This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

8/4/19 – Sunday 18 / Pentecost 8
8/11/19 – Sunday 19 / Pentecost 9

8/15/19 – Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption
8/18/19 – Sunday 20 / Pentecost 10
8/25/19 – Sunday 21
8/25/19 – Pentecost 11 

9/1/19 – Sunday 22 / Pentecost 12
9/8/19 – Sunday 23 / Pentecost 13
9/15/19 – Sunday 24 / Pentecost 14
9/22/19 – Sunday 25 / Pentecost 15
9/29/19 – Sunday 26 / Pentecost 16


August 4 – 18th Sunday of the Year [C] / Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 13C]

The parable of the foolish rich man:  “’You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’”
Luke 12: 13-21

THE WORD:

Rabbis were often asked to arbitrate conflicts within families and communities.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus has been approached to settle such an argument over an inheritance.  Jesus responds not by taking sides but by addressing the greed that has brought both sides to near blows.  He tells the parable of the rich man who, in the midst of his good fortune, loses his sense of what is really important.  Possessions create the illusion that we can control our lives; the drive for gain makes us oblivious to the needs and dreams of others.  The “foolish” rich man in today’s Gospel sadly discovers that wealth in the reign of God has nothing to do with stock portfolios, bank accounts or the social register.

HOMILY POINTS:

We tend to live our lives believing that there will always be enough time to right our wrongs and to atone for our negligence and insensitivities to others – but, in fact, our days are numbered, death is an inevitability for all of us. 

We are often as short-sighted as the rich farmer in today’s Gospel: we can become so self-centered and self-sufficient that we shut ourselves off from the seemingly simple aspects of life in which we find the love and presence of God. 

Faith is the constant awareness that life is not a destination in itself but a journey to God and that death is the final passageway.

Our lives are not about amassing fortunes or achieving great celebrity – our lives are about finding and embracing selfless and affirming love, about discovering how to love one another as God loves us: totally and completely, without condition nor limit.

Today’s Gospel is more than an indictment of wanton consumerism; it’s a challenge to consider how we use things, the value we place on “stuff.”  Jesus calls us to take inventory of our lives and the things that “clutter” them and refocus on the treasures of God: compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace. 

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August 11 – 19th Sunday of the Year [C] / Ninth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 14C]

The parable of foolish servant awaiting his master's return: 
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be . . .
“You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come . . .
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Luke 12: 32-48

THE WORD:

Three short parables about the treasures of the reign of God are the central images of today’s Gospel:

Death comes to us like a “thief” in the night, Jesus tells his listeners; therefore, we must always be ready to meet the Lord and enter his “kingdom” with “belts tightened” and through works of charity.  The first generations of Christians read this parable as an indication that Christ would return in their lifetimes, in the middle of the great Paschal night.

Jesus frequently speaks of the coming reign of his Father as a wedding feast to which all of the faithful are invited.  Luke includes the image in his Gospel, as well, with an interesting twist:  Those who have embraced the spirit of servanthood taught by Jesus the Master will be served by the Master himself at his table in heaven.  Jesus targets the parable to the leaders of the Jewish establishment who have used their positions to advance their own prestige and wealth at the expense of the people they were appointed to serve.  While God casts out the exploiters from his kingdom, the faithful leader-servants will be served by the Messiah himself at God’s great banquet.

The third parable is Luke’s version of Jesus’ story of the watchful steward who faithfully conducts the responsibilities entrusted to him by his master.   This life on earth is a time that has been entrusted to us by God be about the business of preparing for the life of the world to come.

HOMILY POINTS:

We are all called to be “faithful and prudent servants” of the abilities and resources that the “master” has entrusted to us and for which he will hold us accountable — not for the breadth and depth of those gifts but for what we have done with those gifts for the sake of the kingdom of God. 

While we pay little or no attention to the reality that one day we will die and carry on as if we will live forever, the fact is that life is fragile and fleeting.  If we have truly embraced the spirit of the Gospel, we are always conscious of the brevity of this life and live our days in joyful anticipation of the next.

God has entrusted to each one of us with our own gifts, talents and blessings not for our own uses and aims but to selflessly and lovingly use them for the benefit of others, without counting the cost or demanding a return.  The faithful disciple will lovingly use whatever he or she possesses to bring God's reign of hope, justice and compassion to reality in this time and place of ours.

Leadership is not a matter of exerting power to intimidate or enrich one's own situation; leadership is the ability to inspire and enable others to do what is right, just and good.  Christ-like leadership is, first and foremost, is centered in an attitude of service to those we lead.

