July 22, 2016

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis is the source of this weekend’s first story. As with other passages in this marvelously profound religious book, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah sadly so often is overwhelmed by arguments about where these cities actually were in Middle Eastern geography millennia ago, or even if they existed.

All this debate is unfortunate, even if at times it is fascinating, because it completely sweeps by the religious truths that, after all, are what Genesis is all about.

In this reading, Abraham, regarded as the father of the Hebrew race, converses with God.

The topic is the vice in the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God, wholly just, insists that this vice will result in a divine retribution on the people of these cities. Abraham pleads instead for divine mercy. The conversation can be taken as a bargaining process. Abraham asks that the hurdle be lowered. God agrees. Then Abraham asks for a further lowering. God agrees, and so on.

The two important points in this passage are, first, that humans create their own doom. It stands to reason. Look at the despair war brings upon affected populations. Look at the heartbreak that sin brings upon people and upon relationships.

Abraham realizes the deadly effects of human decisions, such as the decisions leading to immorality in these cities. Nevertheless, he asks God for mercy, but beyond mercy, he asks God for life.

God hears Abraham, and he extends his mercy. This is the second, and most consoling, point.

For its second reading, the Church presents a reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. The Christians of Colossae were no different from other Christians in the Roman Empire’s Mediterranean world in the first century.

To them, the Christian faith was new. In the face of such an overwhelming pagan culture, following this faith was a challenge indeed.

Encouraging them, Paul reminds the Colossian Christians that they died in Christ to the culture and to their own instincts. Baptism drowned their sins and their weakness before the pressures of their surroundings and of their nature. In baptism, they died, but they also rose to life in Christ with its promise of eternity and strength.

St. Luke’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading. It is the beautiful revelation of the Lord’s Prayer. No prayer is more loved by Christians, now and throughout Christian history. Each verse is powerfully and profoundly expressive. The first verse is especially telling, setting the stage for all the others. Jesus tells the disciples to address God as “Father”, not as king, ruler, judge, or creator. It establishes the believer’s relation with God.

The second part of the reading is reassuring. Jesus insists that God’s door is never closed. God always hears the appeals of people. Loving people with an infinite love, God will give them life. He even gives life to sinners, if they repent and turn to God in love.

Reflection

The reading from Genesis, and the reading from Luke, call us to approach God in full confidence that our pleas will be heard. It is particularly comforting when we turn to God after sinning. If we reject our sins, and instead turn to God, our sins will be forgiven.

It is all a beautiful thought, but the Christians of Colossae give us evidence, as if we need any, that our instincts and all around us can be very difficult to overcome.

Nevertheless, we can overcome sin and all that brings sin. Why? If we are sincere as believers, Christ will be in us with strength, insight and power. He will show us the way. He will sustain us. He will take us to the very place of God. He will keep us safe forever. †

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