August 14, 2015

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Proverbs is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. Proverbs is part of the wisdom literature, an important part of the Old Testament. The wisdom books came to be in an interesting development of history.

As the years passed, and as circumstances occurred, good and bad, many Jews left the land of their heritage and moved to other areas in the Middle East or North Africa. In another movement, the armies of Alexander the Great swept across much of this same territory.

The Greek armies of Alexander militarily subdued all that was in their path. Many were killed. But peace came after the various invasions, and the Greeks left a deep imprint upon the cultures of the conquered lands.

In the midst of this overwhelmingly Greek situation, the Jews who had come from the Holy Land or were descended from ancestors who emigrated from it felt a need to reinforce their own faith, rooted in their ancient religious traditions, and pass it on to new generations.

The pursuit of knowledge of reality was very important in Greek culture. The Greeks cherished the sciences and process of logic. They were great philosophers.

So in places where Greek culture dominated, the Jews had to discern any possible harmony between revelation, as it had been given them by God through Moses and the prophets, and logic. This helped the Jews to convince others, most importantly their own communities and their own children, that the teachings of Moses and the prophets made sense.

Proverbs was one such effort in this process. In this reading is an interesting technique used by the author of Proverbs. It is the personification of wisdom. Thus, wisdom, as if a person, speaks in the first person.

In this passage, wisdom invites anyone who is “simple” to come (Prv 9:4). Awaiting is a marvelous meal of the finest food and wine.

Extending such an invitation to the “simple” was novel at the time. The “simple,” or the poor and powerless, were not regarded with great admiration or attention. Of course, very likely, many of the Jews to whom these writings were directed were among the “simple.”

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading.

Here, as in all the epistles, the purpose was both to strengthen and to encourage the early Christians. In this case, the early Christians were those followers of Jesus who lived in Ephesus, then a great seaport with a very important pagan shrine, on the Mediterranean coast of what today is Turkey.

Paul admonishes these Christians of Ephesus to watch their conduct. They should live as true disciples of Jesus. Lip service is not enough for true discipleship.

St. John’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading.

It is one of the most memorable passages in this thoroughly memorable Gospel. It is familiar to all believers, in itself showing the early Christians’ intense love for the Eucharist.

Jesus declares, “I myself am the living bread” (Jn 6:51). The Lord then continues, in great eloquence and depth, to explain this revelation.

He is real food and real drink. He is not being imaginary or symbolic or casual. As other New Testament texts about the Eucharist, the message is precise. The bread is the Lord. Those who consume this living, life-giving bread will be raised on the last day.

Reflection

For weeks this summer, the Church has called us to discipleship. Having put before us the image of Jesus, the crucified, the risen Lord at Holy Week and Easter, with all the accompanying lessons of the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church has invited us to follow Jesus.

It has reminded us of our limitations. We cannot find peace and true happiness alone. We cannot secure eternal life alone. We need God.

This is a difficult lesson for Christians, for humans, to learn and accept. The Church repeats it again and again, but while warning us, the Church also reassures us. Although we are limited, even though we cannot achieve salvation by ourselves alone, God is lavishly and mercifully forthcoming. He envelops us in mercy, love and strength. He guides us. He sustains us.

God gives us all this in Jesus, the very bread of life. In the Eucharist, we, even if “simple,” are united with Jesus, the Son of God. He is our life and our joy and our hope. †

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