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ARTICLE: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Prov 31.10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31; 1 Thes 5.1-6; Mt 24.36, 25.14-30

Freeing the Angel

One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, "What are you making?" He replied, "There is an angel in there and I must set it free."

The Last Good Morning

A talented young man by came in and wished all of us “good morning” and went to sea shore for spending time with his friends on a Sunday. Evening we received a shocking news that he got drowned in the sea and we could not digest this fact. We were all thrown in the dark. The young man had to join a new job after having finished his study just the following Monday. All this changed the entire life of the family. This incident has been the talk of the town for at least year now (2008). Life is precious and can never be substituted with anything else.

She has Cancer

The man came in tears. I had never seen him weeping ever. He was a jovial parishioner. He told me that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer. He wept saying that she has to undergo chemotherapy and he was uncertain about her life. Yes, it is true what Jesus said. 'About the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Hence I invite you to reflect your present state of your life, and deeply be thankful to God. Every moment you live be deeply grateful to God that he has been good to you. Your attitude is to add flavour to your life, so that God be praised through you.

Parable of the Talents

St. Matthew's Parable of the Talents, which is the name given by most Christians to the story we have just read, St. Matthew's Parable of the Talents is actually only one of a collection of three stories which our Lord taught on the subject of shrewd stewardship. The third is the tale recorded by St. Luke in chapter 16 of his Gospel that is known as the Parable of the Crafty Steward or the Parable of the Dishonest Manager or some similar wording of the same theme. While we do not have time today to address this third parable itself, anything we do say about the other two needs to be heard in the context of all three stories, and for that reason, I urge upon you the reading later, but not too long from now of the Parable of the Crafty Steward.

Do your Business

The two stories of our dynamic duo, the second one of which is also recorded by St. Luke in the 19th chapter of his Gospel, are quite enough to keep us occupied. This morning's reading is known as the Parable of Talents. The story recorded by St. Luke in chapter 19 is known as the Parable of the Ten Talents. In St. Luke's story, if you will remember, Jesus suggests not so much a landowner as a lord or crown prince who has to leave his kingdom and travel to a far country in order to be made king. Before he leaves for his coronation, the lord calls 10 of his slaves to him and gives each a mina, small fortune with which each is told to "do business" for the crown prince until he can himself return to them as king. Each of the selected slaves takes his mina and begins to deal with it. Meanwhile, however, many of the other citizens and slaves of that land become restive and begin to speak of rebellion against their absent lord. They go so far, in fact, as to in the end, actually plot out an insurrection.

When the King Returns

Well, of course, as we know, the lord does return and he does return as king, fully empowered and totally in command at last. Shortly thereafter, he calls the 10 slaves and asks of each of them a financial report about their success in using his trusts. We are, interestingly enough, only told about three of the reporting slaves. The other seven simply disappear in the ensuing action. We are told thus that the first slave reports to his master, rather proudly in fact, that he has made 10 additional minas out of the one entrusted to him. The king is deeply pleased, and as a reward, gives the profitable slave lordship over 10 cities, one city for each of the minas he has earned. The second slave reports, with equal pride and identical wording, that he had made five minas out of his one. He, too, is praised by the king and given the oversight of five cities, one for each of his earned minas.

He buried the Talent

The third slave is the last from whom we hear, for his story we are led to understand, is very sad indeed. Like the fearful slave of today's Gospel, this slave has also chosen to hide his mina away where it will be safe from theft and from corrupt usage until his master's return. He explains this decision, as does our fearful servant in St. Matthew, by saying, to quote one translation, "I was afraid of you, for you're a tough man; you collect what you didn't deposit and reap what you didn't sow." So far, our two stories are, in other words, pretty parallel, having only minor differences but the same point.

Lost Chance

But now the king of our second rendition responds to the overly fastidious and fearful slave rather differently and far more clearly and emphatically than does the landowner in St. Matthew's telling of the story. The king says, "I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave! If you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn't deposit and reaping what I had not sown, why didn't you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest." And then the king said to those standing nearby, "Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas."

Unjust Treatment

Understandably, here, as in the story of the talents itself, those who are standing there and hearing this judgment are outraged. Being moral subjects, they protest that giving another mina to a man who already had 10 is unfair - pretty much the same accusation against the king that the fearful slave had already made to his own undoing, but moral insurrectionists apparently learn very slowly. So the king turns to the protesters and delivers one of the most frequently quoted lines of Christian scripture. He says, "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even that which he does have will be taken away." After that, the king summarily orders the slaughtering in his presence of those who had plotted his overthrow and the story is ended.

The End

If we never know what happened to the other slaves in St. Luke's story, we also never know what exactly happened to the fearful one beyond his being stripped of his one mina. In St. Matthew's story, as we have read, we find that the fastidious or anxious servant, and not a group of insurrectionists, is the one exiled to the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Either way, however, the question - the central, the overriding, the compelling question still remains.

Reaping Without Sowing

If we are to understand, as obviously we are, that the Messiah is the king or lord or master in both stories, and if Jesus who is telling the tale, is Messiah, then what are we to make of these pictures of himself and of his nature that he has left us? What are we to make of a lord who rewards one of our own kind for using the ways of the world to enrich the king upon his return? More to the point, what are we to make of a lord who condemns, exiles, strips bare one of our own kind, for electing to not use the ways of the world to enrich the king upon his return? Usury, which is the word to translate what our more cautious, more socially correct contemporary translations refer to as "bearing interest," usury was and is a sin in Judaism, and in a lot of other places as well. And nowhere do nice people ever go around reaping crops they didn't sow? What's happening here?

Breaking Traditions

Well, for one thing, if we are honest with our texts, we have to say that the nature of sin and spiritual error is being defined in a very uncomfortable, unconventional, and un-codified way. If we are honest, we would also have to say that it is being defined in much the same way that Jesus was given to defining it during his teaching life. To the ongoing consternation of the religious, we know he ate on the Sabbath from the grain he and his disciples gathered along the roadside as they walked. He refused to stone an adulteress, as the law required, and then made it impossible for others to do so. He talked in depth and publicly to a Samaritan who, even more damning, was a Samaritan woman. He sat at table with flagrant sinners including tax collectors. Over and over again, by act as well as word, he pushed against the moralist and the derivative codes of religion, but never more clearly and incontrovertibly than here in our three parables.

