September 26, 2008

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Ezekiel provides this weekend’s first reading.

Pivotal in Jewish history was the time spent by Hebrew captives, and by their descendants, in Babylon, the capital of the then powerful Babylonian Empire.

This empire had overtaken the Promised Land militarily, and in the process forever ending the two Hebrew independent kingdoms. Many survivors were taken to Babylon.

The Exile occurred in the sixth century B.C. 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.

It is quite likely that many Jews fell away from practicing the traditional religion of their ancestors during the Exile.

These people were like people in any other time. Many people felt that religion had failed them, and that God had failed them.

During this time, Ezekiel wrote to the people. He had to respond to the fury and despair of the people. The prophet turns the tables. He 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?

The Epistle to the Philippians is the source of the second reading.

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

Quite likely, such was the case in Philippi. Jewish symbols and references appear in the epistle. However, the city was not Jewish in any sense. It was thoroughly pagan, and was an important military base in the Roman Empire. It was situated in what is now part of Greece.

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

This epistle magnificently and eloquently proclaims Christ, the Lord, as the Savior. This weekend’s reading is an example. Scholars think that this passage was, in fact, 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 some of the priests and elders. While religion was a favorite topic for everyone at the time, priests and persons learned in Judaism would have been especially intrigued by what Jesus said as recorded in this Scripture passage.

God is the father in the parable. The vineyard represents the people of Israel, who were 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 while the other son represents the 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 and be saved.


The readings this weekend are very much in the stream of the 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, locked by our weakness in a state of sin and saddened by our feelings of estrangement from God.

However, we can repent. First, we must recognize that our voluntary sinfulness has crippled us, and maybe even set us on a course toward ruin.

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

If we are as contrite as the second son in Matthew’s story and 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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