March 4, 2011

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for this weekend is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, or the Torah in Jewish terms.

These five books form the basis for all the Old Testament.

The Pentateuch must always be seen against the backdrop of the Exodus, the Hebrews’ long, trying escape from Egypt where they had been slaves, to the Promised Land.

This anticipated land, which they were told was “flowing with milk and honey,” always seemed to be just ahead, just around the corner, beyond the mountain range and across the sands.

Any reasonable person, considering the lifelessness and danger of the arid Sinai desert, without a compass or guide, easily would have wondered how the adventure would end.

Some people, who were lost and frightened, were tempted to turn from God. Moses again and again, as in this reading, called them back. He could call them, but they had to turn back themselves.

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

In this reading, Paul reveals the highly individual character of salvation.

He explains that while Jesus came to save all humankind from everlasting death, a very personal process is involved for each Christian.

Just as all people are offered salvation, all have sinned. There is no exception to this fact among mere mortals.

Elsewhere in his writings, Paul absolutely would include himself among the sinners.

To be saved, every Christian must confirm and validate this gift of salvation by personal faith, which is more than lip-service. It cannot be half-hearted. If genuine, it must be a complete conversion to Christ.

St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the third reading for this weekend.

This passage, incidentally, closes the section traditionally called the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, it serves the purpose of synopsizing and finalizing all that has been said earlier.

It is written in a way of speaking that appears in the Old Testament, especially in the Wisdom Literature.

The technique of citing two categories of persons, according to their behavior, and of comparing one with the other would have rung bells for the Jews who heard Jesus speak these words.

Actually, considering what true Christian discipleship is, the lesson is quite obvious. Still, the Lord here speaks quite sternly. He emphasizes the point that following the Gospel is much more than mere motions or words said without sincerity.

Why was Jesus so direct? He knew that people tend to hide their sins and deny the reality of the effects of sin.


Soon, the Church will invite us to the liturgical observance of Ash Wednesday and to begin Lent, traditionally the time when Catholics look into their hearts, purge themselves of anything not in keeping with their faith, and pledge themselves anew, with determination, to following the Lord more closely in their daily lives.

The first reading from Deuteronomy sets the stage. Moses calls upon the Hebrews to obey God. God has blessed them, and they must respond.

St. Paul, in First Corinthians, reaffirms the fact of God’s benediction. He admits that all persons have sinned.

God has blessed the world and offered eternal life to all people through salvation in the Lord.

Each person must respond to God’s call. Each person must choose whether to accept Christ and live as a disciple—or not.

The Sermon on the Mount was addressed to all people, but spoken to each person individually. God offers to each person the gift of life. No one is dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom of heaven.

How will each person respond to God?

Lent is the opportunity to reflect, and to carefully and earnestly choose an answer.

These readings first were heard by people centuries ago. The timing means nothing. They are also for us. Human nature never changes. We need to prayerfully reflect on our lives then change in order to better follow the Lord. †

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