Reading Ezekiel we must remember that the Jews believed that they were the chosen people of the one and only God, Yahweh; they had laws and rules to live by and a covenant which they often thought of as ‘if we keep your laws, God, you will see that we prosper.’ Yet this arrangement didn’t seem to be working out in their history, especially when they were being taken over by a neighbouring empire. So much so that they began to think that they were being punished by God or even would die because of the sins of their ancestors; indeed they attributed all the difficulties and hardships of life to the original disobedience of the first humans (Genesis 3), and they had a saying: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Ezekiel was trying to replace this idea with the fairness and mercy of God. Not only was God punishing the wrongdoer for his own sins and blessing the good, but saying that there would be forgiveness and blessing if the sinner repented and turned away from sin.
In today’s second reading we have Paul’s full introduction to the quoted hymn included in the longer reading which was used for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Paul expresses his deep concern for the Christian community in Rome. He wants there to be no disagreements among themselves, this is what would please him most; and writing this confirms our view that there were some problems in the community in Rome. But he places before them a huge challenge; huge, but just the challenge of acting in a genuine Christian way. It is this that we should feel addressed to ourselves as we are presented with his words – treat others as more important than yourselves! After such an introduction the example of Christ’s life is drawn to our attention with the famous hymn of Jesus’ self-sacrifice for us and his elevation to be glorified by all.
The gospel gives us another radical message like ‘the last shall be first and the first last,’ presenting fearfully the contrast between those despised in society and the upright important citizens. For us it might seem slightly less radical if we are not important citizens of society, for the present passage is addressed not to all but to the chief priests and elders of the community – those who consider themselves to be worthy of God’s reward. However, we faithful, can easily come to believe that we are worthy of some reward from God, for we can reckon that we are living the way God would want us to. Jesus’ parable of the two sons, tells of the one who says ‘yes’ to the master’s request, but doesn’t follow this through in practice and vice versa. But we should know from the second reading that God’s challenge to us is to do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory; but to regard all others as more important than ourselves. it would surely be a lie if any one of us felt, yes, this is what I am doing with my life. Better to admit our failures but still try our best, like the second son in the parable, to say we wont, but then really do our very best to please God
see Jeffs Jottings – Demonstration is better than instructions