The Total Fulfilment

Lest there might be any mistake in the minds of those around him about the difference between Torah - the law - and moralist and derivative codes, Jesus very explicitly tells his students and through them, us, that not one jot or little of the law as given by God at Sinai will pass into inefficacy until the kingdom itself comes. He says as well that anyone who teaches or empowers another to break Torah would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his or her neck than to do such a thing. But he just as clearly defines Torah by saying that all the Law and the prophets are summed up in this. "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and your neighbor as yourself...for in this all the law and the prophets are indeed fulfilled."

We hear a great deal very frequently about Jesus' summary of the law and the prophets, but almost without exception, what we hear about is that second part, the part about loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is a good principle, a good summary of the divine imperative, a good compass for determining direction, but it is also only half of the Messiah's whole summary. It is, to be precise, the second half, the subordinate or secondary position. Love your neighbor, in other words, while it may be of great social good, is of no spiritual or religious use without its other and primary companion piece of "Love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul."

To know God, as the moral slave knew, is to be afraid. To know God, really know God to the limits of human observation, is to concede that he does indeed make his rain to fall upon the just and the unjust alike. To know God as far as observation will take us is to acknowledge, as the fearful slave acknowledged, that he's a tough man, playing by rules we can easily question and often find deplorable. Such knowledge would make almost any thinking person afraid, and thus it was that the unprofitable slave took up the shield of playing it safe in order to hold his fear at bay.

But what of the profitable servants in both our tales? Were they not also afraid? Of course they were! Common sense alone teaches us that no slave is without fear of the master. Moreover, the profitable servants were clearly thinking and observant folk who knew as surely as did the fearful one what was the nature of the king. Why then did they not likewise fall into heaps of terror, or at the very least, into heaps of paralyzing anxiety?

It would seem from both our stories, that they loved the master, the landowner, the king. Or if love be too weak and abused a word nowadays to be applicable here, and I suspect that the profitable servants yearned toward the master. They positively glowed in the light of him and his approval. They also yearned so completely that they gambled with his goods in pure blind faith that that was really what he meant for them to do. They yearned so completely, in other words, that they believed his intentions his spirit, if you will - as they understood it, and they gambled themselves on fulfilling it. They, in short, loved the master with all their hearts and souls and minds, for this is the first and great commandment, and all the others are secondary unto it.

And the only proper response to such stories as these, it seems to me, is to pray that God may give each of us such grace and faithfulness in our times as he gave to those faithful servants in their storied ones.

Practical Conclusion

  • There is no point in brooding over lost opportunities
  • Cash in on the present occasion and try to develop your talents
  • Try to offer the fruit of your wok to God, and God alone
  • This is the way you can pray and sanctify everything you do
  • Such attitude will lead you to be thankful and you will be just before God.
  • Try your best not to waste time and talents.
  • Lost time will never be ours. 

 

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ARTICLE: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Wis 6.12-16; 1 Thes 4.13-18; Mt 25.1-13

I Never Lived

A woman in the hospital was weeping after being told she was terminally ill with cancer. When a friend sought to console her she replied, "I'm not weeping because I'm dying. I'm weeping because I never lived." The awareness of limits and wasted time means we can take up a conscious stance with regard to our own inevitable mortality. It is this mature insight that will protect us from slavishly following what the culture wants us to do and squandering our time in seeking the approval of others by conforming to their rules and values.

The Second Coming

In Warren Wiersbe's Meet Yourself in the Psalms, he tells about a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon. The child who was saved grew up to become a lawless man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime. The prisoner recognized the judge as the man who, years before had saved his life; so he pled for mercy on the basis of that experience. But the words from the bench silenced his plea: "Young man, then I was your savior; today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged." One day Jesus Christ will say to rebellious sinners, "During that long day of grace, I was the Savior, and I would have forgiven you. But today I am your Judge. Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!"  

Intelligent Wood Chopper

One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. "I don't get it," he said. "Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did." "But you didn't notice," said the winning woodsman, "that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest."

The Bridegrooms Arrival

There are a number of obscure aspects about Matthew's story. The setting is the awaited arrival of the bridegroom, but it is not certain whether he is coming to meet his betrothed at her father's house or, as is more likely, he is returning to his own home with his bride (it is there the "wedding banquet" will take place, 25.10). The bride is not mentioned at all in the story (although a later scribe added a reference to the bride in v. 1). From what is known of first-century Palestinian marriage customs, after the period of betrothal was completed the groom would go to his bride's family home to conclude the dowry arrangements and bring her to his own house or that of his family where a celebration would take place. Also uncertain is the role of the ten "virgins" (the Greek refers to parthenoi; translation "bridesmaids" is not literal and assumes they are part of the bride's party). If the setting is the groom's house, they may be associated with his household or family. In any case, they are part of the wedding celebration and are to meet the groom with lighted lamps when he returns.

Different Attitudes

The parable wastes little time in illustrating the different attitudes among the ten virgins-five are "foolish" and five are "wise" (25.2). Matthew used these identical labels to contrast the wise man who built his home on rock and the foolish one who built on sand at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (7.24-27). In the parable of the virgins, the contrasting reactions are the preparations each group makes for the awaited return of the groom. The foolish take no oil for their lamps while the wise take flasks of oil with them. When the bridegroom is delayed, all of the virgins become drowsy and fall asleep. Suddenly at midnight the signal is given that the groom is arriving and the procession is to meet him. When the virgins begin to trim their oil lamps (replacing the burned wicks and adding new oil?), the foolish realize they have no more oil. They ask the wise virgins for some, but they in turn calculate that there is not enough for everyone. Improbable as it may seem at midnight, the foolish virgins must go off to try to purchase more oil for their lamps.

The Final Arrival

Meanwhile the groom arrives and "those who were ready" (see the same word used in 24:44, "you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour") entered into the wedding feast (25.10). Then the door was "shut" so that no one else could enter. The foolish virgins finally arrive but they are too late. They cry out, "Lord, lord, open to us" but the groom rebuffs their last-minute pleas-"Truly . . . I do not know you" (25.11-12). This exchange is nearly identical to the warnings of Jesus at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who cry out "Lord, Lord" but fail to do the will of God are rejected by Jesus ("I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers") and therefore cannot "enter the kingdom of heaven" (see 7.21-23).

