September 9, 2022

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for Mass this weekend is from the Book of Exodus, which chronicles the passage of the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been slaves.

God guided them to freedom through the leadership of Moses, who wholly depended on God’s help. So, while they had Moses to thank for their successful and safe passage across the Sinai Peninsula to the land God had promised them, the thanks ultimately were due to Almighty God.

In this reading, God speaks to Moses, indicting the people for sinning. Indeed, they had committed the greatest of sins by constructing and worshipping an idol, a calf crafted from gold, nothing but a lifeless piece of metal.

Harsh punishment properly would follow, not because of divine meanness, but because the people had pushed God away. They would reap the whirlwind. It reflected the ancient Jewish thought that rejecting God totally upset a person’s life, flawed the person’s decision-making, weakened a person and brought unwanted consequences.

Moses implored God to forgive the people. He pleaded with God to remain the people’s guide and protector despite their sin.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy provides the second reading. Timothy was a disciple of St. Paul. Together with Silvanus, Timothy had accompanied Paul on some of the Apostle’s missionary travels.

While elsewhere in his writings Paul seems to express some doubts about Timothy’s skills for leadership, Paul nevertheless regarded him as a special associate and faithful disciple.

To fortify Timothy’s fidelity, Paul explains his own personal devotion to Christ. Paul makes clear that he himself was a sinner, but, despite this, Paul insists, God saved him from eternal death through Jesus the Redeemer.

A passage from St. Luke’s Gospel is the last reading. It is a story of the Lord’s willingness to associate with tax collectors and sinners. It is easy to imagine why the critics of Jesus disdained sinners. After all, sinners insulted God by breaking the divine law, but why were tax collectors despised as terrible sinners?

The reason was two-fold. In the first place, they were turncoats and traitors, willing tools of the detested Roman occupation, collecting taxes for the imperial treasury.

Secondly, they were legalized thieves and extortionists. Under the Roman system, tax collectors assessed taxes in amounts they themselves chose. Then they could take whatever they received above and beyond what was sent to Rome and put it in their own pockets.

Jesus associated with these despicable tax collectors. He even called one of them, Matthew, to be an Apostle. Of course, people criticized Jesus, unable to believe their own eyes.

The Lord answered critics with three beautiful parables. Their lessons are clear. God’s mercy never ends, nor is it ever limited. It awaits even the worst of sinners, if only they repent. God reaches out to us in our need.

He can give us the strength to see the way and to withstand whatever.


Displayed in the Vatican Museum is a splendid item, given to Pope Leo XIII by the Austrian Emperor and Hungarian king Francis Joseph I in 1903 on the 25th anniversary of his election as Roman pontiff. Mounted on a magnificent black marble pedestal are wonderfully carved gold figures of 99 sheep, following a shepherd carrying one sheep on his shoulders.

The scene recalls the Good Shepherd who searched for and found the stray sheep.

This beautiful work of art illustrates the first of this weekend’s parables. If we turn to the Lord but are still weak, the loving, merciful Lord literally will carry us to fertile pastures.

But for this to happen, we must admit our own blindness, limitations and stubbornness. It is not easy. We need God’s strength and enlightenment.

God will help us if we are humble, as Moses was humble, as Paul was humble. †

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