July 11, 2008

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe third and last section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of the first reading for this weekend.

This reading was composed when pious Jews easily could have become disillusioned and uncertain in their devotion to God.

For decades, Jews who were exiled in Babylon, the capital and center of the once powerful Babylonian Empire, longed to leave the pagan environment of the great city, coincidentally in present-day Iraq, and return to their own homeland.

At last, as Middle Eastern political fortunes changed, these Jews were allowed to go back to their ancestors’ homes.

However, upon returning, they found no “land flowing with milk and honey” there. Life was hard. Difficulties were many.

For so long, they had dreamed of hurrying from Babylon to the security, order and peace of the Jewish land. Yet they found destitution and misery there instead. God had spared them, but for what?

Certainly, many people were angry with God. Also, most probably, the author of this third section of Isaiah was one of several, or even many, prophets who reminded them that God’s work must be their own. God had freed them from exile, but they had to work hard to create a society of justice and prosperity.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading.

Written to the Christians of Rome about two generations after Jesus, Paul refers to their “sufferings.” The legal and political systems in the empire are turning against Christianity. It is a time on the very threshold of persecution.

In any case, the culture of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. stands directly opposite the values of the Gospel.

The Apostle consoles and challenges these Roman Christians. He reminds them that sin ultimately enslaves humans, demeaning them and robbing them of freedom. Sin has disordered creation itself so creation “groans” in agony.

Jesus is the Redeemer. He gives true freedom to people. This freedom opens the way to peace and eternal life despite the hostility or chaos all around them.

St. Matthew’s Gospel is the last reading.

It is the familiar parable of the farmer who sows seeds in different places, some conducive to growth and others not. Similar passages occur in Mark and Luke. It is in the Synoptic tradition.

A great crowd awaits Jesus. As do people everywhere at any time, these people thirst for the truth and insight that only God gives them.

Almost certainly, everyone is a Galilean, and of rural backgrounds and circumstances. The imagery of a farmer and the sowing of seeds is easily understood.

Agriculture still often is a game of chance. It was all the more so when Jesus preached in Galilee.

Hot days easily scorch seeds that fall on shallow soil. Birds and pests are everywhere. Weeds suddenly appear. Here and there is good soil, able to receive the seeds and produce a yield.

The message is clear. God sows the seeds in our heart. We must be humble enough to receive God’s word.

As an aside, here again in the Gospels, the disciples have privileged access to Jesus. They question the Lord about the technique of speaking in parables.

Jesus explains that parables assist in understanding great mysteries. He explains this parable and prepares them for their future role as Apostles.


A saint once said that Christians should pray as if salvation depended solely upon God, and live as if salvation depended solely upon their own virtue.

The first step to being redeemed is to be humble enough to admit the need for God.

The second step is to be humble enough to live according to God’s word, not by our own instincts or hunches.

We are all farmers. Circumstances play against us. The one sure anchor is God’s gift of strength and God’s Revelation. Union with God alone frees us because God alone is trustworthy. †

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