October 19, 2018

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for Mass this weekend is from the last part of the Book of Isaiah.

Isaiah on several occasions describes, or refers to, a loyal and devoted servant of God who endures horrible insults and severe misfortunes. Yet this servant never despairs, nor does he rebel against these unhappy events as they come to him.

Furthermore, good prevails through and from these sufferings. It prevails in his own faithfulness. And the glory of God shines through all that happens.

While this passage was written many centuries before Christ, pious Christians always have seen in them a prefigurement of their gentle Savior, the innocent lamb of God, sinless and merciful, good and perfect, but the victim of viciousness and of the indifference of so many.

As its second reading for this weekend, the Church presents a selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Typical throughout Hebrews, the reading is strong in its Old Testament imagery, especially in the symbolism of the ancient rituals of the Jewish temple.

In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the temple as a reprisal after the Jews unsuccessfully attempted to revolt against Rome. The priests were killed or scattered. The old rituals came to an end. They have not yet been restored.

However, for the first two-thirds of the first century, these ceremonies in which priests, a high priest, sacrifices and victims of sacrifices figured, the rites of the temple were familiar to Jews young and old, great and small.

Hebrews is more than a chronicle of Jewish custom and history. It sees Jesus as the great high priest. The sacrifice is his sacrifice on Calvary. Christ is the victim. His sacrifice brings about true reconciliation with God.

The reading also reminds us that Jesus, the Son of God, also was human as are we. He never sinned. He was tempted, however. He loves us. He understands us.

St. Mark’s Gospel supplies the last reading.

In this reading, two Apostles approach Jesus. They are James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The forecasts by Jesus of the coming of a new kingdom to the world, namely the kingdom of God, have intrigued them. Yet they misunderstand the true meaning of this kingdom.

Presuming it has earthly properties, they want to have privileged places in this coming, glorious kingdom. They ask the Lord to give them these high places in it.

Jesus replies, reminding them that the path to the new kingdom will be neither swift nor smooth. To progress along this path, any disciple must identify with Christ in the fullness, abandoning self, self-interests, and comfort to be like Jesus was, to sacrifice self and indeed to give all of self in the sacrifice.

Reflection

The Lord came into the world as the Redeemer. His mission was to rescue humanity from its own plight, a plight created by willful sin, voluntary rejection of God, and by powers beyond any human’s control.

Last summer’s volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and storms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans remind us vividly of the vulnerability of humans before powers utterly beyond them. Sin also is powerful. It disorders and weakens human nature, beginning with original sin. Sin is the most vicious of dangers. It leads to eternal pain and death.

In many cases, sin reigns supreme in human lives.

These readings call us to face all these realities. We are weak. Face it.

Limited and short-sighted, everyone is easily prey to the devil. It is not a case of doom however, because Jesus provides insight and strength to live holy lives.

We swim upstream, but if we ask for it, God’s help will come. We can survive. We can be safe. We can resist any foe. †

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