Keep Awake

Matthew drives home the lesson of the parable in its concluding verse: "Keep awake [gregoreite; see the same verb in 24.42, 43] therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (25.13). "Staying awake" is used metaphorically for a stance of thoughtful readiness in view of the certain but unknown hour of the parousia. All of the virgins "slept" (see 25.5), but the wise virgins had made preparations to be ready no matter when the bridegroom would arrive.

 

Who is the Bridegroom?

How far to push the allegorical dimensions of this parable have been debated, we are not pretty sure. Matthew himself signals some key allegorical features. The bridegroom is surely intended to represent the Son of Man. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to God as the bridegroom who takes away Israel's barrenness and shame (see, e.g., Isa 54.1-8; Jer 31.32; Hos 2.1-20). In the New Testament, the image takes on eschatological tones, probably due to the motif of the end time as a wedding feast (see Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29-30; and the similar image of the community as the "bride" of Christ: 2 Cor 11.2; Eph 5.21-33; Rev 19.7; 21.2, 9; 22.17).

The Parousia

That Matthew refers to the parousia of the Son of Man is clear from the overall context of the apocalyptic discourse where the parable functions as one of several exhortations to readiness in view of the parousia. Also, Matthew had already identified Jesus as the "bridegroom" earlier in the Gospel in a passage with strong eschatological tones (see 9.15). In the parable of the wedding feast (22.1-10), Matthew had also introduced wedding imagery as a way of speaking of the judgment that would befall not only those who violently rejected the original invitation by the king, but even those invited later who do not wear a wedding garment (22.11-14). In the story of the virgins, the "delay" of the bridegroom (25.5; see 24.48), the dramatic shout announcing his sudden arrival (25.6; see 24.31), and the address "Lord, lord" (25.11; see 7.21-23) all point to Jesus as the triumphant Son of Man coming at the parousia.

Practical Conclusion

Wisdom is something we ‘choose’ like the five bridesmaids did. Having chosen it wisdom becomes second nature to us.

 

We can also reject it like the other five bridesmaids did. And then we remain condemned to a foolishness we ourselves cannot see.

 

I don't know if there really is a door but I do know there really will be such a moment, such a moment of truth; I pray that when it comes, we may all find ourselves together in the wedding hall - for all eternity.

Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort.  Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.

 

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year: A

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year: A

Mal 1.14 – 2.2. 8-10; 1 Thes 2.7-9. 13; Mt 23.1-12

 

The Meaning of Life

A story is told by Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, about a seminar he once attended in Greece. On the last day of the conference, the discussion leader walked over to the bright light of an open window and looked out. Then he asked if there were any questions. Fulghum laughingly asked him what was the meaning of life. Everyone in attendance laughed and stirred to leave. However, the leader held up his hand to ask for silence and then responded "I will answer your question." He took his wallet out of his pocket and removed a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. Then he explained "When I was a small child during World War II, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun could never shine. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places that I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I grew up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the challenge of the game.

As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game, but a metaphor of what I could do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light - be it truth or understanding or knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the dark places of human hearts - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others seeing it happen will do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."

Do we reflect the light of Christ into the darkness of other people's lives? Will the world be a better place for our having been in it? (It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, by Robert Fulghum. Ivy Books, 988).

Not many priests and people of God will feel comfortable with the readings today; they are aimed directly at us, though every word could be applied in some way to the laity too.

 

About five hundred years before Christ, prophet Malachi delivers clear reproaches to priests who:

  • don't listen to God.
  • don't glorify God.
  • have strayed from the way.
  • have caused many to stumble by their teaching.
  • destroy the covenant.
  • have not kept to God's paths.
  • have shown partiality in their administration.

These recriminations are gravely serious. One can hear the anguish, the hurt, and the righteous indignation of the offended King, and that fact alone should make every priest tremble. To break faith with the Lord, or as God puts it, 'to destroy the covenant' is no small thing.

 

Listening to God

 

A priest is called to ‘listen to God’. When Jesus called the Twelve he called them firstly. to be with him (Mk 3.14), and consequently this is a priest's first vocation; to be always with the Lord. It goes without saying that to be with someone is to listen to that person. Listening is the first casualty of a disintegrating relationship. We have probably all had the experience of drifting from the person at the other end of the telephone line to what is happening on the television screen, and it's rather embarrassing to be caught out. God is complaining that the priests had stopped listening and were therefore no longer with him, and consequently were no longer able to 'glorify' his name.

 

The Lord declares that his priests. have strayed from the way …and … not kept to God's paths. If the shepherd does not keep to the right path what are we to expect will happen to the sheep? The Lord spells it out for us. You have caused many to stumble by your teaching.

 

To Teach

 

To teach in God's name is a terrible responsibility as well as an astonishing privilege which should be exercised with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, a priest is ordained precisely to preach the gospel and to celebrate the sacraments worthily, and so to build up communion in Christ.

 

Can you imagine the calamity it would be for me to suddenly see that I had 'strayed from the way' of God's truth and 'caused many to stumble'; that I had preached what the people wanted to hear rather than what Christ wanted them to hear. I could think of few other things which would cause me greater shame before God.

 

Without the slightest ambiguity the Lord pronounces sentence on the guilty. I will send a curse on you and curse your very blessing. In addition God will make those priests. contemptible and vile in the eyes of the whole people… . We all know that when salt loses its flavour it is thrown out and trampled upon.

 

The Betrayal

 

Jesus, too, points out to the Scribes and Pharisees that they have betrayed the covenant because they do not live the message they preach. In fact, they use their position as leaders to advance their own egos and win prestige for themselves.

 

Thank God for St Paul and the example he gives of true ministerial zeal. He labours in preaching the gospel and lives it with integrity. The understanding Paul has of his care for the Thessalonian community is of a mother 'feeding and looking after her own children … eager to hand over … not only the Good News but our whole lives'. What a contrast to the Jewish leaders who 'do not practise what they preach!'

