September 3, 2010

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Wisdom provides the first reading for this weekend.

As indicated by its name, this book is part of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. The development of this literature is interesting.

Pious Jews felt the need to show that their belief in the One God of Israel was thoroughly consistent with sound human reason, or wisdom, as Jews moved away from the Holy Land and pagan cultures dominated the people.

This book builds upon the legendary wisdom of Solomon, Israel’s great king. However, it was written long after Solomon’s lifetime, and composed about 500 or 600 years before Jesus, probably in Alexandria, and written in Greek.

As its origins were outside the Holy Land and not written in the Hebrew language, some ancient Jewish scholars excluded it from some lists of the Hebrew Scriptures defined approximately 40 years after Jesus.

The oldest Protestant translation in English of the Bible adopted this exclusion.

The Catholic Church has accepted Wisdom as inspired Scripture and included this book in Catholic Bibles.

The reading for this week heavily rests upon the Greek philosophical notion that matter and spirit, body and soul, comprise humanity. In addition to differentiating between body and soul, this reading firmly establishes the fact that God is supreme to all earthly beings and things.

This weekend’s second reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, the shortest book in the New Testament.

Indeed, it is not even divided into chapters.

Most scholars regard Philemon as Paul’s work, written to a person, Philemon, and not to a community, as in the case of First and Second Corinthians or the Letter to the Ephesians.

Paul’s letter had a very practical purpose and was intended to intercede for Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, who had run away. This was a very serious offense under Roman law. Paul calls upon Philemon to receive the returning slave as a brother. To regard a slave as a brother was an unbelievable reversal of what prevailed in the culture at that time.

St. Luke’s Gospel offers the last reading.

The Catholic Church teaches that any reading of any of the four Gospels must consider the text from three standpoints.

The first is the event in the life of Jesus. The second is what was happening in the world, and in the Christian community, when the particular Gospel was written. Remember that the Gospels were likely written one or two generations after Jesus. No biblical day-by-day news report exists of occurrences in the Lord’s life. The third is to consider the Evangelist’s own vision of the Lord.

Luke wrote for Christians already scorned by most of the people in Roman society. The signs of the future were not bright. Persecution was a real possibility. Surely, families ended up divided when some members embraced Christianity.

The Gospel thus recalls that the Lord warned followers that one day even their loved ones would turn against them. Every Christian must walk toward a personal Calvary, facing the pains and reversals of human life with strength and faith.

As events occurred and times changed, Christians learned that discipleship had great costs for them. Following Jesus could be no casual decision. It soon became literally a matter of life and death.


Intelligent human decisions always are based upon priorities and options to determine how best to achieve a purpose.

The difficulty in this process is that human reasoning, although splendid and vastly forthcoming in its inventiveness, ultimately is flawed.

Original sin impaired us all. We cannot see everything clearly. We are fearful for ourselves, and our insecurity can lead us into trouble.

These readings remind us that God has not deserted us to our inadequacies. He gave us the wisdom of Solomon. Most of all, God gave us Jesus.

God’s way, more often than not, will lead us contrary to human instinct. We will have to make difficult decisions. Some of our decisions will be hurtful—even to the point of being a walk to Calvary. However, it is the only way to the Resurrection, to true joy and to everlasting life. †

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