July 11, 2014

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

The Sunday Readings

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

This reading was composed when pious Jews must have been disillusioned, heartsick and uncertain in their devotion to God. They had lived for decades as exiles in Babylon, capital and center of the once powerful Babylonian Empire. They despised the pagan environment of the great city, coincidentally in present-day Iraq, and longed for their own homeland.

At last, political fortunes changed. These Jews were allowed to go back to their ancestors’ homes. But upon returning, they found no “land flowing with milk and honey.” Life was hard. Difficulties were many. For so long they had dreamed of escaping Babylon for the security, order and peace of the Jewish land. Yet, they found destitution and misery. God had spared them, but for what?

Many were angry with God. This third section of Isaiah reminded them that God’s work must be their own. God had freed them, but they had to create a society of justice and prosperity for themselves.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. Written to the Christians of Rome about two generations after Jesus, Paul refers to their “sufferings” (Rom 8:18). The legal and political systems in the empire were turning against Christianity. It was a time on the very threshold of persecution.

Outright persecution aside, the culture of the Roman Empire in the first century stood directly opposite the values of the Gospel.

The Apostle consoled and challenged these Roman Christians, telling them that sin ultimately enslaves humans, demeaning them and robbing them of freedom. Sin disorders creation itself, so creation “groans” in agony, Paul wrote (Rom 8:22).

Jesus is the Redeemer amid this unhappy situation. He gives true freedom to people. This freedom opens the way to peace and eternal life, despite the hostility or chaos all around.

St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the familiar parable of the farmer who sows seed in different places. Some seeds sprout. Others die.

Jesus preaches before a great crowd. These people thirsted for the truth and insight that only God gives just as people do in all times and places.

Almost certainly, everyone who heard Jesus at the time was a Galilean. They were therefore involved in, or familiar with, agriculture. The imagery of a farmer, and the sowing of seed, is easily understood.

Agriculture still often is a game of chance. It was all the more so when Jesus preached in Galilee. Hot days easily scorched seeds that fell on shallow soil. Birds and pests were everywhere. Weeds suddenly appeared, but here and there good soil received the seeds planted by farmers and produced a yield.

Reflection

The ancient fathers of the Church often provide highly useful reflections on the Gospel.

Several of the fathers, including St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome, found certain aspects of this weekend’s Gospel highly instructive. They saw evidence of God’s intense love for us. Jesus preached on the seashore to provide space for as many as possible. He was face to face with the audience. Imagine the effect of eye contact, of actually hearing the voice of Jesus!

The Lord used parables. And this one was filled with familiar images. God wants us to hear the words that bring us peace and life.

God’s message is never an exercise in control. It is a seed planted in our hearts. Will it grow? The choice belongs to us.

Outside factors may frustrate the process. Temptations may come, as the birds came. Inwardly, our hearts may be hard, as was the rocky soil in the story. We must be humble enough to accept God’s word and determined enough to drive away the intruders that would rob us of the seed. †

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