 

And thank God for the Thessalonian community which, on hearing the message of Paul, immediately accepted it for what it really is, God's message, and not some human thinking …  Therefore the message of faith was a 'living power' among them.

 

Practical Conclusion

 

The clear light of God's word still searches even today the hearts of priests and people alike.

  • Do we priests preach and live the message handed on to us by the apostles to the Church or do we change it and cause people to stumble?
  • And do you, the people of God, accept that message from the Church without changing it, or make it into 'human thinking' and thereby cause it to lose its power?

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ARTICLE: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

 

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year: A

Ex 2.21-27; I Thes 1.5-10; Mt 22.39-40

Do you love me?

There is a very tender and moving scene in the play, Fiddler On The Roof. Tevye and his wife Golda are being forced to move from their home in Russia. One day Tevye comes into the house and asks his wife, "Golda, do you love me?" "Do I what?" "Do you love me?" Golda looks at him and then responds. "Do I love you? With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town, you're upset, you're worn out, go inside, go lie down, maybe it's indigestion." Tevye interrupts and asks the question, "Golda, do you love me?" Golda sighs as she looked at him and says, "Do I love you? For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cows. After 25 years, why talk of love right now?" Tevye answers by saying, "Golda, the first time I met you was on our wedding day. I was scared, I was shy, I was nervous." "So was I," said Golda. "But my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other, and now I'm asking, "Golda, do you love me?" "Do I love him?" Golda sighs. "For 25 years I've lived with him, fought with him, 25 years my bed is his! If that's not love, what is?" "Then you love me?" Tevye asks. "I suppose I do!" she says. "And I suppose I love you too!" he says. "It doesn't change a thing, but after 25 years it's nice to know." "Do you love me?".

Challenging Task

In today’s Gospel, Jesus leaves us his classic formulation of love, a teaching so simple that a child could grasp it, and yet so challenging that not even the saints quite live it.  Christ clearly distinguishes between love of God and love of neighbor, calling love of God the first and greatest commandment and love of neighbor the second.  But even though he distinguishes them in this way, Jesus does not separate them.  He instead insists that the second is like the first, and uses the same Greek word for both God-love and neighbor-love.

First God then Neighbor

By ranking and relating God-love and neighbor-love in this way, Jesus establishes an order of loves—a hierarchy of first things and second things.  There’s a certain rule that applies to everything arranged in this way, a rule that we’ll call the rule of “second things.”  The rule goes like this. whenever we prefer the lower to the higher, the part to the whole, and—in general—“second things” to “first things”, we lose not only the first thing (which one would expect), but we lose the second thing as well.

Priorities

Illustrations of this rule are everywhere.  When we put our job before our families, for instance, not only do we hurt our relationship with our family, but we also quickly lose the true pleasure of working.  Work uncoupled from community tends to become compulsive rather than rewarding.  The same pattern holds for whole societies.  The history of the 20th Century has shown that whenever countries violently suppress religion for the sake of human freedom (as they did in the heyday of atheist communism) the result was not only a forgetfulness of God, but a loss of human freedom as well.  Whenever we put humanity before divinity, we get neither right.

Family

Though this rule of “second things” holds quite generally, it applies in a special way to Christian marriage.  For it is in this particular form of neighbor-love—the love between husbands and wives—that the second commandment is most “like” the first.  “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love,” writes Pope Benedict, “becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (DCE 11).  Because marriage is called to bear a special “likeness” to God’s love, our natural human love requires a special form of assistance to meet this standard.  We need God to lend His own strength to our love, the seed of which strength he plants in every sacramental marriage.

Because of the special demands of marriage, putting first things takes on special urgency here.  When husband and wife do not love each other for God’s sake, even their love for each ends up stunted.  Why?  We are made with an infinite longing, a yearning to love perfectly and to be loved perfectly.  But there is no Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.  No single person—no matter how compatible according to eHarmony—can bear the weight of our infinite expectations.  After a smooth beginning, marriages almost always pass through a time of trial, even a phase of disillusionment—a time when the other’s faults and limitations become infuriating and when we realize, moreover, that he or she is unlikely to change.  It’s then that the proverbial “seven-year itch” arises.  And it’s then that our love is either matures into something deeper, or it dies.

Deeper Love

It’s also then that we need to call upon the reserves of a love deeper than our natural affection.  And our ability to tap into this reservoir depends on the degree to which we have cultivated friendship with God.  Entering into friendship—any friendship—increases our ability to see things from that friend’s perspective, to appreciate the things he/she appreciates and to reject the things that he/she rejects.  God’s friendship is like this too.  By entering into friendship with Christ, then I “learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ.  His friend is my friend”.

Prayer and the sacraments give us, little by little, the ability to look at our husband or wife (or any neighbor) through Christ’s eyes.  We strengthen this vision when we meditate on Christ in the Gospels, when we receive him worthily in the Eucharist, and when we accept his forgiveness in confession. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Luther pastor killed for resistance to the Nazi party, used to exhort the couple in his wedding homilies, “Live in the forgiveness of one another’s sins.”  So essential. But nearly impossible if we have not contemplated Christ’s indulgence toward our own sins.

Practical Conclusion

As Christ sees it, friendship with God is that first thing on which our love of neighbor depends.  Hence, taking a moderate time apart to cultivate our friendship with God is not taking “quality time” away from our spouses and our children and our neighbors.  It ensures instead that the time we spend with them is “quality;” for prayer changes the quality of our love, salting our love with divine fire.  Do I want to be a better husband, wife, father, mother, and neighbor?  I must put first things first.  I must love God more ardently–with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength.

Remember that the persecution of Jesus and his followers was championed by well-meaning religious people motivated by what they believed to be zeal and love for God. The same people asking about the first commandment are the ones trying to entrap and kill Jesus. They are so conscious about love of God. Why then are they so insensitive when it comes to love of neighbour? Saul who later became St Paul is a good example of this kind of skewed religiosity. Jesus prophesied that "an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God" (Jn 16.2).