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August 15 – Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption [ABC]

Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greets Mary:  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
And Mary said:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.”
Luke 1: 39-56

THE WORD:

In the Western church, August 15 is the Assumption of Mary, the celebration of Mary’s body as well as soul being “assumed” into heaven; in the Eastern church, today’s feast is called the “Dormition” or “falling asleep” of Mary; in the Lutheran, Episcopal and many other churches, August 15 is the feast of St. Mary the Virgin.

The Gospel for August 15 is Mary’s Magnificat, her song of hope and joy in the Christ she will bear.  The words of the Magnificat should dispel any notion we might hold of Mary as a reserved, diffident figure.  Her canticle is nothing less than a prophetic, cutting-edge declaration of faith in the living, creating love of God.  Her song celebrates God's saving work of the past and anticipates the saving work of the child in her womb.  The Magnificat is the first proclamation of the Gospel of the Christ:  Mary is the “lowly servant” on whom God looks with favor; she mirrors the Good News her Son will proclaim: the Gospel of forgiveness, humble service to one another, justice and, ultimately, resurrection.

HOMILY POINTS:

August 15 is Mary's “Easter” – the fulfillment of the promise of her Son’s resurrection in her own life.  That same promise will be realized in our own lives, when her loving generosity becomes our loving generosity, when her “yes” to God becomes our “yes” to God, when her song of faith and hope becomes our song.

As Mary – an uneducated peasant in a subjugated backwater, an unmarried pregnant teenager –can trust and believe in her role in the great story of our salvation, each one of us can believe in our parts of the story, as well.

Mary embodies the good news of which she sings — the Gospel of forgiveness, humble service to others, justice and, ultimately, resurrection.  She is the small one whom God has lifted up; she is the lowly servant on whom God has looked with favor.  

With Mary, we are called to be disciples and witnesses of the Christ story before us:  As Mary welcomes the Christ child into her life despite its many traumatic complications, we are called to welcome the Christ of compassion and peace into our homes and communities; as she journeys with her son to Jerusalem, we are called to journey with him and take up our crosses; as she cradles the broken body of her son, we are called to hold and support and heal one another in our brokenness and pain; as she realizes the promise of her son’s resurrection at the end of her days, we are called to live in the joyful hope of that same Easter promise will be fulfilled in our lives.

Mary’s song is the first proclamation of the Gospel of the Christ who comes to reveal the reign of God: the blessedness of the humble servant over the proud and conceited; God’s raising of the poor and casting down the mighty; joy in the God who is filled with mercy and love and not judgment and condemnation; hope in the promise of good things for the hungry and poor. 

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August 18 – 20th Sunday of the Year / Tenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 15C]

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Luke 12: 49-56

THE WORD:

When Luke wrote these few lines of his Gospel, Christians were living through difficult times and circumstances.  In many places they were treated with ridicule, disdain and intolerance.  Jesus’ words are addressed to them and to all Christians who have paid dearly for living their faith in their time and place.

Fire is a Scriptural symbol of judgment.  The Lord will judge the hearts of all men and women in the light of the Gospel's “blaze.”

The word used in the original text that reads here as baptism actually means a “plunging,” a total submersion.  Jesus continues on to Jerusalem where he will be “plunged” into the Passover of the new covenant into which, through baptism, we will all be “plunged,” as well.

The Gospel is not a soft, easy message to embrace. Jesus does not sugarcoat his message:  Families and households will be divided over the hard demands of the Gospel of reconciliation, justice and servanthood.

HOMILY POINTS:

The compassion, the selflessness, the humility, the justice that Jesus demands of those who would be his disciples are a “fire” and “baptism” through which we transform our world in the life and love of God.  The challenge of discipleship, Jesus teaches, is not to let God’s word of justice and mercy divide us but to realize the word’s ability to bring all humanity together as God’s holy people.

To live the Gospel faithfully is to become a contradiction to those around us, to seek to attain a higher ethical and moral standard in confronting life's challenges.  The Gospel calls us to risk power, prestige and even acceptance to stand up for the equality, justice, compassion and reconciliation that every individual possesses by virtue of being a son and daughter of God.

The Gospel of Jesus is not easy, it is not comfortable; it is challenging and demanding and, in its call for personal conversion, it can be divisive and confrontational.  Discipleship is not without cost; balancing the Gospel of unconditional, reconciling love and its ethical and moral imperatives with the reality of our lives is very difficult.  Despite the divisive consequences, Christ calls us to the hard work of seeking the mercy and justice of God and living his Gospel of reconciliation and peace in our own time and place, regardless of the cost.

