August 14, 2009

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Proverbs is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading.

Proverbs is part of the Wisdom Literature. This literature, forming an important part of the Old Testament, came to be as a result of an interesting development in history.

As the years passed and circumstances occurred in life that were both good and bad, many Jews left the land of their heritage and moved to other areas in the Middle East or North Africa.

In another development, the armies of Alexander the Great moved across much of this same territory.

The Greek armies of Alexander, of course, militarily subdued all that was in their path, but after the various invasions the Greeks left a deep imprint upon the cultures of the conquered lands.

In this overwhelming Greek situation, the Jews—who had come from the Holy Land or were descended from forebears that came from the Holy Land—found the need to reinforce their own faith in their ancient religious tradition as well as the need to convey this tradition to new generations.

The pursuit of knowledge or the knowledge of reality was very, very important in Greek culture. The Greeks cherished the science and process of logic. They were great philosophers.

So the Jews, in places where Greek culture was so dominant, sought to understand and to explain Revelation, as it had been given from Moses and the prophets, with logic. In other words, the Jews had to convince others, most importantly their own communities and their own children, that the teachings of the prophets and Moses made sense.

Proverbs was one such effort in this process. In this reading is an interesting technique used by the author of Proverbs. It is the personification of Wisdom. Thus, Wisdom, as if a person, speaks in the first person.

In this passage, Wisdom invites anyone who is “simple” to come because a marvelous meal of the finest food and wine awaits them.

Extending such an invitation to the “simple” would have seemed novel at the time. The “simple,” or the poor and powerless, were not regarded with great admiration or attention. Of course, very likely, many of the Jews to whom these writings were directed were among the “simple.”

Later readings have seen God in the person of “Wisdom.”

The Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading.

Here, as in all the epistles, the purpose is both to strengthen and encourage the early Christians.

In this case, the early Christians were those followers of Jesus who lived in Ephesus, which was a great seaport that featured an important pagan shrine on the Mediterranean coast of what today is Turkey.

The epistle admonishes the Christians of Ephesus to watch their conduct. They should live as true disciples of Jesus. Lip service is not enough in true discipleship.

St. John’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading.

It is one of the most memorable passages in this thoroughly memorable Gospel. It is familiar to all believers.

Jesus declares, “I myself am the living bread” (Jn 6:51).

The Lord then continues, in great eloquence and depth, to explain this revelation. If anyone eats this divine bread, then this person will live forever.

It is real food and real drink. It is not imaginary or symbolic or casual. It is the Lord, as the Lord stated. Those who consume this food will be raised on the last day.


For weeks this summer, the Church has called us to discipleship. Having put before us the image of Jesus, the crucified, the risen Lord, at Holy Week and Easter, with all the accompanying lessons of the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church has invited us to follow Jesus.

It has reminded us of our limitations. We cannot find peace and true happiness alone. We cannot secure eternal life alone. We need God.

This in itself is a difficult lesson for Christians to learn or accept in daily life. The Church repeats it again and again.

In this Liturgy of the Word, the Church reassures us. Although we are limited, even though we cannot achieve salvation of ourselves alone, God is lavishly and mercifully forthcoming. He envelops us in mercy, love and strength. He guides us and sustains us.

God gives us all this in Jesus, the very bread of life. In the Eucharist, we—even the “simple”—unite with Jesus, the Son of God. He is our life and our joy. †

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