February 20, 2009

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

The Sunday Readings

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

When this reading was composed, times were bad for God’s People. It was not just that they faced great hardships, but also that they were angry and disappointed.

They had endured four long generations of living as a powerless, probably outcast, community of exiles in Babylon, the seat of the Babylonian Empire that had overtaken their land years earlier. The Babylonians also had taken their political independence and destroyed all their structures.

The exiles had yearned for the chance to return home. At long last, Babylonia itself fell, humbled by the Persian emperor, Cyrus, whose powerful army overwhelmed Babylonia. He allowed the exiles to go home. For the Jews, it was the answer to their prayers.

At last, returning to their homeland, they had a rude awakening. The land was not overflowing with milk and honey. It was just the opposite: a bleak and sterile place. It is easy to imagine their disgust and even despair, and then to suppose how bitterly they either rebuked God or decided that God did not exist after all.

The prophet attempted to reinforce their faith. In effect, he reminded them that God’s will takes its own time to unfold, but unfold it will, although rarely if ever in the exact terms expected by humans.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians provides the second lesson for this weekend’s liturgy.

Corinth was one of the chief cities of the Roman Empire. With a large population, including people from throughout the Mediterranean world, it received its share of pioneer Christian missionaries. Converts were made in Corinth and a Christian community was formed there.

However, evidently these converts were the source of some anxiety for Paul. He wrote to them at least twice. His two known letters to Corinth are in the New Testament as the inspired Word of God.

The Christians of Corinth quarreled among themselves. They strayed into sin and pagan practice. Paul firmly called them to uncompromised loyalty to the Gospel.

But Paul was not always well received. Some people challenged his credentials as an Apostle. In this reading, Paul reasserts his role and reaffirms his purely spiritual intentions.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

Healing this paralyzed man was marvelous, and the extraordinary circumstance of lowering him through the roof made it all the more dramatic.

However, the scribes present at the event took offense. Jesus said the paralytic’s sins were forgiven. The scribes saw blasphemy in this statement. Only God can forgive sins because sins offend God. Jesus also reversed the effects of sin.

Again, to understand the reading requires an awareness of the context. Pious Jews at the time looked upon physical maladies as the result of sin. Perhaps the paralyzed man had sinned. Perhaps his ancestors had sinned. But, in any case, all physical distress ultimately came from sin.

Incidentally, roofs at the time were quite flimsy by modern standards. They were made of wooden beams laid horizontally from one wall to the opposite wall. Thatch was laid on these beams, loosely held together by mud. It kept out the hot rays of the sun, which was much more of a problem in the Holy Land than rain.


The Church’s emphasis is on Jesus as Savior and as Son of God. He acts as God. He forgives sin. He takes away the effects of sin. This is the marvel, exceeding even the cure of the paralytic.

That was then. What about now? We sin today. Jesus forgives us if we sincerely and humbly seek to be forgiven.

Jesus will remove from us the worst effect of our sins, namely eternal death. By forgiving us, Jesus frees us, healing us, strengthening us and giving us hope. He rescues us from our exile. Sin holds us hostage. †

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