September 29, 2017

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel provides the first reading for Masses on this weekend. Pivotal in Jewish history was the time spent by Hebrew captives and their descendants in Babylon, the capital of the then powerful Babylonian Empire. This empire had militarily overtaken the Promised Land, forever ending the two Hebrew independent kingdoms. Many survivors were taken to Babylon.

Occurring in the sixth century B.C., it is called the Exile. For the Hebrew people, the Exile was a heartbreaking time. They were so far from their homeland. The Exile seemed as if it would last forever. Indeed, it lasted for four generations. Quite likely, many Jews fell away from the traditional religion of their ancestors.

These people were like people in any other time. Religion seemed for many to have failed. God had failed them.

Ezekiel wrote during this time. He responded to the fury and despair of the people by turning the tables. Ezekiel confronts the people with their own sinfulness. Where is their devotion to God? How faithful have they been in being God’s people? No one realistically could have argued that there had been no sin. Who deserted whom?

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is the source of the second reading.

Many early Christians were Jews, at least by birth. Many of these Jews, such as Paul himself, had been pious in their religious practice, well-versed in Judaism. Other early Christians were from pagan backgrounds. In many Christian communities, persons of both these backgrounds lived side by side.

Such was the case in Philippi. Jewish symbols and references appear in the epistle, but the city in no sense was Jewish. Jews were there, but Philippi was thoroughly pagan, an important military base in the Roman Empire, situated in what now is Greece.

Considering that Christians were in the minority, Paul had to reinforce their commitment to the Lord and challenge them to withstand paganism.

The Apostle thus magnificently proclaims Christ, the Lord, the Savior. Scholars think that this passage actually was an ancient hymn, sung by early Christians when they met for worship.

St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the third reading. It recalls an encounter between Jesus and priests and elders. Since religion was a favorite topic for everyone at the time, even priests and persons learned in Judaism would have been interested in what Jesus said.

God is the father in the parable. The vineyard represents the people of Israel, God’s own, God’s chosen, borrowing a well-known image from the prophets. Scholars suggest several possibilities regarding the sons, but one suggestion is that the first son represents Israel, the other son represents gentiles and sinners.

The second son, not the heir, is true to God. Gentiles and sinners, represented by the second son, can hope for salvation. No one is beyond God’s love. Every sinner can repent.

Reflection

The readings this weekend are in the stream of readings heard during the weekends of late summer and now early fall. The Church is calling us to discipleship.

We all hear this call realizing that we are sinners. Our sin shames us, convincing us that we are strangers in God’s kingdom.

We feel overwhelmed, trapped by our weakness in a state of sin and estrangement from God.

Still, we can repent. We first must recognize that our voluntary sinfulness has crippled us, maybe set us on a course toward ruin.

Then, humbly we can turn to God. We must ask forgiveness. God will help us.

If we are as contrite as the second son in Matthew’s story, as wholehearted in our love for Jesus as is shown in the hymn in Philippians, then God will forgive us and welcome us to everlasting life. †

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