September 13, 2013

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend’s first reading is from the Book of Exodus. This book roughly chronicles the passage of the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been slaves.

Moses guided them. But in the eyes of the Hebrew, it was God who guided Moses, since Moses could not have accomplished such a task without God’s help. So while they had Moses to thank for their successful and safe passage across the Sinai Peninsula to the land God had promised them, the thanks ultimately were due to Almighty God.

In this reading, God speaks to Moses. He indicts the people for sinning. They indeed had committed the greatest of sins. They had constructed and then worshipped an idol, a statue of a calf crafted from metal.

Harsh punishment would follow, not because of divine wrath, but because they had pushed God away. They would reap the whirlwind.

Moses implored God to forgive the people. Moses pleaded with him to remain the people’s guide and protector even though they had sinned.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy is the source of the second reading. Timothy was a disciple of the Apostle Paul. Together with Silvanus, Timothy had accompanied Paul on some of the Apostle’s missionary travels.

While elsewhere in his writings Paul seems to express some doubts about Timothy’s skills for leadership, Paul nevertheless regarded him as a special associate and faithful disciple.

To fortify Timothy’s fidelity, Paul explains his own personal devotion to Christ. Paul describes his vocation as an Apostle and as a believer. In this effort, Paul makes it clear that he is a sinner, unworthy of God’s saving grace. Despite this, Paul insists that God saved him from eternal death through Jesus the Redeemer.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is a story of the willingness of the Lord to associate with tax collectors and sinners. Today, it is easy to imagine why the critics of Jesus would have disdained tax collectors.

Why were tax collectors so bad? Their claim to infamy was two-fold. In the first place, they were turncoats and traitors. They were tools of the detested Roman occupation, collecting taxes for the imperial treasury. Secondly, they were legalized thieves and extortionists. Under the Roman system, tax collectors could assess taxes in amounts they themselves chose. Then they could take whatever they received above and beyond what was sent to Rome and put it in their own pockets.

They were the worst of the worst.

Jesus associated with them and all despicable types. Not surprisingly, Jesus was criticized. The Lord answered the criticism with three beautiful parables. The last of these parables is the story of the Prodigal Son, one of the most beloved of the parables.

Lessons are clear. God’s mercy never ends, nor is it ever limited. It awaits even the worst of sinners, if only they repent. God reaches out to us in our need. Finally, we can find the strength to turn back to God if we renounce our own sinfulness.

Reflection

In the Vatican Museum is a splendid item, given to Pope Leo XIII on the 25th anniversary of his election as pontiff by the Austrian emperor and Hungarian king, Francis Joseph I.

Mounted on a magnificent marble pedastal are wonderful gold figures of 99 sheep, following a shepherd holding one sheep in his arms. The Good Shepherd has found the stray sheep, and literally is carrying this sheep.

This beautiful work of art illustrates the parable presented in this weekend’s Gospel reading, and through it the loving mercy of God. We are so important to God that the Good Shepherd will search for us if we lose our way. If we are weak, the Lord will carry us to fertile pastures.

We all need God. Peril awaits us when we go our own way. God wants us to live and be secure. †

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