July 6, 2012

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel furnishes the first reading.

The prophet speaks in the first person. Ezekiel says that he literally heard God speaking to him, directing him to go among the Israelites, who had rebelled against God’s holy law, so that they would forsake their disloyalty and return to God.

God, speaking to Ezekiel, recognizes certain traits about humans. They are stubborn, and they can be blind. Blindness prompts them to choose their way rather than the way of God.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading.

As an aside, this reading includes Paul’s revelation that he had been given “a thorn in the side.”

For almost 2,000 years, people studying this epistle have struggled to discover what this thorn might, in fact, have been. Was it a chronic illness or disability, perhaps epilepsy, as Paul seems possibly to suggest that he experienced seizures? Or was it simply temptation to sin? No one has a conclusive answer.

Regardless, life had its challenges for Paul just as life has challenges for everyone.

It is important to remember that, in the pious Jewish mind of the time, everything bad, including physical problems, came from sin. The loving, merciful God could never will such misfortunes upon people.

So when Paul writes that Satan brought this burden upon him, he was speaking from this context.

The message is not simply that Paul had difficulties, whatever they were. It is not just that he persevered despite these difficulties. He persevered, but God’s strength empowered him.

The Apostle encouraged the Corinthian Christians, and also encourages us, to be faithful to God, who will provide for us.

For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a Scripture passage from St. Mark’s Gospel.

In this reading, Jesus speaks in the synagogue. Synagogues are not the Jewish version of churches, and they properly were not places of worship in the time of Jesus.

For the Jews at the time of Jesus, there was one place of worship—the temple in Jerusalem.

Synagogues were and are places of prayer, but then they were especially places to learn and discuss the Scriptures. Hence, Jesus stood and spoke to the people who were assembled there. So did others.

Jesus amazed everyone. His wisdom was profound. He healed the sick. He made no secret about being the Son of God, sent into human life by God.

Nevertheless, in their human limitations, many people did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. They had no faith. This theme recurs in the Gospel of Mark. Anyone without faith cannot see.

Again as an aside, some short explanation of the reference to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus is needed. Since Jesus is identified as the “son of Mary,” it is presumed that Joseph was dead by this time. But who are these brothers and sisters?

From the earliest times of Christianity, the strongest belief has been, as the Church officially teaches, that Mary was a lifelong virgin. Jesus was her only child.

An ancient tradition holds that these “brothers and sisters” were Joseph’s children by a previous marriage. If so, they legally and culturally would have been regarded as siblings of Jesus even if their mother was not the Lord’s mother.

Reflection

Two strong and very enlightening lessons come from these readings. All humans are like the ancient stubborn and rebellious Israelites or the imperceptive people of Nazareth, who were unable to put two and two together, made mistakes, were inclined to resist the truth, yielded to sin and fumbled in misguided self-interest.

Humans wander, stumble and at times even fall off cliffs. But God always reaches out to guide them, and rescue them from their mistakes and mishaps.

In divine love and mercy, God sent Ezekiel to call the people back. God most especially sent Jesus to show us all the way to eternal life. †

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