October 21, 2016

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Sirach, one of those books classified by scholars collectively as the wisdom literature, provides this weekend’s first Scriptural reading.

The Old Testament’s wisdom literature began when devout and conscientious Jewish parents realized that, in the midst of the pagan societies to which they had emigrated, they needed to do better to convince their children of the worth of the ancient Hebrew religion.

The paganism amid which they lived had Greek origins. Therefore, human reasoning was elevated almost to the status of divine. So the authors of this literature sought to persuade audiences that the Hebrew religion in itself was the summit of human logic.

Even with this overall pattern, each of the Wisdom books was composed in its own time and in the face of its own circumstances. Thus, it is important always to know the context in which a book was written, despite the fact that a similar purpose was the driving force and paganism was the common concern.

The Book of Sirach was composed when, in the minds of most people living around the Jews, the best and the brightest, Greek mythology was the accepted way of thought. This mythology presented gods and goddesses who on occasion were selfish, petty and outright cruel, powerful certainly but hardly endearing.

By contrast, Sirach offers a picture of the God of Hebrew revelation as far above the tawdry shortcomings and schemes of humans.

God did not bargain. He is supremely just. God could be nothing else than be perfectly just.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy provides the second reading. Timothy was one of Paul’s disciples. Paul taught him the deep meaning of the Gospel and guided him in the process of spiritual development. Paul also ordained him a bishop.

In this reading Paul encourages Timothy to be true to the Lord. The great Apostle offers himself as an example. He has been imprisoned and mistreated for Christ. His way has been rocky and uphill, but has always remained loyal.

St. Luke’s Gospel supplies the final reading. Jesus presents the smug and boastful as being without God’s favor. By contrast, a humble and unassuming man is the model of true devotion.

The reading makes two points. First, it teaches that those who have heartfelt love for God will endure. Gaudy, outward appearances mean nothing. Good works are to be praised, but good works must rise from sincere faith and love.

Second, the reading echoes what already has been said in the first reading. God is perfectly just.

Human nature blurs our vision. We may see in our good words more than they are. To be truly good, they must spring from a humble faith, prompted by the knowledge that we are good only because God guides us and strengthens us.

Anyone who seeks an end other than God, as the Pharisee sought other ends in the story told by Luke, chase after phantoms. The humble man in the Gospel story was truly wise. His wisdom caused him to be humble. He received the reward. He succeeded. He achieved.

Reflection

The Book of Sirach suggests an age and a condition very long ago, but in reality quite similar to circumstances met in life today or any day. Humans always exaggerate their ability. It is an effect of original sin.

Despite these exaggerations, however, the fact remains that God alone is almighty and truly wise. God alone is the model of perfection. God alone provides the only reward. God is everything.

Humility is an essential Christian virtue. It is not a denial of who and what we are. Rather, it expresses the deepest insight of who and what we are. It sees us as we are, but its very frankness unsettles us so often. †

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