Msgr. Owen Campion
The Sunday Gospel
September 16, 2023 // Perspective

Why We Must Keep God as Our Top Priority

Msgr. Owen Campion
The Sunday Gospel

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Book of Sirach is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. Sirach’s author was Joshua, the son of Sirach. (He should not be confused with Joshua, active centuries earlier as a disciple of Moses and leader of the Hebrews as they passed into the Promised Land.)

Written in Jerusalem, originally in Hebrew, Sirach lost the right many years ago to be regarded as sacred Scripture because some very strict and conservative scholars presumed it to have been written first in Greek, instead of Hebrew. In fact, its Hebrew original was later translated into Greek.

Evidently Joshua, son of Sirach, operated a school in Jerusalem for young men. (Young women received no formal education.) His great interest was to teach ethics to his students. Thus, this book is very much a testament of Jewish belief in God, and of Jewish belief in right and wrong.

Composed less than 200 years before Christ, Sirach indicates the intellectual environment in which it appeared. It was an environment affecting even pious Jews, filled with regard for human logic, a circumstance taken from the Greeks whose military exploits had overtaken much of Asia Minor, including the Holy Land.

The reading frankly calls upon its audience to forgive the faults of others and to trust in the merciful God. Wrath and anger are hateful things, the reading insists. No one who succumbs to these faults should expect mercy from God.

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

Probably the great majority of Christian Romans, to whom this epistle first was written, were among the poorer classes, tempted to look longingly at the rich and aristocratic, assuming that the privileged controlled their own destinies.

Instead, Paul insists, God controls the lives of all. All belong to the Lord.

For its last reading this weekend, from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus answers the question of how often, and to what extent, must disciples forgive wrongs done them. Although 2,000 years ago, people hurt each other. Roughly, and generally speaking, they also lived as we live. We owe debts, material or otherwise, to others. We yearn. We suffer. We despair.

How should we react to hurts? The Lord answers that disciples must forgive, not “seven” times, but “seventy times seven.” The number meant complete, absolute, and total.

True Christian forgiveness, however, must in all things take account of, and resemble, God. Those stingy with forgiveness are not of God.

Christian forgiveness, so powerfully noted here, but also elsewhere in the Gospels, reveals the essence of the Redemption, that in Christ we as sinners are forgiven. In turn, this reveals again that “God is love,” and that always God’s will for us is that we should live eternally.


St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans was written when life could not have been worse for Christians, certainly not for Christians residing in Rome, the great imperial capital and center of the world.

By calling the Christian Romans to hold fast to their faith in God, Paul in effect reminded them that first things matter.

The people of Maui feel that life could not be worse, as they try to rebuild their lives after the destructive fires. First things are first – their own survival, the survival of loved ones, the future.

God loves us. His love is proved by the fact that we still hold the things that matter most. Think about them. Thank God for them.

The Church observes a particular feast day to remember the Christian Romans who died rather than repudiate Christ. They put first things first. They were rewarded.

For all believers, visited by disaster or not, life makes sense when first things are acknowledged, and when in all things they see an avenue to discover and to meet God.

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