August 28, 2020

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Jeremiah provides the first reading for Mass this weekend. Jeremiah was the son of a priest, Hilkiah, and therefore of the priestly caste.

He was active as a prophet for two generations. Critics denounced Jeremiah as disloyal to his people and race because he was so blunt and direct. Angry listeners at times went so far as to threaten his life. Once he was thrown into a cistern and left to die, but he survived.

He withstood these criticisms, but he did not relent in protesting the people’s disloyalty to God. Jeremiah was eloquent. He describes his vocation as a “fire burning” in his heart (Jer 20:9).

While he never questioned his role as a prophet as resulting from his acceptance of God’s call, he also vigorously complained to God that this call had led him into the abuse and rejection that he experienced. He was frank even with the Almighty!

Always in all his prophecy, Jeremiah believed that the people’s sinfulness would send the entire society to doom. Sinful people brought disaster upon themselves.

So, speaking as a prophet whom God had called, Jeremiah could not be quiet as he observed the people’s sinfulness.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans offers the second reading. In it, Paul pleaded with his readers, the Christians of Rome, “to offer” their bodies “as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). All around these Christians in the great imperial capital was a culture, let alone code of law, utterly at odds with the Gospel. Embedded in this culture were hedonism, gross materialism and idolatry.

St. Paul was no hysteric. Ominous for all believers was the political and legal antagonism against Christianity. People knew what he was predicting for those who kept the faith. Christians were hunted, abused, tormented and executed under terrifying circumstances. (Paul himself would be executed.)

Paul urged the Christian Romans to resist the culture at all costs. Eternal life with God would be the reward.

For its last reading, the Church this weekend presents a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel.

In the story, the Apostles were with the Lord, learning, listening and in dialogue. Jesus foretold the crucifixion and resurrection. Peter exclaimed that nothing like Calvary should ever occur! The Lord reminded Peter that such were human thoughts.

Jesus then told the Apostles that obstacles lay ahead as they pursued their vocations to live out and proclaim the Gospel.

He said that they would be required to take up their own crosses. It was no figure of speech. They got the message. Crucifixion was a common means of execution under Roman law. Being true to Christ meant the risk, if not the likelihood, of being executed, possibly by crucifixion.

The Lord’s kingdom is not of this world. Christian reward will not be of this world, but it will be glorious and brilliant in the world to come.

Reflection

Many centuries have passed since Jeremiah. Indeed, almost 20 centuries have elapsed since the preaching of Jesus and of Paul.

Regardless of the day or time, however, these readings present realities that human beings everlastingly ignore or defy.

Humans create the circumstances around them, the presumptions, attitudes, responses, and the laws. Jeremiah was right.

Strong obstacles press against people when they wish to follow their better judgments by following the Lord and obeying the commandments of God. Humans so easily, and inevitably, either shrink before hardship or fall for the logic of other humans.

Many early Christians found these hardships in their own crucifixions. They resisted mere human logic.

For good cause, Paul continually reminded his audiences to face facts and to resist these impulses.

Jesus vividly taught in this weekend’s Gospel that while challenges come, a great reward also comes to the devout, but it will be a reward not of this world. †

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