In the divisions we suffer, in the contradictions we encounter, in the disconnect between the conventional wisdom and the wisdom of God, the love of God is the one constant that brings us back to one another, that heals the rifts, that bridges that divides between us. 

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August 25 – 21st Sunday of the Year [C] 

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then you will stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’  He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’
“For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Luke 13: 22-30

THE WORD:

Faith is a journey to the dwelling place of God.  Like Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, our faith journey is difficult and painful; doubt, despair and ridicule are among the obstacles we must encounter.

Jesus uses three images in today's Gospel that speak of the disciple's faith journey:

HOMILY POINTS:

The “narrow gate” of the Gospel is difficult to enter – limitless love, unconditional forgiveness, sacrificial selflessness – but it is the only entry into the reign of God.

The “narrow gate” of today’s Gospel is the honest confrontation of who we are, what we believe, what we have done with our lives, what accomplishments – and horrors – we bear responsibility for.  The “narrow gates” we encounter in life require of us an honesty and integrity that we cannot ignore or fake our way through or re-invent ourselves to ease our way through.

Faith is not a pre-ordained condition nor an all-purpose “pass key” nor a guaranteed reservation to the here-after.  God demands of us a personal, committed response to his gift of faith as the key to the promise of the resurrection.

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August 25 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 16C] 

Jesus cures a crippled woman on the Sabbath:  “ . . . ought not this woman, a daughter if Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
Luke 13: 10-17

THE WORD:

The curing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath is found only in Luke’s Gospel (though Jesus performs similar miracles on the Sabbath in the other Gospels).  In this account, Jesus defies the sensibilities of the synagogue leader and cures a crippled woman on the Sabbath day.  In reprimanding Jesus, the elder argues that healing is a form of work and that any form of work profanes the Lord’s Day.  Jesus counters that the healing of this woman – a manifestation of God’s compassion – does not defame the Lord’s Day but sanctifies it. The official has become so obsessed with adhering to the letter of the law that he is unable to embrace the spirit of the law. 

In the healing of this woman – poor, sick, marginalized and female – Jesus again (as he does throughout Luke’s Gospel) proclaims that God’s reign has dawned and belongs not to the rich but to the people of the Beatitudes: the meek, the humble, the lowly, the suffering, the struggling.

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus’ healing of the woman does not undermine the holiness of the Sabbath – on the contrary, the healing irrevocably links Sabbath prayer and ritual to the unlimited and unconditional mercy of God

The healing Christ has entrusted us, who would be his disciples, with the work of God: compassion and forgiveness, reconciliation and justice, healing and peace.

To be healed requires change, to consciously move beyond your own pain and to embrace the pain of others, to see beyond the bad we are experiencing to find the good, to refuse to be swallowed up in hopelessness and rediscover reasons to hope.  As Jesus says to the crippled woman, “you are set free of your ailment.”  While the pain does not disappear, the grace of God “frees” us to transform our lives and find new purpose in our broken but still very much meaningful lives.  

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September 1 – 22nd Sunday of the Year [C] / 12th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 17C]

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted . . .
“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
Luke 14: 1, 7-14

THE WORD:

Gospel humility (a key theme of Luke’s Gospel) is not a religious sado-masochism motivated by self-hatred or obsequiousness.  As taught by Christ, humility is an awareness of who we are before God; of our constant need for God and our dependence on God for everything; of the limitlessness of God’s love and forgiveness.  The Jesus of the Gospel, “who, though in the form of God, humbled himself . . . accepting even death on the cross” is the perfect model of the humble servant of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to embrace the attitude of seeking out the “lowest places” at table for the sake of others, promising that at the banquet of heaven God will exalt such humility.  In teaching us to invite to our tables “those who cannot repay you,” Jesus challenges us to imitate the love of God: doing what is right, good and just for the joy of doing so, not out of a sense of duty, self-interest or the need to feel superior or in control.

HOMILY POINTS:

Humility is the virtue of suspending our own wants and needs in order to consciously seek God in all people and experiences.  True humility is centered in the things of God – love, compassion, mercy, selflessness, tolerance and forgiveness.

The spirit of humility as taught by Jesus is not the diminishing of one’s self but the realization that we share with every human being the sacred dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God.  To be humble as Christ teaches humility is to see one another as God sees us and to rejoice in being ministers to them in their joys and struggles.

