June 28, 2013

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for this weekend’s liturgy is from the First Book of Kings. While the focus, at least in terms of the books’ titles, is upon the kings of Israel, prophets play a major role. Such is the case in this weekend’s reading. The king is not mentioned in this selection. Rather, the chief figures are the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

As the Hebrew people gradually were formed into the nation of Israel, and as Moses and his lieutenants passed from the scene in the natural course of events, figures emerged to summon people to religious fidelity.

They were the men whom generations of Jews and then Christians have called the prophets. The English definition of “prophet” is too narrow. Most often, English-speaking persons associate prophecy with predicting the future.

The broader definition, which fits the roles of these Old Testament prophets, was that they spoke for God, proclaimed God’s law, and called the people to religious devotion.

Although the prophets, of whom we have records, and we have records of only a few, often faced rebuke and even outright hostility from the Hebrew people, as a class they were admired and venerated.

In this reading, the prophet Elijah calls Elisha to follow and succeed him in the prophetic mission. In response, Elisha followed Elijah, forsaking everything familiar.

For the second reading, the Church presents a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. The theme of this reading is freedom. It expresses Paul’s understanding on freedom, which serves as a basis for the classic Christian teaching on this important topic.

Popular conversation would suggest that people who are truly free live lives of utter abandon with no restrictions. The more outrageous and extreme the departure from standards, the greater the freedom.

Christian wisdom has another opinion. Yielding to instincts and unmanageable feelings is not a sign of freedom but of slavery. The person who has the perception to see the outcome of certain behavior, and the strength to subordinate actions to a reasonable goal, seen as a higher motive, is the person who is free.

St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Even today the route from Galilee to Jerusalem passes through Samaria. Much of Samaria is included in that contested part of the region frequently mentioned today in news reports as the West Bank.

At the time of Jesus, pious Jews universally despised Samaritans. Centuries before Christ, when many Jews had died after repeated conquests of their land rather than tolerate the conquerors’ paganism, many in Samaria not only had tolerated the conquerors and their paganism, but they had intermarried with the foreigners.

This was more than a matter of religious conflict. The Samaritans had defiled the pure ethnic line of the Chosen People.

Jesus spoke with Samaritans, a gesture that caused many Jewish to raise their eyebrows. Hearing the disciples’ complaints that he mingled with Samaritans, Jesus reminded them that the kingdom was not of this world. In God’s kingdom, ethnicity and old scores mean nothing.

Reflection

The message this weekend is about the plan of God to give eternal life to all people, who sincerely seek this life, through Christ. First Kings sets the stage. From the oldest periods of history, God reached out to people. He spoke through the prophets long ago.

They came, generation after generation, to call people to God, sent by God that they live in genuine peace, at peace with God.

Christ, the Son of God, came bringing the wisdom and strength that make people truly free.

Essential to this wisdom is the realization that the kingdom of God is not of this world. It is available to any, and to all, who truly love the Lord. This world will end. Eternal life will not end, so our eyes must be on our eternal destiny. †

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