9th Sunday in
The first reading for this weekend is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, or the Torah in Jewish terms. These five books form the basis for all the Old Testament.
Always, the Pentateuch must be seen against the backdrop of the Exodus, the Hebrews’ long, trying escape from Egypt, where they had been slaves, to the Promised Land. This anticipated land, “flowing with milk and honey,” hardly always seemed to be just ahead, just around the corner, beyond that mountain range and across those sands. Any reasonable person, considering the lifelessness and danger of the arid Sinai desert, without compass or guide, easily would have wondered how the adventure would end.
Some, lost and frightened, were tempted to turn from God. Moses again and again, as in this reading, called them back. He could call, but they had to turn themselves.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading. In this reading, St. Paul reveals the highly individual character of salvation. He explains that while Jesus came to save all humankind from everlasting death, a very personal process is involved for each Christian. Just as all are offered salvation, all have sinned. There is no exception to this fact among mere mortals.
Elsewhere in his writings Paul absolutely would include himself among sinners. To be saved, every Christian must confirm and validate this gift of salvation by personal faith. Faith is more than lip-service. It cannot be halfhearted. If genuine, it must be a complete conversion to Christ.
St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the third reading for this weekend. This passage, incidentally, closes the section traditionally called the Sermon on the Mount. So, it serves the purpose of synopsizing and finalizing all that has been said earlier.
It is in a way of speaking that appears in the Old Testament, especially in the Wisdom Literature. The technique of citing two categories of persons, according to their behavior, and of comparing one with the other, would have rung bells for the Jews who heard Jesus speak these words.
Actually, considering what true Christian discipleship is, the lesson is quite obvious. Still, the Lord here speaks quite sternly. He emphasizes the point that following the Gospel is much more than mere motions or words said without sincerity. Why was Jesus so direct? Humans tend to hide their sins and deny the reality of the effects of sin.
The Church soon will invite us to the liturgical observance of Ash Wednesday and to begin Lent, traditionally the time when Catholics look into their hearts, purge themselves of anything not in keeping with their faith, and then pledge themselves anew, and with determination, to following the Lord more closely in their lives.
The first reading from Deuteronomy sets the stage. Moses calls upon the Hebrews to obey God. God has blessed them. They must respond.
St. Paul, in First Corinthians, reaffirms the fact of God’s benediction. He admits that all persons have sinned. God has blessed the world and has offered eternal life to all through salvation in the Lord. Each person must respond. Each person must choose whether to accept Christ and live as a disciple — or not.
The Sermon on the Mount was addressed to all people, but spoken to each individually. God offers to each person individually the gift of life. No one is dragged kicking and screaming in the kingdom of heaven. How will each person respond to God?
Lent is the opportunity to reflect and carefully, and earnestly, to choose an answer.
These readings first were heard by people centuries ago. The timing means nothing. They are for us. Human nature never changes. We need to reflect.
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