Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME SEPTEMBER 7 Isaiah 35:4-7; Psalm 146; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37 OUR GOOD NEWS: By carrying on Jesus’ mission of teaching, healing and reconciling, we proclaim the reality of the Messianic age. The Old Testament uniformly insists on justice: legislated in the Pentateuch (first five books), illustrated throughout the historical books, dramatically proclaimed and concretely if painfully applied by the prophets. On the other hand, outside the Gospels (Luke in particular), the New Testament books contain relatively few explicit passages. Early Christians belonged mainly to poorer, socially powerless classes. James’ local church may have been an exception (second reading). The opening general principle in this New Testament book, "show no partiality," repeats Leviticus 19:15 and cuts both ways. The poor shall not be favored or the rich treated with subservience. Christianity rejects Marxist class hatred while acknowledging our role siding with the oppressed and exploited. James provides an extreme example. A gentlemen arrives impeccably dressed, brilliantly clothed — literally, "shining and effulgent." His gold rings imply high rank, perhaps a Roman aristocrat. Simultaneously a bum enters in "shabby clothes." No humble victim of poverty with neatly darned socks, clothes carefully patched and washed — he’s filthy and probably stinks, dirt-encrusted with rheumy eyes. A comfortably seated member of the congregation, feet propped on a footstool, quickly rises to offer the illustrious visitor his place, then contemptuously waves the other to an out-of-the-way corner, to squat on the floor. Having denounced inequities within the Christian community through this vivid parable, James moved quickly to reconcile and encourage. "My brothers," a warm, binding term for fellow believers (including women), draws into a circle of love those previously castigated. Discrimination on the basis of possessions. or prestige contradicts the Gospel — whether "little" snubs in a restaurant, doctor’s office or parish council meeting or grosser injustices of favoritism practiced by a judge, lawmaker or clergy. The Bible nowhere idealizes poverty, an evil crying to be eradicated or at least relieved. That "God chose those who are poor in the eyes of the world" goes beyond sociological observation. Only the "poor" can be saved — those with no pretense of self-sufficiency, acknowledging the universal human condition of standing in absolute need of God’s continuous support. We Christians are to avoid both fawning favoritism and contempt toward the materially blessed, showing respect and sensitivity while helping the needy. All of us are equally "poor," depending upon loving care from God and others. Today’s psalm reflects faith in God, who promises eternal blessedness, grounded in this worldly experience of His care and concern for the needy. God liberates "captives" from hopeless, meaningless lives; helps the helpless (blindness tragically common in ancient times and symbolic of utter vulnerability and inability to provide for oneself); ultimately sides with ("loves") the righteous while frustrating the wicked; gives preferential concern to groups lacking human support ("strangers, orphans, widowed"). "Praise the Lord, my soul!"

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