The “lowest place” Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel is more a matter of attitude than location, a question of generosity rather than place setting:  Jesus asks us to see one another from the perspective of Gospel humility that realizes that we are not the center of all things but part of a much larger world and to embrace a spirit of Gospel-centered gratitude for all the blessings we have received, not because of anything we have done to deserve them, but only because of the complete and unconditional love of God for us.  

God’s banquet table includes places of honor for every poor, hurting, confused soul.  At the Gospel banquet table, we are both guests and servers: We welcome and are welcomed as children of the same God and Father; as sons and daughters of God, we share equally in the bounty of this table; as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are responsible for the protection and maintenance of the vineyard given to us by our loving Father.  

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September 8 – 23rd Sunday of the Year [C] / 13th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 18C]

The parables of the tower and the king preparing for war: 
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple . . . Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 14: 25-33

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of a treatise, unique to Luke’s Gospel, on the nature and demands of discipleship.

Jesus’ sobering words in today’s Gospel are meant to make us fully aware of the cost of discipleship before we embrace something we are not prepared for.  The gift of grace comes at the price of the same cross awaiting Jesus in Jerusalem.

Some translations of today’s Gospel ascribe rather harsh words to Jesus: in some texts, Jesus speaks of “turning one’s back” on family; in other translations, the verb “hate” is used.  A more precise translation of the idiom here is whoever prefers the love of family or self to Christ cannot be his follower.

The images of the unfinished tower and the king poorly prepared for battle illustrate the frustration and ultimate failure of the disciple who does not give himself/herself totally to the Gospel.  When a follower of Jesus begins to hold anything back in imitating Christ, discipleship becomes a charade.

HOMILY NOTES:

Jesus calls us to seek reconciliation rather than dominance, to love and forgive without limit or condition, to give totally and completely regardless of the cost or sacrifice.  Such is the cross Jesus asks us to take up.

As the tower builder and the king preparing for war discover, our days are limited – too limited to squander on obsessing about things at the expense of our relationships with family and friends.  Jesus challenges us to live every moment of our lives as a time for preparation and “planning” for much greater and lasting things than this world of ours offers.

Often, we refuse to “let go” of things that are making our lives so much less than we want them to be.  The gifts of God can only be grasped with the open hands of humility and prayer; the grasping hands of materialism and self-centeredness condemn us to a life of emptiness.

We tend to think of the crosses we bear as disorders, complications, disappointments – even people – we are forced to endure.  But, in reality, God lays upon our shoulders crosses – talents, abilities, skills, gifts – that can be sources of hope, of joy, of discovery, of life, of resurrection — for ourselves and others.   

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September 15 – 24th Sunday of the Year [C] / 14th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19C]

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep . . . because I have found the coin that I lost . . . because your brother was lost and has been found.”
Luke 15: 1-32

THE WORD:

The three “parables of the lost” in chapter 15 are unique to Luke’s Gospel.  Luke wrote his Gospel at a time when the Christian community was embroiled in a great controversy: many Jewish Christians were indignant that Gentiles should be welcomed into the Church without first embracing the traditions and laws of Judaism.

In these three parables, we enter God’s world: God communicates the depth of his love in his unconditional and complete forgiveness; his mercy breaks through and demolishes all human restrictions.  The Pharisees could not imagine a God who actually sought out men and women, a God who is more merciful in his judgments than we are, a God who never gives up hope for a sinner.

Today's Gospel reading of chapter 15 includes three parables:
The parable of the lost sheep:  Shepherding demanded toughness and courage – it was not a job for the weak and fearful.  Responsible for every sheep in his charge, a shepherd was expected to fight off everything from wild animals to armed poachers.  Shepherds often had to negotiate the rugged terrain of the wilderness to rescue a lost sheep.  Like the responsible shepherd, God does whatever is necessary to seek out and bring back to his loving providence every lost soul.
The parable of the lost coin:  Finding a small silver coin in a dark, dusty, dirt-floored Judean house was nearly impossible, but so great was the value of any coin to the poor that a woman would turn her poor hovel inside out in search of such a lost treasure.  So great is the value of every soul in the sight of God that he, too, goes to whatever lengths necessary to find and bring back the lost.
The parable of prodigal son:  This is probably the most inaccurately titled story in all of literature.  Jesus’ tale is really about the great love of the prodigal’s father, who forgives his son and joyfully welcomes him home even before the son can bring himself to ask.  The father’s joy stands in sharp contrast to the prodigal son’s brother, who cannot even bring himself to call the prodigal his “brother” – in confronting his father, he angrily refers to the brother as “this son of yours.”  But the father is a model of joyful reconciliation that Jesus calls his disciples to seek in all relationships.

