July 29, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe last and third section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading.

The three sections spanned a relatively long but significant period in the history of God’s Chosen People.

The first section was written when the Hebrew people were still living in the Promised Land, although clashes among the people had resulted in two kingdoms.

In time, the strong Babylonian Empire overran the Hebrew kingdoms. It was a fearful day. Many Hebrews died. Others were taken to Babylon, the empire’s capital, located in modern Iraq. Those who were left in the homeland languished in misery and want.

At long last, Babylonia itself fell. The Hebrew exiles returned, only to find a sterile and unhappy place. Little improved as generations passed.

Then came the composition of the third section of Isaiah, a section of which is read this weekend.

At the time of this composition, people literally had to worry about their next meal, so the prophecy’s words were very relevant. These words reminded the discouraged people that God would supply their needs.

For its second reading, the Church offers us a selection from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

When this work was written, tension was quite evident. The Christian Romans lived in a culture that was hostile to the Gospel, and therefore to Christians. Furthermore, the political and legal systems were turning against Christians. Indeed, St. Paul eventually would be executed for his faith.

Very clear in the reading is Paul’s encouragement to the Christians. He calls upon those facing temptations and doubts to be strong in their resolve. He urges them to hold on to their belief in Christ and not let anything separate them from the Lord.

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the third reading.

It is the familiar and beloved story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

The story line is well known. A large crowd follows Jesus, and within this crowd are sick people. Typically, as surely the sick people hoped that he would, the compassionate Jesus healed them.

Here immediately, however, it should be noted that healing had a meaning far different then from healing an injury or disease today. It meant overcoming the evil effects of sin. The ancient Jewish idea was that human sin brought every distress into the world.

Also, there was almost no food, only five loaves of bread and a few fish.

Unwilling to send the people away, Jesus provided for them. He took the food, blessed it then gave it to the disciples to distribute to the people. The leftovers filled 12 baskets.

This miracle anticipates the Eucharist. Two elements are important in the story. One is the role of the disciples. The other is the utter vastness of the number of people.

Reflection

A major effect of Original Sin, to return to an old theological fact, is that everything will die, whether animal or plant, at some point. All people—and indeed any animal higher along the scale of awareness—fear death.

The great message of the Scriptures is that God subdues death and gives life. Thus, the author of Third Isaiah reassured those loyal to God that they need not fear anything.

Facing the terrifying consequences, humanly speaking, of being a Christian in Rome, St. Paul constantly urged the believers to be of stout heart and good cheer. God would give them life, despite whatever might come to them.

St. Matthew’s Gospel, the source of the last reading, emphasizes this point yet again. When the people were hungry, the Lord supplied—creating sufficiency from just meager provisions. Nothing can halt God’s love and mercy. He gives life.

The Gospel makes clear the bond between Jesus and the disciples. They are special students, and they work in the Lord’s name. Their power lives still in the Church.

The key to receiving this divine promise of life, of course, is in our loyalty personally to the Lord. †

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