February 25, 2011

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionFor its first reading this weekend, the Church presents a rather short selection from the final part of the Book of Isaiah.

By the time this passage was written, the Jews, long trapped in exile in Babylon, had returned home. The collapse of the Babylonian empire, and the accompanying conquest of Babylonia by Persia, had enabled them to go home.

It was a bittersweet return because so few of the exiles, if any, were old enough to remember their homeland.

Their parents and grandparents had told them about the homeland. In their longing to leave Babylon and rediscover pride in their own identity, likely none of these recollections was unpleasant. Perhaps many of their memories were even exaggerated.

So the people who returned from exile had a glowing image of the land of their ancestry. But the bubble burst when they actually arrived there because life was desolate.

The prophecy was diminished by the people’s great disappointment and bewilderment.

Where, they wondered, is God?

The reading reasserts God’s promise to protect and sustain the Chosen People.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading.

In the first century A.D., Corinth was like Las Vegas and New York rolled into one. Converts to Christianity lived in Corinth, but—assuming from Paul’s two letters—they apparently were often lured away from the Gospel.

Christians were mocked by the pagans, who teased them about living chastely and keeping the quest for material gain in check.

The third reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel is part of a rather long discourse about life given by the Lord to his disciples.

It is hardly startling. Jesus simply says that no one can serve two masters, and true followers must choose to serve only God.

However, for Jews at the time of Jesus, things were extraordinarily bad. The temptation was to enter into a “dog-eat-dog” lifestyle just to survive in the world.

Hanging over everything was the Roman occupation with its hedonism and materialism. The temptation here was to join them if you could not beat them, and no one was able to beat the Romans.

All this was especially disheartening for the Jews. Where was God, their protector, in all this? What did their status as “Chosen People” mean?

Many people were tempted to answer these questions by saying that God was not there, and that being God’s people meant nothing.

Jesus is quite frank in this reading, not so much condemning the things of the world and certainly not the necessities for life.

Instead, Jesus reminds his audience that for genuine disciples their focus in life must be only on attention to God and God’s will.

God must be the only master. Jesus then reassures the disciples. They must not worry about incidentals, but instead be concerned about what is important. They must judge others by God’s standards, not by the world’s standards.


On March 9, the Church will call us to observe Ash Wednesday and to begin the penitential season of Lent.

This ancient season of penance and renewal identified with the Catholic faith is a liturgical opportunity for every believer to search his or her soul, reform by rejecting sin and recommit to the Lord.

In these ways, there will be new life. On Easter, if they have taken advantage of Lent, Christians will experience a revival of life.

Before any spiritual undertaking in Lent can succeed, we must look at the criteria by which we judge ourselves.

Who is our master? If God is not our master, then we are foolish. †

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