August 24, 2018

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Joshua provides the first reading for Mass this weekend. The book draws its name from the ancient Israelite leader, Joshua, who followed Moses and was the one to guide the Hebrews into the land God had promised them.

Fleeing from slavery in Egypt to settlement in the promised land was long, difficult and, at times, chaotic. Natural problems, such as the lack of water and food in the Sinai desert, accounted for much of the trouble. Another serious problem was the restlessness of the people, who were apt to stray away from the path given them by God. They had no map or navigation to guide them. In short, they were wanderers.

The greatest task before Moses, and later Joshua, was to reinforce the people’s trust in the guidance given by God.

In this weekend’s reading, Joshua summons the leaders of the people. He bluntly calls them to be true to God and to none other.

The people respond by declaring their will to follow God. They realize that God alone has led them out of the misery of Egypt. He has guided them so far. They trust that God will guide them until they are secure in the promised land.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians supplies the second reading. This reading often is misunderstood in the modern context, in which the human rights of women are much noticed and appropriately demanded. To understand Paul’s message, it helps to know the environment in which the New Testament was written.

The Jews at the time of Jesus had a better sense of the fact that all persons, male or female, share human dignity, although the Jewish culture of the time is criticized for having at best a paternalistic attitude toward women.

This Epistle, however, was not written for Jews, but for Christian converts. They were generally converts from paganism who lived in Ephesus, a great center of Roman culture and of the Roman pagan religion.

In this Roman culture, women were little better than animals. Elders arranged marriages. Brokers negotiated prices for brides. Love in marriage was accidental, if it existed at all. Wives had few rights. Abuse and infidelity were to be expected. Paul, then, was utterly revolutionary, calling upon spouses, male or female, to see marriage as a true union, characterized by mutual love, existing to give both spouses the means to happiness and eternal life amid the realities of the times.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. It makes a point often forgotten. Never did Jesus meet total acceptance. He was disputed. He was ignored. He was criticized. Perhaps just as many if not more rejected Jesus as those who accepted the Gospel.

The Gospel, and this particular reading, do not end with reporting the opposition to Jesus. They conclude with faith.

In answer to the Lord’s question as to their faith, the Apostles profess their trust in him. It is important to know that Jesus sought their testimony. Their absolute faith was crucial in their roles as builders of the Church. It also is important to note that Peter spoke for them.

Reflection

The three readings together remind us that the Gospel will never universally be accepted. People at times will prefer their own will and perspective on life. People will sin.

God’s love has been proven. He has come to people in need again and again. He offers us life each day. His love never ends. He never forsakes us or forgets us. His strength still comes to us. Our contact with God is through the Apostles and the Church they left behind them, with Peter as their head.

We respond with the help of God’s grace by loving him wholeheartedly, without qualification, despite the temptations to sin. †

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