August 30, 2013

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Sirach furnishes this weekend’s first Scripture reading. Sirach is among those biblical volumes collectively called the Wisdom Literature. This designation means that these books attempt to show that the Jews’ ancient faith in the one God of Israel, and their insistence that God’s law be obeyed, are in no way illogical or unreasonable.

To the contrary, a person who possesses genuine wisdom realizes the fact that God lives and reigns and also knows that all persons and all things are subject to God.

This weekend’s reading expressly refers to humility. While humility definitely is associated with Christian theology and spirituality, humility was a virtue very much admired and evident in the Old Testament. This especially was the case with many of the prophets, and even of some of the kings.

For instance, while David, whom God had chosen to be king, eventually rebelled against God and sinned, he, in the end, humbly turned back to God, repenting of his sins.

“Sirach,” the name of this book, derives from the name of the author, mentioned in the book. The author was Yeshua (or Jesus in English), the son of Sira. This book was written in Egypt, by Jewish immigrants from the Holy Land, or possibly by descendants of such immigrants, around 132 B.C. The date of composition can be determined because the early verses say that it was authored during the reign of Pharaoh Ptolemy VII. The dates of this ruler’s reign are known.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is the source of the second reading. Strong with Hebrew symbolism and references to Hebrew history, this reading recalls that whereas the ancient followers of Moses, the Hebrews escaping slavery in Egypt, had with trepidation crossed the forbidding Sinai Peninsula and had trembled as God came to Moses on the mountaintop, true disciples of Jesus are ushered literally into the heavenly Jerusalem, the very home of the Almighty God.

St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the last reading. In this story, the Lord is guest at a meal in the home of a Pharisee. Jesus uses the occasion to warn that no one should seek the highest place. Rather, the humble who is content with a lesser place will be called to higher distinction.

In addition to its obvious call to humility, the reading makes two other points. The first point is that God cannot be tricked into tolerating anyone’s self-engineered passage into the heavenly kingdom. The second point, so typical of Luke’s particular insight, is that property is not so absolutely belonging to anyone that the owner can grasp it tightly while others are in great want.

Emphasizing the call to humility is the detail that a Pharisee is the host. Pharisees, well-schooled in Jewish theology, supposedly knew much about life. Jesus, however, had to instruct this Pharisee and his guests.

Reflection

Followers of Jesus always have treasured humility, a virtue also revered in the Old Testament. Humility so long has been seen as indispensable to holiness, the common denominator among all the saints, men and women, of whatever circumstances, from every place on earth.

Humility is not self-degradation. Humility does not debase or deny human dignity and potential. Instead, it means that a person does not overestimate his or her personal worth. No one, however talented, is superior. All who are humbly obedient to God are worthy of being seated at the eternal banquet of heaven.

The reading from Hebrews reminds us of our extraordinary worth, as Christians and as humans. God created us. The Son of God has redeemed us.

By realizing who and what we are, and by fulfilling our destiny of being redeemed by obeying God, we wisely recognize our identity and maximize our human potential. †

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