September 30, 2016

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for this weekend comes from the Book of Habakkuk. Little is known about the author other than the fact that he was regarded as a prophet.

Scholars believe that this book was written between 626 and 612 BC when outside forces threatened the Assyrian empire. But it is clear that Habakkuk was composed after God’s people already had suffered great problems from foreign invasions and brutal occupations. The book laments these past terrible experiences.

This weekend’s reading conveys well the sense of how awful the circumstances through which the Hebrews had lived had been. It also presents the anguish and even despondency of the people as they looked at the effects of all that they had endured.

Answering these cries of desperation and great anxiety, God, speaking through the prophet, reassures the people, telling them that relief and security will come. They will not wait forever or in vain. God is their savior.

For its second reading, the Church gives us a passage from St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy. This epistle involves the generation of Christians that followed the first generation of the Apostles and their converts.

Timothy, the man to whom the epistle was written, is from the new generation. Paul converted Timothy and mentored him, but Paul was not from the circle of followers that literally walked with the Lord along the roads and byways of Galilee and along the streets of Capernaum and Jerusalem.

The reading refers to one of the most ancient of the Christian liturgical gestures, namely the laying on of hands. Apostolic hands were laid on the head of Timothy, and Timothy became a bishop. Still today, this gesture is an essential part of the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons.

Paul urges Timothy to be strong and never to relent in preaching the Gospel. This was Timothy’s vocation. This was the responsibility conferred upon him when hands were laid on him ordaining him a bishop.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. Some trees, such as the sycamore, had deep and extended root systems. Uprooting them from the soil would not have been easy, or even possible. Mustard seeds were very small. Consider how much larger would have been other seeds, pits of fruit, and so on.

The culture at the time of Jesus did not regard the tasks undertaken by a servant or a slave as voluntary for the person performing the task. Rather, the task was a duty and an obligation. Also, slaves, or servants, were never invited to dine with a master. Dining together represented equality and the relationship of peers.

The message here is not that slaves or servants are inferior. The lesson is that we are God’s servants. He is supreme; we are not. Serving God is not our option. Rather, it is our duty. Slavery is long gone in our country, but we cannot allow our modern concepts of “achievement” or even employment to color our perception of this reading.

Reflection

The second and third readings confront us with a reality we would perhaps rather forget. Serving God by obeying his law is necessary if we want to achieve the happiness that we ultimately desire.

God is the Creator. He is our master. We are subjects. Timothy had to fulfill his obligation. The servants in the Gospel had to fulfill their obligations. We must fulfill our own obligations.

We are not almighty, despite all that we may possess or all that we have accomplished. We are not all-knowing.

We need God, as Habakkuk tells us. Otherwise, peril awaits us. God always protects, strengthens and guides us. †

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