August 21, 2020

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first section of the Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for Mass this weekend.

The author of this section of Isaiah lived when the southern Hebrew kingdom, known as the kingdom of Judah, still existed. Only later was this kingdom and the other Hebrew kingdom, the northern kingdom of Israel, overwhelmed by outside invaders.

As has been and is so often the case of national rulers, the king of Judah governed the country with the assistance of aides and subordinates. The principal assistant wore a special uniform to indicate to all that he acted on the king’s behalf. This distinctive clothing verified his authority.

In this reading, God, speaking through the prophet, stated that a chief minister should be selected to serve the king and to carry out the royal will. This official would wear the uniform of his high office.

Basic in this reading is that God intervenes in human lives and uses human agents to accomplish his will and to communicate his words to people.

The prophet, the king and the chief minister all were human agents ultimately commissioned to bring God to the people, and the people to God.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans again is the source of the second reading. Passages from Romans have been proclaimed at Mass for the past several weekends.

It is a great testimony to the majesty of God, an eloquent profession of Paul’s own faith. God needs no counselor or informer. But, unlike the Roman deities, God is not aloof, conniving and at times vengeful. He knows us. He hears us, willingly, mercifully and with love. We can communicate with God with assurance of being heard, our needs understood.

For its third reading this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is an especially descriptive and enlightening reading.

The occasion occurred at Caesarea Philippi, a place northeast of Capernaum. At the time of Jesus, this place was a resort. The River Jordan forms here from springs, and small creeks flow from it. Still picturesque, it is a modern, popular place for relaxation and for delighting in nature, part of the Golan Heights, where so much warfare occurred not that long ago.

Central to the reading is St. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. The Lord asked Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13) Jesus identified with the “Son of Man,” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special representative.

Peter replied that the people were confused. Some saw Jesus as a prophet, such as John the Baptist, or even Elijah.

Jesus pressed the question, and Peter declared that he himself saw Jesus as the “Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16), a profound proclamation of the Lord’s divinity. Peter had faith. Faith gave him insight, wisdom and the courage of conviction.


Before accepting Christianity, two steps are necessary. First, realize that God exists. Second, believe that God communicates with people, and people may communicate with God, if they choose. Neither is easy in our culture.

God is not boisterous. He does not shout divine revelation at us. He does not thunder divine decrees. Indeed, humans often cannot comprehend the divine message unless they have faith. Otherwise, it is puzzling or even nonsense.

These readings build upon the basic thought that God exists, a Supreme, eternal Being, great and unique in power, wisdom and mercy, a belief stated by Paul in the passage from his Epistle to the Romans proclaimed this weekend.

The readings from Isaiah and Matthew clearly indicate that God speaks through human instruments, such as Isaiah, the king and his servant.

What about Peter? His great faith gave him extraordinary wisdom. In his faith, he saw Jesus as God. What about us? Does our faith allow us to see? Are we confused? Or are we secure in our knowledge of God? †

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