly became a slave and a criminal to save us, stupendous though that is; even more, Paul tells us, the God to whom the entire universe bows down is delighted still to be at work in the likes of you, and me, and you, and you.

Further thoughts

In some ways the readings from Exodus and Philippians are a study in contrasts (whence the use of the reading from Ezekiel instead this week).  Moses’ rant about the Israelites to God sounds a bit like the parent’s had-it-up-to-here lament about the sort of whiny adolescent who can stand in front of a full refrigerator and complain that there’s nothing to eat. Paul’s tone toward the residents of Philippi, in contrast, is proud and fond—what my Yiddish-speaking friends call “kvelling”—even as he urges them on. In both cases, however, God’s people are challenged to notice the wonders large and small that flow from the love of God and to respond appropriately.

The reading from Ezekiel lies between these two readings, but it also breaks new ground: we, each one of us, are challenged to repent and live. That challenge is also in the Gospel reading: the first response may indeed be incredulity, but responding to the will of God requires doing and not merely speaking.

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