September 21, 2018

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionProtestants, many of whom are accustomed to reading the King James translation of the Bible, often ask why Catholic versions of the Scriptures include the Book of Wisdom. The King James Bible omits it, because Wisdom was one of several Old Testament books discounted by the biblical scholars who prepared the version commissioned by King James I of England and presented in 1611.

The Catholic Church, long before 1611 and certainly since, has taught that Wisdom indeed is the inspired word of God. This book provides this weekend’s first reading.

Wisdom was written amid cultural warfare in which the Jews fought for their identity. Many had left the Holy Land to find better conditions elsewhere. Living elsewhere meant that they were in the midst of pagans.

These pagans had all the advantages, and they were firmly in control. Ignoring all these advantages was not easy. Jewish parents especially had to inspire their children, understandably impressed by the dazzle of the pagan world, to hold fast to the seemingly rigid demands of the religion of their forebears.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament, including the Book of Wisdom, developed as part of this effort to defend, explain and perpetuate the ancient beliefs of the chosen people.

More directly about this weekend’s reading, Wisdom very clearly illustrates the struggle between good and human evil, with God in the center of the struggle. This conflict causes a situation not best described as two ships passing silently in the night. Rather, there is no place for evil in the presence of God, and vice versa.

The Epistle of St. James offers us the second reading. This clear and frank message speaks of those human activities that are at root and in expression evil. It warns that hardness of heart and wicked intentions lead humans to unholy and destructive behavior.

St. Mark’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Jesus predicts the crucifixion. He forecasts being seized and delivered to evil persons. He also declares that after the crucifixion, the resurrection will come in three days. He will prevail!

It is important to note that in this reading, as so often in all four Gospels, Jesus gathers together the Apostles as special students, especially called and personally commissioned to build the Church.

They still are humans, however, vulnerable to human pettiness and sin. Reminding them to be servants to all, Jesus calls them to humility and to live in the model that he has set for them.

In this model and in the grace he provides will be their security.

Reflection

The Church has called us, through the biblical readings at Mass these weeks, to discipleship. It has not led us down a primrose path. Last weekend, it called us to ponder, celebrate and connect with the cross. It bluntly said that to follow Christ, we must truly walk the path through a hostile world to our own Calvary.

In this weekend’s first reading from Wisdom, the Church again says that discipleship is not easy. The world stands utterly opposed to Jesus. We cannot stand midway between Christ and evil. We must choose one or the other.

If we choose evil, as the Epistle of St. James recalls, we invite our destruction.

Jesus never forsakes us. He is with us in the teachings of the Apostles, whom the Lord commissioned to continue his work of salvation. In their teachings, applied even now in the Church, we hear Jesus. He is with us in the sacraments, also conveyed to us through the Twelve and their successors, the Church’s bishops.

Jesus does not thunder into our hearts and homes. We must welcome the merciful, life-giving, crucified Savior. The first step in this process is to acquire the humility to know who we are and what we need. We are humans, with all the dignity and also the limitations involved. We need God, always. We cannot save ourselves alone. †

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