February 24, 2017

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionFor its first reading for Mass this weekend, the Church presents a rather short selection from the final part of the Book of Isaiah.

By the time this passage was written, the Jews, long trapped in exile in Babylon, had returned home. The conquest of Babylonia by Persia, and the resulting collapse of the Babylonian empire, enabled them to go home.

It was a bittersweet return, however, since few of the exiles, if any, were old enough to remember the homeland. Their parents and grandparents surely had told them about it. Everything was good, so they longed to leave Babylon and re-discover pride in their own identity. In a way, they thought that they were going to the Promised Land.

Then the bubble burst when they arrived. The homeland was desolate. Life was miserable.

The prophets had to cope with the people’s great disappointment, bewilderment and anger with God.

The reading reasserts God’s promise to protect and sustain the chosen people.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading. In the first century, Corinth was Sin City—Las Vegas and New York all rolled into one. Converts to Christianity lived in Corinth but, assuming from Paul’s two letters to them, they apparently were constantly lured away from the Gospel.

There is evidence that pagans there, not surprisingly, mocked and tantalized the Christians, leading them to ask themselves if living chastely and keeping the quest for material gain in check made any sense at all.

Paul had to fortify faith and resolve.

The third reading, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, is part of a rather long discourse given by the Lord to his disciples about life. It is not startling, but simple logic. He says that no one can serve two masters, and true followers must choose to serve God alone.

Probably no time in history, anywhere, for anyone, utterly is without material concern. If it is not the task of making a living, or of maintaining a constant and fulfilling relationship, it is a question of health.

For Jews at the time of Jesus, things extraordinarily were bad. The temptation was to enter a “dog eat dog” world, just to survive. Hanging over everything was the Roman occupation of their homeland, which brought the empire’s hedonism, materialism and vicious injustice. The temptation here was to join them if you could not beat them, and no one beat the Romans.

Understandably, the Jews questioned their traditional beliefs. Where was God, their protector, in all this? Whatever did their status as “chosen people” mean?

Many were tempted to answer these questions by saying that God was not there, that being God’s people meant nothing.

Jesus is frank in this reading. Not so much condemning the things of the world, certainly not necessities for life, Jesus instead reminds the audience that for genuine disciples only attention to God and to his will suffices.

God must be the only master. Jesus then reassures the disciples. Worry not about incidentals, but be concerned about what is truly important. Judge by God’s standards, not by the world’s.

Reflection

In three days, the Church will call us to observe Ash Wednesday and to begin Lent. This ancient season of penance and renewal so identified with the Catholic faith is a liturgical opportunity for every believer to search his or her soul, to reform by rejecting sin, and finally to recommit to the Lord.

In this will be new life, so on Easter, if they have taken advantage of Lent, Christians will experience for themselves a revival of life.

Before any spiritual undertaking in Lent can succeed, we must look at the criteria by which we judge ourselves. Who is our master? If God is not our master, we are foolish. †

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