November 17, 2017

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Proverbs provides the first reading for Mass this weekend. This book was composed when God’s chosen people had experienced massive changes as a result of the military conquest of the Holy Land and much of the Eastern Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), the young Greek king from Macedonia.

Alexander did not live long enough to fully enjoy the successes of his victorious armies. But his conquests allowed Greek and philosophy to deeply influence peoples across the Middle East.

This most often introduced ideas that were contrary to traditional Hebrew theology. Committed Jews had to struggle to keep their faith alive, and they especially struggled to relay their tradition to oncoming generations.

Proverbs was written as a part of this effort. Along with other books of the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs attempted to blend human logic with Jewish theology, to say that ancient Hebrew beliefs were not illogical. (In the Greek mind, human reasoning was supreme.)

The reading from Proverbs proclaimed by the Church on this weekend obliquely makes reference to the fact that marriages under the Greek arrangement usually were contrived.

Quite disturbing for Jews was the fact that wives were not much better than servants, even slaves. The concept of love, freely and gladly exchanged between spouses, was not expected by any means in Greek life.

Proverbs tried to elevate the Jewish notion of human dignity, a dignity including women as well as men.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians supplies the second reading. In the early days of the Church, the general presumption was that Jesus would return to Earth soon to vanquish evil and vindicate good. Paul had to remind the Christians of Thessalonica that following the Gospel might be a long, tiring and difficult process, as Christ might not appear as quickly as they would like.

For its third and last reading, the Church this weekend presents St. Matthew’s Gospel. The story in essence also appears in Mark.

The story builds on the same theme as that given in First Thessalonians. The present order will end one day. Every human will die. No one can predict exactly when natural death will come.

Life can change suddenly and unexpectedly, as Americans realized after Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, or on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists destroyed so many lives, or more recently when hurricanes devastated so many places.

The reading from Matthew counsels Christians to remember the uncertainty of life, as well as the certainty of the end of life.

God has given each Christian skills and talents. He has revealed to them the way to live. He has sent Jesus to them as Redeemer. No one can waste time or ignore the fact of life and its uncertainty. They must live as good disciples.

Reflection

The Church will soon conclude its liturgical year. Its great celebration and final message will be the feast of Christ the King, the only answer to every question, worry and need.

This is fact. One day, at a time known to God alone, life will change for each of us individually. Our societies also will change.

Jesus has promised one day to return in glory. How and when this return will occur is not known to us, but the Lord will return.

In the meantime, even as changes suddenly come upon us, God strengthens, guides and redeems us, as Paul assures us in First Thessalonians. In Jesus, we have the lesson of how to live. In Jesus, we truly have life. We are heirs to heaven, but we must respond, committing ourselves, without hesitation, to the Lord Jesus, Christ the King. †

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