August 28, 2009

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

The Sunday Readings

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

In this reading, Moses presents to the people the revelation of God’s law. This information did not originate with Moses. It is neither the law of Moses nor the word of Moses. Rather, it is revelation from God.

Since the law proceeded from God, no one, not even Moses himself, was free to amend the law, change it or veto it.

Humans are limited, lacking insight, knowledge and views into the future to make all decisions regarding themselves wisely or to their genuine benefit. Thus, they need guidance.

Also fundamental is that, in the face of human limitations, God constantly and lavishly provided for the people.

“Law” here is not an edict. It is not relative or arbitrary. It is not necessarily a test. Instead, it is like the “law of gravity.” It is reality. To violate God’s law introduces confusion, or worse, into life. Therefore, when humans behave in ways counter to God’s law, they upset things.

God’s law, or Revelation, leads them away from this destructive activity.

The Epistle of James furnishes the second reading.

Several men in the New Testament bear the name of James. Any of these men, or another, could have been the author of this book, but scholars today tend to think that the author was James, the brother of Jesus.

What then about the most ancient Christian belief that Mary always was a virgin, and that Jesus was her only child? Who were James and the other “brothers and sisters” of the Lord mentioned in the New Testament?

The oldest beliefs among Christians, recorded in the centuries immediately after Christ, and not at all contradicted by the Scripture, were that they were Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage. Under Jewish custom of the time, any half-siblings of Jesus would have legally been regarded as his brothers and sisters.

Maybe less likely, drawing upon other ancient sources, they were the cousins of Jesus.

The older tradition influenced classical religious art, which depicted Joseph as an old man, but Mary as a young woman. Here again, the implication in this art is that she was his second wife.

This reading insists that every good thing comes from above. Every good thing is from God.

St. Mark’s Gospel is the source of the last reading.

In this story, some bystanders notice that at least a few of the Lord’s disciples are careless in observing the Law of Moses. It should be remembered that this law provided for virtually every

circumstance that a person would encounter, whether great or small, in daily life.

Jesus replied that some gave God mere lip service or went through the motions of obedience. Instead, the Lord called for a true conversion of the heart, founded upon love for God and others, and manifesting itself in actual deeds and words.


These readings repeat a theme. It is often said among theologians that the most devastating effect of Original Sin was the assumption by humans that they are much more self-sustaining than they really are. Every generation had thought that it had achieved extraordinary knowledge and command over the circumstances of life.

New generations come, and indeed they improve on the past. One day, many things that we know as state-of-the-art, including our assumptions and popular attitudes, will be as old-fashioned as the steam engine.

Humans have accomplished much. But, in other areas, they have blundered much. They have brought into human history extraordinary destruction and hatred, such as in the Jewish Holocaust during World War II. Into individual lives, they have brought untold instances of heartbreak and worse.

God does not leave us to our doom. He generously provides for us. His greatest gift was, and is, Jesus—“the way, the truth and the life.” †

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