September 15, 2023

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 Mass this weekend. 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.)

Protestant Christianity centuries ago refused to recognize Sirach as inspired by God, presuming that it had been originally written in Greek, not Hebrew. It has been subsequently learned that it was originally written in Hebrew in Jerusalem and later translated into Greek.

Evidently Joshua, son of Sirach, operated a school in Jerusalem for young men. 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 morality.

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 eastern Mediterranean and 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 Christians in Rome to whom this epistle was written were among the poorer classes. They would have been 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. 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 those who have sinned against them.

Like the people of today, those of Jesus’ time naturally hurt each other. They lived as we live. We owe debts, material or otherwise, to others. We yearn. We suffer. We despair, all just as those who lived in Jesus’ time did.

How should we react to hurts? The Lord answers that disciples must forgive, not “seven” times, but “seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22). 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 (1 Jn 4:8).


St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans was written when life could not have been worse for Christians residing in Rome, the great imperial capital and center of the Mediterranean world.

By calling the Christians in Rome to hold fast to their faith in God, Paul in effect reminded them that first things matter.

The people of Maui feel that life could not be worse, as they try to rebuild their lives after the destructive fires that recently ravaged the island. First things are first, their own survival, the survival of loved ones, the future.

God loves us. His love is proved by the fact that we still hold the things that matter most. Think about them. Thank God for them.

The Church observes a particular feast day to remember the Christians of Rome who died rather than repudiate Christ. They put first things first. They were rewarded.

For all believers, visited by disaster or not life makes sense when first things are acknowledged and when in all things, with the help of grace, they see an avenue to discover and meet God. †

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