The error of the Pharisees is still here with us. There are still many Christians who try to separate love of fellow human beings from love of God. Their commitment to faith does not include commitment to human rights and to justice and peace issues. We shall do well to heed the message of Jesus in today's gospel: that true love of God and true love of neighbour are two sides of the same coin. Any attempt to separate them is a falsification of the message of Christ. "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1 Jn 4.20).

 

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

Vancouver - Canada

www.LivingFlame.ca

ARTICLE: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Is 45.1, 4-6; 1 Thes 1.1-5; Mt 22.15-21

Alexander’s giving

The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Copper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."

Five Bananas

I was having a wonderful time at the sea shore. The ceaseless waves beating the shore and the freshness of the surroundings just made me feel very happy and relaxed. Just at that moment, there comes a toddler with a sad face asking for alms. As usual I put my hand into my pocket and wanted to give him any coin I could get at that moment. Well, lucky I got 5 rupees coin to give. He was ecstatic and he ran away. After about 10 minutes he appears again, in his hands 5 bananas. He offered me one. I declined to take any and said that all was his. Well, he sat just there and started eating one after another. Then I saw him eating even the soft inside skin of the banana. I felt too sorry for him. I imagined this lad must have been hungry for more than a day.

The Saviour Coin

Jesus asks to see a coin used to pay the tax, a Roman denarius, which was imprinted with a bust of Tiberius Caesar and bore the inscription in Latin, "Tiberius Caesar, august son of the Divine High Priest Augustus." Both the image of the emperor and the inscription would be offensive to observant Jews. Jesus turns the tables on the leaders by asking them whose image and whose inscription is on the coin. When they concede that both belong to the emperor, Jesus renders his famous aphorism: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." In a single brilliant stroke Jesus silences his enemies, and they go away amazed at his answer (22.22). He answers their provocative question about paying the tax with an oblique answer-if the coin belongs to Caesar then it can be given to him. But Jesus immediately lays alongside this concession another more profound and more encompassing requirement: "[Give] to God the things that are God's." The comprehensive scope of "what belongs to God" makes it not a parallel with the concession to Caesar but a principle of commitment that moves far beyond civic obligation and even overrides it. The hostility of the leaders and their efforts to best Jesus only serve, for Matthew's Gospel, as a foil to highlight the wisdom and authority of Jesus the Messiah.

Theology of Giving

Today giving has become difficult. We are living in a society that eats our income systematically. Go to malls and restaurants, and you come back empty. Whatever you take with you is not enough for yourself and your family. Difficult days are ahead as we have just witnessed the markets meltdown. Moreover, we hear families separated and people depressed.  

Give to God what belongs to Him

Then why Jesus says “give to God what belongs to God”? Of course the Jewish authorities sought to trap Jesus in a religious-state dispute over the issue of taxes. The Jews resented their foreign rulers and despised paying taxes to Cesar. They posed a dilemma to test Jesus to see if he would make a statement they could use against him. If Jesus answered that it was lawful to pay taxes to a pagan ruler, then he would lose credibility with the Jewish populace who would regard him as a coward and a friend of Cesar. If he said it was not lawful, then the Pharisees would have grounds to report him to the Roman authorities as a political trouble-maker and have him arrested. Jesus avoided their trap by confronting them with the image of a coin. Coinage in the ancient world had significant political power. Rulers issued coins with their own image and inscription on them. In a certain sense the coin was regarded as the personal property of the ruler. Where the coin was valid the ruler held political sway over the people. Since the Jews used the Roman currency, Jesus explained that what belonged to Caesar must be given to Caesar. This story has another deeper meaning as well. We, too, have been stamped with God’s image since we are created in his own likeness (Gen 1.26-27). We rightfully belong, not to ourselves, but to God who created us and redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor 6.19-20). Paul the Apostle says that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Rm 12.1). 

Self-Giving

Give to God what belongs to God."   We should first give back to God our own selves upon which God's image is engraved. We don't bring back to God "what belongs to God" in a human being. Jesus went to the cross to do that. "Give to God what belongs to God" does not mean just lip service. Jesus spoke with the full realization that he was casting his life away so that humankind in sin would be pardoned for sin and handed over into God's hands as His. In order to bring that about, he had the conviction to sacrifice himself. He had the full intention to pay the full price. In fact, the Lord did pay the price. With his own life! Therefore, the Bible says it like this to us, "You are bought with a price." This is how it is written, "You are bought with a price. Therefore, show forth the glory of God by means of your bodies" (I Cor 6.20).

The Pharisees and Herodians were the local authorities who did not enjoy popular support in Galilee. They had decided that it was time to kill Jesus (Mt 12.14; Mk 3.6). Now, by order of the priests and elders, they want to know whether Jesus is in favor of or against paying tribute to the Romans. A deliberate question, full of malice! Under the guise of fidelity to the law of God, they seek reasons for accusing him. If Jesus were to say: “You must pay!” they would accuse him, together with the people, of being a friend of the Romans. Were he to say: “You must not pay!” they would accuse him, together with the Roman authorities, of being a subversive. A dead end!

 

Show me a coin

Jesus is aware of their hypocrisy. In his reply, he wastes no time in useless discussion and goes directly to the heart of the question: “Whose portrait is this? Whose title?” They answer: “Caesar’s!”

 

Jesus’ conclusion

Jesus then draws the conclusion: “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God!”. In fact, they already acknowledged Caesar’s authority. They already paid Caesar what belonged to Caesar since they used his money to buy and sell and even to pay the tribute to the Temple! Hence, the question was useless. Why ask something whose answer was clear in practice? They, who by their question pretended to be servants of God, were in fact forgetting the most important thing: they forgot to give God what belongs to God! What mattered to Jesus was that “they pay God what belongs to God”, that is, they mislead the people that they had lead away from God through their own fault, because through their teachings they prevented people from entering the Kingdom (Mt 23.13). Others say: “Pay God what belongs to God”, that is, practise justice and honesty according to the demands of the law of God, because by your hypocrisy your are denying God what is due to Him. The disciples must be aware of this! Because it was the hypocrisy of these Pharisees and Herodians that was blinding their eyes! (Mk 8.15).

