February 1, 2008

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Zephaniah provides this weekend’s first reading.
Only rarely does the liturgy use the Book of Zephaniah for a reading. Probably one reason is that the book is quite short—only three chapters in length. The Book of Isaiah, for example, has 66 chapters.

In addition, little is known about Zephaniah. His father was Cushi, who descended from King Hezekiah, the ruler of the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah from 715 B.C. to 687 B.C.

Descent from royalty suggests for some scholars that Zephaniah had contact with the royal circles of his day and therefore had a good perspective of political developments.

In any case, the kingdom of Judah was on shaky ground, as was its northern—and somewhat estranged—neighboring kingdom, the Hebrew kingdom of Israel.

Each was weak and easily the prey for the imperial hungers of mighty surrounding empires. Indeed, as times unfolded, the powerful Babylonians, operating from Babylon in present-day Iraq, literally would extinguish the Hebrew kingdoms.

Zephaniah saw the danger. He also saw at the root of the problem the fact that the country’s people had grown careless and lukewarm in their faithfulness to God.

Ignoring God had led the national leaders into making very unwise decisions. These decisions crippled the country and put it at risk of being overtaken by outsiders.

This prophet insisted, as did the others, that if the people obeyed God’s law then they would have nothing to fear.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians gives us the liturgy’s next reading.

The reading insists upon a paradox that has confounded people since the Gospel first was preached. The weak, at least in earthly eyes, will be exalted. The mighty, by contrast, will be laid low.

The overall lesson from Paul’s writing in this regard is that judging our lives, or the world, by earthly, human standards, is in the last analysis a waste of time. Only in God, as revealed by Jesus, is there to be found a clear and true vision of what life is all about, and of what is important or unimportant in life.

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading.

It is the beautiful presentation of the Beatitudes. In general, the similarity between Jesus and Moses always intrigued Matthew, and this similarity is a theme of his Gospel.

For example, there is a coincidence between when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses atop Mount Sinai—in the midst of the flight of the Hebrews from slavery and death—and the pronouncement by Jesus of the Beatitudes on a mountaintop at the edge of the Sea of Galilee as the people yearned to be freed from hopelessness and doom.

Each revelation—that to Moses and that of Jesus—is a series of statements for virtuous living addressed by God to the faithful. Living by the Beatitudes builds the kingdom of God.


Midway in the week to come, the Church will observe Ash Wednesday and begin the season of Lent.
At the conclusion of Lent, we will celebrate the resurrection of the Lord and await our own ultimate victory over sin, despair and death.

Lent will prepare us for Easter, not by planning for a celebration but by calling us to penance and deeper prayer. Lent is a microcosm of life on Earth.

Just as in Lent we symbolically prepare for Easter by disciplining ourselves with prayer, self-denial and fasting, in life we must prepare ourselves for genuine peace and for eternal life by disciplining ourselves.

How? The most demanding discipline is to accept in our hearts and minds the fact that judgments based on earthly considerations are hopelessly and essentially flawed. We must accept as our standard the model of Jesus. Only in accepting Jesus, and living in the example of Jesus, will we join Jesus in eternity.†

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