January 21, 2011

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

The Sunday Readings

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

It offers us a powerful lesson.

Isaiah lived during a time when God’s people were facing spiritual danger. They still had their independence, at least after a fashion.

Hebrew kings still reigned in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The religious, social and political structures all still gave lip service to the ancient religion, and to the holy covenant between God and the Chosen People.

However, all this was at risk because devotion to the covenant and obedience to God’s law were at low ebb.

Isaiah loudly warned that disaster was just around the corner. He also said that the people could rescue themselves by returning to religious faithfulness and obeying God in accordance with the teachings of the prophets.

All of this implied a certain potential within the people. They did not sin because they were helpless in the face of temptation. Rather, they were weak because they ignored God. If they were determined, they could be virtuous.

For its second reading, the Church selected a passage from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Paul obviously loved the Corinthian Christians. He yearned to see them saintly and eternally with the Lord.

On the other hand, the Christians troubled him because they seemed so attracted to the many vices of their great, worldly and wealthy city. They also seemed extremely vulnerable to the feelings of competitiveness that vex all humans if not checked.

Never willing to be passive or indifferent, Paul loudly called the Christians in this community to be true to their identity with Christ.

The Apostle taught a basic message. Earthly reward will pass more quickly than anyone might realize. Earthly wisdom is only folly.

True wisdom is to understand the meaning of the cross, he said, and this understanding requires grace, which is available only to those who earnestly follow the Lord.

St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the last reading.

It is situated in Capernaum, the fishing village located at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is there after leaving Nazareth and beginning his public ministry.

As a center of commerce, albeit very modest commerce, the people of Capernaum saw many visitors come and go from the village.

Jesus used this coincidence as an opportunity to encounter many people. He called them to fidelity to God. He repeated the admonitions of the Hebrew prophets to them.

In this place, Jesus met Andrew and then Simon, whom Jesus renamed Simon Peter. These brothers become the first of the Apostles in the sequence of calling. In time, Christianity was to grow from and build upon the Apostles.

It is interesting that the Gospels, such as is the case in this reading, refer to these Apostles so specifically by listing their names, leaving no doubt whatsoever about their identity. It was vital in the early Church that the teachings of the genuine Apostles would be kept intact and be followed by the people.


These readings remind us of how blind people can be, and also how powerful we can be.

In the first reading, Isaiah criticized the people for their religious listlessness, but he also presumed that—if they wished—they could reverse their wayward hearts and turn again to God.

In essence, the same message was in the second reading taken from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

The Apostle boldly denounced the Corinthians’ sins and quarrels. However, by calling them to conversion, he presumed that they had the power within themselves to be holy.

We are sinners, but we need not be sinners. Sin binds us. We truly can be free by seizing the power of our wills, allowing divine grace to empower us even more, and by disdaining sin to be one with Christ.

The teachings of the Apostles guide us and draw us to the Lord. †

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