July 3, 2015

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel furnishes the first reading for this weekend’s Mass. The prophet speaks in the first person. He says that he literally heard God speaking to him. God told Ezekiel that he was sending him to the Israelites, who had rebelled against God’s holy law, so that they would be called to forsake their disloyalty and return to God.

God, speaking to Ezekiel, recognizes certain traits about humans. They are stubborn, and can be very stubborn in their blindness. This blindness prompts them to choose their way rather than the way of God. It is folly for them. Yet, God does not desert them.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. As an aside, this reading includes Paul’s revelation that he himself had been given “a thorn in the side” (2 Cor 12:7). For almost 2,000 years, people studying this epistle have struggled to discover what this thorn might in fact have been. Some have thought that it was a chronic illness or disability, perhaps epilepsy. Others think it simply was the temptation to sin.

No one has a conclusive answer. What is clear is that life had its challenges for Paul, as life has challenges for everyone. It is important to remember that in the pious Jewish mind of the time everything bad, including physical problems, came from the devil. The loving, merciful God could never will such misfortunes upon people.

So when Paul writes that Satan brought this burden upon him, he was speaking from this context.

The message is not simply that Paul had difficulties, whatever they were. It is not just that he persevered despite these difficulties. He persevered because God’s strength empowered him. The Apostle encouraged the Corinthian Christians and encourages us to be faithful to God. He will provide for us.

For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a reading from St. Mark’s Gospel.

In this reading, Jesus speaks in the synagogue. People who are not themselves Jewish often today regard synagogues to be churches in Judaism. They are not churches, and they were, strictly speaking, not places of worship in the time of Jesus. For the Jews at the time of Jesus, there was one place of worship, namely the temple in Jerusalem.

Synagogues were places of prayer, but essentially they were places to learn and to discuss the Scriptures. Hence, Jesus stood and spoke. So did others.

He amazed everyone. His wisdom was profound. Nevertheless, in their human limitations, many did not recognize Jesus as Son of God.

Again as an aside, some short explanation of the reference to the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus is needed (Mk 6:3). Since Jesus is identified as the “son of Mary,” it is presumed that Joseph was dead by this time. But who were these brothers and sisters?

Beginning with the earliest times of Christianity, the constant teaching of the Catholic Church has been that Mary was a lifelong virgin, and that Jesus was her only child. One possibility is that these “brothers and sisters” were Joseph’s children by a previous marriage. If so, they would have legally and culturally been regarded as siblings of Jesus, regardless of the fact that their mothers were different persons.

Reflection

Two strong and enlightening lessons come from these readings. The first is that all humans are like the ancient stubborn and rebellious Israelites, and like the imperceptive people of Nazareth. We cannot always put two and two together. We fail to understand. We make mistakes. Indeed, we are inclined to resist the truth. We lean toward sin, the ultimate error.

However, as God sent Ezekiel, God most especially sent Jesus to show us the way to eternal life. Jesus is the source of all wisdom. He is the Son of God. †

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