 

Levies, tributes, taxes and tithes:

 

In Jesus’ time, the people of Palestine paid very many levies, taxes, tributes, fines, contributions, donations and tithes. Some scholars calculate that half of a family’s income went to pay levies. Here is a list that gives an idea of all that the people paid in levies:

 

Direct Taxes

Levy on property (tributum soli). The taxation officers of the government checked on properties, production, the number of slaves and then fixed the amount to be paid. Periodically, new taxation amounts were set in accordance with census taken. Levies on persons (tributum capitis). For the poor without land. This included women and men between the ages of 12 and 65 years. The levy on the workforce was 20% of the income of every individual.

 

Indirect Taxes


Golden crown
: Originally this was a gift to the emperor, but then became a compulsory levy. It was paid on special occasions such as feasts or visits of the emperor.

Salt levy: Salt was the emperor’s monopoly. The tribute was paid on salt for commercial use. For instance, salt used by fishermen to salt fish. That is the origin of the word “salary”.
Levy on buying and selling: For each commercial transaction there was a levy of 1%. It was the taxation officers who collected this money. For instance, to buy a slave they asked for 2%. Levy on professional practice: For anything at all one needed a permit. For instance, a shoemaker in Palmira paid one denarius per month. One denarius was equivalent to a day’s salary. Even prostitutes had to pay their taxes.

Levy on the use of public utilities: Emperor Vespasian introduced a levy on the use of public baths in Rome. He used to say, “Money has no smell!”

 

Other Taxes

 

Toll: This was a levy on the movement of merchandise, collected by Publicans. Toll was paid on the road. At certain points there were soldiers who forced those who were reluctant to pay.
Forced labour: Everyone could be forced to render some service to the State for five years, without remuneration. This is why Simon was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.

Special subsidy for the armed forces: People were obliged to offer hospitality to soldiers. People also had to pay a certain amount of money for the nourishment and support of the troops.

 

Levy for the Temple and for Cult

 

Shekalim: This was the levy for the upkeep of the Temple.

Tithe: This was the levy for the upkeep of the priests. “Tithe” means the tenth part!

First fruits: This was the levy for the upkeep of the cult. That is, the first fruits of all land products.

Practical Conclusion

We will listen to this message spoken to the Jews and the people who have been bought with a price. "Give to God what belongs to God." Therefore, what we ought to do is to be God's own people by (his) grace and to offer ourselves up to God. First, we offer to God our bodies "as a holy living sacrifice for God's pleasure," (Rm 12.1). That's (true) worship from us (to Him). Everything we have comes from God. Naked I came and naked shall I return, blessed be the name of God (Job).

 

www.LivingFlame.ca

ARTICLE: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Is 25.6-10a; Phil 4.12-14, 19-20; Mt 22.1-14

Lower your Bucket- Taste and See

More than a century ago, a great sailing ship was stranded off the coast of South America.  Week after week the ship lay there in the still waters with not a hint of a breeze.  The captain was desperate; the crew was dying of thirst.  And then, on the far horizon, a steamship appeared, heading directly toward them.  As it drew near, the captain called out, "We need water!  Give us water!"  The steamship replied, "Lower your buckets where you are."  The captain was furious at this cavalier response but called out again, "Please, give us water."  But the steamer gave the same reply, "Lower your buckets where you are!"  And with that they sailed away!  The captain was beside himself with anger and despair, and he went below.  But a little later, when no one was looking, a yeoman lowered a bucket into the sea and then tasted what he brought up. It was perfectly sweet, fresh water!  For you see, the ship was just out of sight of the mouth of the Amazon.  And for all those weeks they had been sitting right on top of all the fresh water they needed!  What we are really seeking is already inside us, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be embraced, the Holy Spirit of God who has been living within us from the moment of our Baptism.  The Holy Spirit is saying to us at this very moment, "Lower your buckets where you are.  Taste and see!" from deep in our heart. The Kingdom of God is right there.

Conflict

 

Both this week and last week we heard Jesus reach out to the religious leaders of his time with an almost desperate voice, a desperate love. He saw where they were headed (he sees where some of us are headed). He knew how much they were entrenched in their sin and he longed to call them to conversion.

He loved them (sometimes you yell the most at the kid you love the most). Last week the religious leaders of his time were represented as the unfaithful tenants in God’s vineyard.

 

They were the ones who refused to listen to the prophets and even killed the Son. This week the religious leaders they were the invited guests to the wedding banquet. It was the custom of the time to send runners out with invitations informing the invited that there would be a wedding feast soon and to get prepared. When the meal was ready the runners would return to bring back the guests.

 

Apocalyptic Language

 

The western Catholic Church Tradition is not an apocalyptic tradition, but our prayers and scripture texts still very often make use of apocalyptic language (i.e., language describing the end of the world as punishment for evil-doers and as a time of vindication for committed Christians). Apocalyptic language originally served the purpose of consoling and encouraging ancient Jewish believers when the Assyrian Empire laid siege to the northern Kingdom of Israel in the late 8th Century BC. Apocalyptic language was used again when the southern Kingdom of Judah came under assault in the late 7th and early 6th Centuries by the Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar II. Thereafter, major catastrophic Jewish societal crises saw apocalyptic language come into use by the likes of the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 4th Isaiah, and Daniel. Sometimes the apocalyptic voice announced good news and hope. Today’s text is just such a hope-filled passage, from what is called the Apocalypse of (4th) Isaiah which is likely a 5th or 4th Century BC insertion into 1st Isaiah’s work, appearing as chapter 25. This text was written during the Persian era (539 to 325 BC). The prophet used the image of Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem rests and which served as the Jewish center of the world. The top of Mount Zion was also therefore the vantage point from which to see through “the web that is woven over all nations,” i.e., to spiritually and metaphorically “see past” human death to a consoling afterlife. This passage is among the earliest of Old Testament texts which hint at or even assert that there is life after earthly death. Never before had that belief been an important theme for ancient Judaism. Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and not even 1st Isaiah had proposed an afterlife as an important component or motivating factor of faith in the God of Israel.