What is striking in the three stories is the joy experienced by the shepherd who finds the lost lamb, the woman who recovers the missing coin, the father who welcomes home his wayward son. 

HOMILY POINTS:

The most extraordinary element of Jesus’ teaching is the revelation of a God who loves each and every one of us uniquely and individually, as a parent loves his/her most beloved child.  God’s love for us is eternally forgiving, constantly inviting, never limited or conditional. 

Our God is a God of inclusion – yet we sometimes make him a God of exclusion, excluding from our own presence those we deem as unworthy or unfaithful to be included among “God’s people.”

To forgive as Christ forgives is impossible to do on our own:  It calls for a spirit of humility, a generosity, a spirit of compassion that is beyond most of us.  But we are not called by Christ to create forgiveness on our own.  God has already forgiven, we are being asked to participate in God’s gift of forgiveness that surrounds every one of us.

Grace is the experience of God’s complete and unconditional love in our lives.  Sometimes we experience grace in the support and love of generous family and friends — and sometimes we are the agents of such grace, giving and doing whatever is necessary for the good of another, refusing to give up our search to find the lost and bring back those from whom we have been separated

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September 22 – 25th Sunday of the Year [C] / 15th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 20C]

The parable of the shrewd manager: 
“The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light . . .
“No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Luke 16: 1-13

THE WORD:

The parable of the shrewd business manager is one of the most difficult parables of Jesus to grasp.  At first reading, it appears that Jesus is condoning extortion and larceny.  But Jesus admires not the manager’s lack of scruples but his decisiveness and ingenuity in taking control of his situation.  We admire those who use their intelligence, charm and pluck to get ahead in this world.  Jesus’ parable challenges us to be as eager and as ingenious for the sake of God’s reign, to be as ready and willing to use our time and money to accomplish great things in terms of the Gospel as we are to secure our own security and enjoyment.  Jesus appeals to the “children of light” to be as enterprising and resourceful in pursuit of reign of God as this steward is in making a place of himself in this world.  We must restore money as the means to an end and not as the end itself; we are only stewards of our Master's property.

HOMILY POINTS:

Like the shrewd manager and his demanding master, we can become so obsessed with the pursuit of wealth and the manipulation of power that we seem to give up a piece of our humanity in the process.  Christ calls us to something far greater: to use that same dedication of energy, ability and efficiency to make the reign of God a reality in our own time and place.

Sometimes we let the things we possess possess us, demanding our time and attention at the expense of the people we love.  The danger of owning things is forgetting that the value is not in the thing itself but in that thing’s enabling us to save time and make our life easier so that we can concentrate on the more important values that the gift of life offers us.  

Christ warns his hearers not to trust in wealth for its own sake but to use wealth — whatever form our “wealth” takes — to establish the Father’s kingdom of compassion, reconciliation and justice in our midst.  

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September 29 – 26th Sunday of the Year [C] / 16th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 21C]

“Lying at the rich man's door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”
Luke 16: 19-31

THE WORD:

The rich man (sometimes known as “Dives”) is not really a bad man, but a self-centered, complacent one.  The rich man’s sin is his remaining oblivious to the plight of Lazarus (a name which means “God’s help”) at his gate and his blind acceptance of the poverty of so many and wealth in the hands of so few like himself as the natural, inevitable order of things.  It was not his wealth that kept him from “Abraham's bosom,” but his untrustworthy stewardship of what he had.

HOMILY POINTS:

Christ calls us to open our eyes to the poor and needy at our own gates and open our hearts to welcome them with compassion and honor.

The rich man of the Gospel and the “worthless rich” of the prophet Amos (today’s first reading) do no understand that the many blessings we have received from God are given for us to share – to share not out of a sense of obligation but as a joyful opportunity to give thanks to God for his many blessings to us.

In our busy-ness, in our need for “me time,” in our pursuit of our own wants and expectations, we become quite adept at shutting the world out, not seeing or hearing the Lazaruses in our lives — and sometimes we are the isolated Lazarus in need of love and support and understanding.   

Amassing large estates and building up profitable stock portfolios are not the stuff that true legacies are made of.  We will be remembered not for what we possess but for what we give; our lasting legacy will be what we contribute to make our world a happier, healthier place.

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