September 9, 2011

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

The Sunday Readings

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

Sirach’s author was Joshua, the son of Sirach. He should not be confused with Joshua, who was active centuries earlier as a disciple of Moses and leader of the Hebrews as they passed into the Promised Land.

Written in Jerusalem, originally in Hebrew, Sirach lost the right to be regarded as Sacred Scripture by some very strict and conservative scholars many years ago because it was presumed to have been written first in Greek, instead of in Hebrew. In fact, it was only later translated into Greek.

Evidently, Joshua, son of Sirach, operated a school in Jerusalem for young men. Young women received no formal education.

His great interest was to teach ethics to his students. Thus, this book is very much a testament of Jewish belief in God, and of Jewish belief in right and wrong.

Composed less than 200 years before Christ, Sirach indicates the intellectual environment in which it appeared, an environment affecting even pious Jews, filled with regard for human logic, a circumstance taken from the Greeks whose military exploits had overtaken much of Asia Minor, including the Holy Land.

The reading frankly calls upon its audience to forgive the faults of others, and to trust in the merciful God. Wrath and anger are hateful things, the reading insists. No one who succumbs to these faults should expect mercy from God.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the second reading.

Probably the great majority of Christian Romans, to whom this epistle first was written, were among the poorer classes and tempted to look longingly at the rich and aristocratic, assuming that the privileged controlled their own destinies.

Instead, Paul insists, God controls the lives of all people, who belong to the Lord.

The last reading this weekend is from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Jesus answers the question of how often, and to what extent, disciples must forgive the wrongs done to them.

To set the stage, although 2,000 years ago, people hurt each other. Roughly, and generally speaking, they also lived as we live. We owe debts, material or otherwise, to others.

How should we react to hurts? The Lord answers that disciples must forgive, not just “seven” times, but “70 times seven.” The number meant complete, absolute and total.

True Christian forgiveness, however, must in all things take account of, and resemble, God. Those stingy with forgiveness are not of God.

Christian forgiveness, so powerfully noted here, but also elsewhere in the Gospels, reveals the essence of the Redemption, that in Christ we as sinners are forgiven. In turn, this reveals again that “God is love,” and that always God’s will for us is that we should live eternally.


During these weeks of late summer, the Church calls us to be good disciples, but reminds us that discipleship is not an uneventful walk down a primrose path.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the source of the second reading, reminds us that we are humans coping with human imperfections.

But, in the last analysis, we belong to God, who created us. God loves us and invites us to eternal life.

God’s will to forgive us never ends nor even pauses. Indeed, the fact that we may choose to seek forgiveness—or reject God’s mercy—underscores our potential as human beings. We are free. It also indicates our foolhardiness and sinfulness at times.

While this reading from Matthew comforts us with its promise of God’s mercy, it more broadly calls us to discipleship.

As disciples, we must bear witness to God’s love. We must love others. We must love ourselves by doing whatever we must to live forever!

We must follow Jesus, who loved us, even to death on the cross. †

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