September 26, 2014

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel provides this weekend’s first reading. Pivotal in Jewish history was the time spent by Hebrew captives and by their descendants in Babylon, the capital of the then-powerful Babylonian Empire. This empire had conquered the Promised Land and, in the process, forever ended the two Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Many survivors were taken to Babylon.

Occurring in the sixth century B.C., it simply is called the Exile. It was a heartbreaking time for the Hebrew people. They were so far from their homeland. The Exile seemed as if it would last forever. Indeed, it lasted for four generations. Quite likely, many Jews fell away from the religion of their ancestors.

These people were like people in any other time. For many, religion seemed to have failed them, at least as a guarantee of security.

Ezekiel wrote during this time. He had to respond to the people’s despair. The prophet turns the tables. He confronts the people with their own sinfulness. Where is their devotion to God? How faithful have they been in being God’s people? No one realistically could have argued that there had been no sin. Who deserted whom?

The second reading this weekend is taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In many first-century Roman Empire communities, persons of many religious traditions lived side by side.

Quite likely, such was the case in Philippi. Jewish symbols and references appear in the epistle, but in no sense was the city Jewish. It was thoroughly pagan, an important military base in the Roman Empire, situated in what now is Greece.

Considering that Christians were in the minority, Paul had to reinforce their commitment to the Lord and challenge them to withstand paganism.

He magnificently and eloquently proclaims Christ, the Lord, as the Savior. Many scholars believe that this passage was an ancient hymn, sung by early Christians when they met for worship.

St. Matthew’s Gospel, the third reading, recalls an encounter between Jesus and priests and elders. Religion was a favorite topic for everyone at the time, so priests and lay people alike would have been intrigued by Jesus.

God is the father in this parable. The vineyard represents the people of Israel, God’s own, God’s chosen, borrowing a well-known image from the prophets.

Scholars suggest several possibilities regarding the two sons, but one suggestion is that the first son represents Israel and the second son represents gentiles and sinners. This last son, not the heir, is true to God.

The story glorifies the breadth of God’s love and the potential for human repentance.

While culture and environment significantly may affect religious practice, few people today think that genetic heredity and ethnicity, strictly speaking, limit or expand God’s love or the human ability to approach God.

Many, however, are angry with God, as were Ezekiel’s contemporaries, or they think that their sins have made them moral outcasts. No one is beyond God’s love. Every sinner can repent.

Reflections

The readings this weekend very much are in the stream of readings heard during the weekends of late summer and now early fall. The Church is calling us to discipleship.

We all hear this call realizing that we are sinners. Our sin shames us, convincing us that we are strangers in God’s kingdom. We feel overwhelmed by our sins, or we are furious with God for this or that reason.

Everyone may repent. We first must recognize that our sinfulness has crippled us, maybe setting us on a course toward ruin. Then, humbly, we must ask for forgiveness.

If we are as contrite as the second son in Matthew’s story, as wholehearted in our love for Jesus as is shown in the hymn in Philippians, then God will forgive us and welcome us to everlasting life. †

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