July 8, 2016

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading for this weekend, is one of the first five books of the Bible, collectively called the Pentateuch, from the Greek word meaning “five.” These five books have been venerated for millennia as containing the revelation of God to Moses, the greatest of all the ancient Hebrew prophets.

In this reading, Moses speaks to the people on God’s behalf. Moses speaks the word of God. He calls the people to obey God’s commandments, but he is clear, no mere lip service or insincere motions (actually a masquerade of devotion) are sufficient. Again speaking for God, Moses summons the people to heartfelt, honest and total dedication to God. Obeying commandments then becomes a visible expression of a genuine attitude of the soul.

Moses also makes clear to the people that God, while almighty and invisible, and therefore neither human nor bound to the Earth, is aware of human lives and is communicating with humans.

For its second reading, the Church for this weekend presents a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. Colossae was a relatively important city in the Roman Empire’s eastern Mediterranean world. A Christian community had formed in Colossae, and its spiritual vitality was Paul’s concern that led to the writing of this epistle.

The reading builds on the revelation given centuries earlier by Moses and by other prophets. God is invisible. Mortals see him, however, in the Lord Jesus. Jesus lives and is real. He rules over all creation and over all creatures. He is the head of the Church. Discipleship means accepting Jesus, but it also means uncompromising commitment to him.

The Church in Colossae, visible and alive with the life of the Holy Spirit, was more than a coincidental gathering of persons professing Jesus as Lord. The spirit of Jesus lived in it. Its people anticipated eternal life through Jesus.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides a basic concept of Christian theology. Jesus says that the true disciple must love God above all things and must love neighbor as self. At times, people assume that this admonition was a teaching unique to the New Testament. It is not. Ancient Judaism did not concern itself only with outward manifestations of obedience to and formal worship of God without regard to the deep intentions of the heart.

Historic belief among Hebrews, as evidenced in this weekend’s first reading, also required a genuine commitment of the mind and heart to God.

This reading gives us the familiar, and beautiful, story of the Good Samaritan, affirming this long understanding of true dedication to God.

Important to understanding the story is in knowing the disdain in which Jews of the first century held Samaritans. Jews at the time regarded Samaritans almost as incapable of holiness or goodness. Samaritans were traitorous back-sliders. Jesus clearly taught that virtue could be found in a Samaritan. More broadly, the message was, and is, that anyone can love others, can be with God.

Reflection

Over the years, American culture has advanced so that today Americans are much more alert to prejudice and reject it. Prejudice, however, is not dead in this country as evidenced sadly every day by hate-filled actions and words. Remember the slaughter at the church in Charleston? Remember Orlando?

Nevertheless, the story of the Good Samaritan may lose its impact, as most Americans do not scorn people because of race or ethnic origin.

The story still is relevant. Anyone may be a Samaritan from time to time. Maybe sin has set us apart. Maybe something leads us away from goodness. We not only are all called to love God and to love others. Most critically, we are to acknowledge that anyone, a modern Samaritan or not, is loved by God and can show love to others. †

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