Tuesday of Week 20 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 28:1-10

The message of today’s reading is very clear and as relevant now as it was then.

Tyre was a Phoenician city on the coast of the Mediterranean in what is now Lebanon. The Phoenicians were famous in ancient times as traders and for their skill in seafaring. It is not fully clear whether Ezekiel is personally attacking King Ittobaal, ruler of Tyre at the time, or the whole city for placing itself on the same level as God.

It bases this claim on its wisdom. “Oh yes, you are wiser than Daniel,” says the prophet rather mockingly. This claimed wisdom was, it was believed, the source of the city’s enormous wealth and power. Daniel, like Solomon, was a byword for wisdom in the Old Testament. Not so much the Daniel who is the hero of Daniel 1-12 but rather the Daniel of chapter 13, who solved the case of the alleged adultery of Susanna.

However, the prophet says, with growing wealth and power has come increasing pride and arrogance, a sense of omnipotence. The empty base of this sense of security will soon be shattered when the city is attacked by foreigners who are even more powerful – referring to the Babylonians. They will bring death and destruction. Then, what will become of the claims to divine power?

“No,” says God through his prophet, “you are a man and not a god”, helpless in the clutches of their murderers. They will die the same death as the “uncircumcised”, the most uncivilised of barbarians. (The Phoenicians, like the Israelites and the Egyptians, practised circumcision.)

Times and attitudes have not changed very much. There are still people in our own time and in our own society who believe that a high level of education, wealth and power give a kind of invincibility. It includes those who have great such wealth and power and those who struggle all their lives to get some of it. With money, anything can be bought; everyone has his price.

Yet, the lives of all, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, powerful and marginalised, can all be snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye. But our destiny is in Other hands and the sooner we realise that the better for our happiness and peace of mind.

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