 

After Life

 

Indeed, we might have expected Moses to have mentioned such belief since he was born in Egypt and raised in the very household of a pharaoh. The Egyptian culture believed strongly in the idea of an afterlife as is evidenced by the pyramids and other tomb structures and their associated inscriptions, art, and artefacts. But, Judaism seems to have taken no notice until this 4th contributor to Isaiah (hence, our name for this anonymous hand, “4th Isaiah”). This text is a frequently chosen Old Testament text at Catholic funeral liturgies. It is the most primitive ancestor of theological speculation which eventually articulated faith in what Jesus labeled “the Kingdom of God,” in “resurrection from the dead,” and in “everlasting life.” This is a profoundly important message which was a significant theological platform for the very Gospel Message announced by Jesus of Nazareth. It would be, after all, in Jerusalem and on that very Mount Zion, that Jesus would suffer, die, and rise, thereby introducing a new, improved and expanded covenant to succeed that of Moses. And, this new covenant would be made open to all peoples and to all nations. This new covenant would come to be an offer of universal salvation, wisdom, justice, and peace. Even death would not impede this salvation. Death would be destroyed and reduced to a merely ordinary place in the process of life; it would no longer be seen to be the permanent end or annihilation of life.

The Kingdom of God

 

The early Christians embraced the hope of the Gospel Message most firmly and transmitted that hope by use of Jesus’ metaphorical images of “the kingdom of God.” The mystery of God’s Kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel texts was always described metaphorically precisely because it described a Mysterious Reality, beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Today’s Gospel parable is a kingdom parable. It asserts for those who claim to have faith in the God of Israel that their cooperation with that kingdom is important. They must behave appropriately as citizens of Heaven already, here and now in this life. It was to the chief priests and elders that Jesus addressed this parable. They were the noble citizens of Judaism of the early 1st Christian Century, and the others in Judaism assumed that they knew how to effectively cooperate with God. The parable hints, however, that merely the status of being invited and even admitted (admitted in and dressed up in a wedding garment) is not the same as full, conscious, and active participation. Being there is insufficient.

 

Jesus’ different View

 

Engaging the mystery of God’s Kingdom is much more important however imperfectly because remember Jesus’ references to the fact that “prostitutes and tax collectors” enter God’s Kingdom ahead of the Jewish leaders!). Perhaps we must reconsider with some self-criticism how easily we Christian believers can become passive and merely status conscious, while at the same time effectively “opting out” of active and committed Christian fellowship and life.

 

Our Participation

 

The cultural Catholics who (passively!) attend Mass only on Christmas and Easter, or even those who attend more frequently out of fear of the punishment of “mortal sin for missing Mass” – these indeed manage to take up space in the liturgical assembly without actively belonging. The parable used the metaphor of donning a wedding garment for the idea of participation in the feast. I hesitate to make passivity of membership a sufficient cause for eternal exclusion from God’s Kingdom (which, indeed, some in the Church have sometimes asserted!), but I will put forth that those who attend Mass for merely cultural reasons, or out of fear, genuinely miss the point of the very Gospel of Christ and of the profound wisdom, peace, fellowship, joy, and justice that comes to the committed, intelligent, and balanced participating Christian.

 

In our Times

 

Even in the modern society in which we live, in which so much is mere superficiality, people still like “dressing up” for occasions like weddings. They attend the wedding joyfully and enthusiastically partly because they understand something of what a wedding is about. Thus, might it be at Sunday liturgy. People would be there more appropriately if they genuinely understood that this was the weekly Gospel thanksgiving feast at which the baptized fellowship, hear God’s Word boldly and powerfully proclaimed, by which they are edified, and through which they give thanks to God for life, love, and faith. It is fully a festival occasion which ought to draw in, lift up, console, and challenge all who claim Christ and his Gospel!

We hear today for the final time from the imprisoned St. Paul in his message to the Philippians. He expressed his gratitude to them for the kindnesses they had shown him. He placed their kindness in the larger context of his life which had included everything from great blessings to great burdens. It was just such an attitude of gratitude that allowed his Gospel conviction and confidence that God’s Grace supplied a sufficiency for all believers in all circumstances. Paul had embraced the Cross of Christ, which became in early Christianity a metaphor for embracing reality in the fullest, most intelligent, and most prayerful manner. Paul had even been thankful for the sufferings that had come his way in life. His gratitude was without bounds.

 

Practical Conclusion

With hope in life even beyond human death, and with the knowledge that we too have indeed been invited and called to God’s Kingdom. If this is the case can we not make gratitude and kindness to God and to each other the public and private hallmark of our Gospel lives?! We are invited every day to live in God’s Kingdom because every day offers us many opportunities to experience God in His Kingdom here on earth. The Kingdom is right here. Just lower the buckets of our soul and tasted it. It does not cost us much. Just open our hearts to God’s grace and we are in His Kingdom enjoying the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

 

ARTICLE: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A


Is 5.1-7; Phil 4.6-9; Mt 21.33-43
 

The Lighthouse

A guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came. His son needed oil for a lamp so he could read. Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and three ships crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost. The lighthouse attendant explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one task. to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. You have no excuse.”

It’s a Choice

Temptation is a choice between good and evil. But perhaps more insidious than temptation is conflict where one must choose between two good options. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation. So also are the would-be disciples in today’s gospel story. In such cases the good easily becomes the enemy of the best One must then say no to a good thing in order to say yes to the one thing necessary. Today’s gospel is a sequence of four incidents and encounters with people who could have become followers of Jesus but who were held back by ulterior concerns and motives. Each encounter highlights a different concern.

God’s Vine

If you were a first-century Jew and heard for the first time that Jesus was the true vine and his people were the branches (Jn 15.1, 5), you would have mixed emotions. On one hand, we would be quite familiar with the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine. The Bible, the Old Testament, frequently refers to Israel as being a vine that God planted. We may have recited Psalm 80 in your morning prayers. In verses 8-9 the Psalmist says to God, "You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land." We would know how God brought Israel out of Egypt and planted it in the promised land.

We have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard. You would recall the words of Hosea who said that "Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit" (10.1). Hosea meant that Israel increased in prosperity. But he went on to say that Israel's prosperity unfortunately led to increased idolatry. "The more his fruit increased the more altars he built."

We may have chanted these words of Isaiah. " . . . my beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill … He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes" (5.1-2). No doubt, we were haunted time and again with the words of God spoken to his people through Jeremiah. "I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?" (2.21). That would have reminded us of Ezekiel's chilling words spoken against Judah. "Therefore thus says the Lord God. Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (15.6).

