September 15, 2017

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Sirach is the source of the first reading for this weekend’s Mass. Sirach’s author was Joshua, the son of Sirach. (He should not be confused with Joshua, 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, Protestant Christians do not regard Sirach as inspired and part of the Bible because some scholars presumed that the book had first been written in Greek, instead of Hebrew. In fact, its Hebrew original later was 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 a testament of Jewish belief in God and of Jewish belief in right and wrong.

Likely composed less than 200 years before Christ, Sirach indicates the intellectual environment in which it appeared. It was 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 the Middle East, 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 was written, were among the poorer classes, tempted to look longingly at the rich and aristocratic, assuming that the privileged controlled their own destinies.

Instead, Paul insists that God controls the lives of all. All belong to the Lord.

For its last reading this weekend, from the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus answers the question of how often, and to what extent, must disciples forgive wrongs done to them.

Although particular circumstances have obviously changed, people in Jesus’ day hurt each other much like we do today. We owe debts, material or otherwise, to others. We yearn. We suffer. We despair.

How should we react to hurts? The Lord answers that disciples must forgive, not “seven” times, but “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:21-22.) 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 (Mt 18:22).


The Church, these weeks on the threshold of fall, calls us to be good disciples, but it takes no one down a primrose path. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, source of the second reading, reminds us also of who we are. We are humans. All of us must cope with human imperfections.

In the last analysis, we belong to God. God created us. God invites us to eternal life. God loves us. God’s will to forgive us never ends nor even pauses.

Indeed, the fact that we may choose to seek forgiveness, or not, underscores the reality of our humanity. We are free. It also shows our foolhardiness and sinfulness at times.

While this reading from Matthew comforts us with promises of God’s mercy, it more broadly calls us to discipleship. As disciples, we must bear witness to God’s love by loving others. We must love ourselves by determining to live forever with God!

In a phrase, we must follow Jesus. The Lord loved us, even to death on the cross. †

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