August 17, 2018

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Proverbs is the source of the first reading for Mass on this weekend. Proverbs is part of what is known as the Old Testament’s wisdom literature. These books came to be in an interesting development of history.

As the years passed, and as circumstances occurred, good and bad, many Jews left the land of their heritage and moved to other areas in the Middle East or North Africa. In another movement, the armies of Alexander the Great swept across and conquered much of this same territory.

The Jews, descended from their forebears who had come from the Holy Land, found themselves in an overwhelmingly Greek cultural context. They then sought to reinforce their faith and ancient religious practices, and to convey this tradition to new generations.

The Greeks cherished the sciences and process of logic. So, in places where Greek culture dominated, the Jews sought to show how revelation, as it had been given them by God through Moses and the prophets, was consistent with logic.

In other words, the Jews had to convince others—their own communities and their own children—that the teachings of the prophets and Moses made sense.

Proverbs was one such effort in this process. In this reading is an interesting technique used by the author of Proverbs. It is the personification of wisdom. Thus, wisdom, as if a person, speaks in the first person.

In this passage, wisdom invites anyone who is “simple” to come (Prv 9:4). Awaiting is a marvelous meal of the finest food and wine.

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

Here, as in all New Testament epistles, the purpose was both to strengthen and to encourage the early Christians. In this case, the early Christians were those followers of Jesus who lived in Ephesus, then a great seaport and home to an important pagan shrine on the Mediterranean coast of what today is Turkey.

Paul admonishes these Christians of Ephesus to watch their conduct. They should live as true disciples of Jesus. Lip service is not enough for true discipleship.

St. John’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading.

It is one of the most memorable passages in this thoroughly memorable Gospel. It is familiar to all believers by showing the early Christians’ intense love for the Eucharist.

Jesus declares, “I myself am the living bread” (Jn 6:51). The Lord then continues, in great eloquence and depth, to explain this revelation.

It is real food and real drink. It is not imaginary or symbolic. As in other New Testament texts about the Eucharist, the message is precise. The bread truly is the Lord. Those who consume this living, life-giving bread will be raised on the last day.

Reflection

For weeks this summer, the Church has called us to discipleship. Having put before us the image of Jesus, the crucified, the risen Lord, at Holy Week and Easter, with all the accompanying lessons of the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church has invited us to follow Jesus.

It also frankly has reminded us of our limitations. We cannot find peace and true happiness alone. We cannot secure eternal life alone. We need God.

This is a difficult lesson for Christians, for humans, to learn and accept. The Church repeats it again and again, but while warning us, the Church reassures us. Although we are limited, even though we cannot achieve salvation of ourselves alone, God is lavishly and mercifully forthcoming. He envelops us in mercy, love and strength. He guides us. He sustains us.

God gives us all this in Jesus, the very bread of life. In the Eucharist, we, even if imperfect, are united with Jesus, the Son of God. He is our life and our joy and our hope. †

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