Vine and Vineyard

As a first-century Jew we would be very familiar with the symbolic meaning of vine and vineyard. In fact, the idea was so prevalent in the first century that in one of his parables Jesus expressly made use of the vineyard motif as symbolism for Israel (Mk 12.1-12). Jesus concluded the parable by saying that the owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. In response to the parable, the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because "they realized that he had told this parable against them." The symbolism of vineyard was not lost on them.

When Jesus began to tell the parable that is the gospel of today he began with an image familiar to his listeners - including you and me. This image is the vineyard, and the word 'vineyard' usually symbolizes some kind of spiritual good.

But now Jesus took this image, surely dear to the hearts of the Galileans who listened, and turned it on sort of upside down.   We know, it's not unusual for Jesus to take a word or an image associated with the holy and turn it around and associate it with the dark.  He did it in the Parable of the Leaven for example.

Community vs Collection of People

As I understand this parable, it is Jesus' commentary about groups and about what happens when there was no real community, only collections of people, none of whom understands or cares about other each other.  We have come thousands of years since Jesus told this parable, and in some ways we have made wonderful progress in community building - even our nation is one example, another our own Journeying Community. There have also been disasters too. Is this the way to fulfillment?

The Parable and its Plot

A landowner goes to a distant country and there he establishes a vineyard in imagination it is in Galilee and he rents or leases the vineyard to local people and agrees to accept a portion of the produce as payment. He then returns home probably some cosmopolitan city such as Caesarea  Philippi,  Jaffa  or Jerusalem. Time passes; the harvest season comes and goes and so does the time when he is supposed to receive his payment.  The grapes that the vineyard  produced he might now be willing  to accept as raisins, but he receives nothing.  He is troubled, downright angry.  He expects his payment when it is due, and nothing arrives, not even an explanation.

There is a total lack of moral involvement here; the landlord buys, leaves, and waits for his money. He is totally indifferent to what is happening back at "the farm." He probably lives like a king many miles away. The lives of the tenants are as nothing to him.   He could be like present day C.E.O.;  and millions of stock holders who have no clear idea to what use their investment are used.

The Rent Squad

This landlord sends his slaves, emissaries or the Rent Squad, as you will. A party of three goes to the vineyard, and being completely unprepared for a violent encounter, they suffer greatly. One is knocked in the head with a rock, another is beat up and a third one is actually killed. We can only guess at what the landowner makes of this situation. Perhaps he does not even know what has become of his rent collectors, so he sends a second deputation consisting this time of a more than three persons, a cadre now but they receive a similar rough reception of beatings and a killings; but still no rent. In this parable, there are potentially three communities. tenants, rent collectors, and landlords; they are totally separate from one another.

Community requires shared beliefs, and in this parable there are none.  We could hear in this details the present day situation among Israelis - Palestinians; we hear Indians and our neighbours, Pakistanis.  Enmity that never found a soothing relief.

He sends his Son

Eventually the owner in a truly idiotic fashion sends his own son who is, the owner thinks, able to protect himself by his status in society alone so it seems.   When he  shows up, the tenants perhaps miscalculate and presume that the owner is dead. So, believing the son to be the sole surviving heir, they kill him in the expectation of acquiring the vineyard for themselves. The plan is absurd and illegal, just as it would be today, but they are driven by their otherwise hopeless economic situation.

These tenants, probably decent, honest people in the beginning, have now become truly a dangerous band, and now they have gone beyond the law and are criminals.  The reason is the desperate need for money to survive. Under these circumstances, their behavior is not surprising.

The Land is leased

One verse in Matthew 21.33 is very important. It says that the landowner leased the land to the tenants. It does not say that He gave it to them. He leased it. When something is leased, something is expected in return. Equally, those who qualify to become the children of God, are expected to become shining lights (Mt 4.16) in the world. They are expected to shine in the love of Christ towards all. They are expected to grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. These spiritual qualities are what the Heavenly Father expects His children to present to Him in return for His blessings in acknowledgement and appreciation of the gift of life that God has given them through the Blood of Christ.

Think about it this way for a moment.  We are all tenants on borrowed land; none of us owns the earth.  Do we care for this piece of 'land' we've been given?  We are also landlords and might lord it over others. We need to see how we treat those who share the earth with us.

End of Tenants

Now near the end of the parable, Jesus asks "... when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" And the answer is that the owner will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his produce at the harvest time.

Tenants such as these become hard strapped for cash and simply try various strategies to avoid paying to the landlord fees or rent or a portion of the produce.  The story is about to repeat itself until some saving insight develops on all sides. Half of the world's population lives even today on less than $ 3 a day! And a billion go to bed hungry every night.

Jesus' parable is provoking; it is a strong warning about the consequences of groups estranged from one another.  In it, all are 'foreigners' to one another; nothing is in harmony; the world is out of order, and it was against that state of things that Jesus social teachings were directed.

Practical Conclusion

By way of contrast to so such negativity, the parable implies that we are the tenants of the new land where we are called by Jesus. We both cultivate and receive cultivation. We have been given a treasure within us and around us and asked to take good care of both.

Well then having spent these minutes dwelling with such awful disorder, shall we close with what are more happy, consoling words, lines from another source - from one who was a worker in the vineyard of the Lord; he truly was a worker, a true tenant.

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

Vancouver - Canada

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Eze 18.1-4,25-32; Phil 2.1-11; Mt 21.28-32

Get yourself a Rifle and Fight

We have not been called to be pious saints sitting in the corner with hands folded in complacent contemplation. We are called to be soldiers in the army of Christ.

During the Revolutio4nary War a young man is reported to have come to George Washington and said: "General Washington, I want you to know that I believe in you and your cause. I fully support you." Washington graciously thanked him and asked the young man, "What regiment are you in? Under whose command do you serve? What uniform do you wear?" The young man answered, "Oh, I'm not in the army. I'm just a civilian." The general replied, "Young man, if you believe in me and my causes then you join the army. You put on a uniform. You get yourself a rifle and you fight."

That is Christ's summons to us. If we believe in him and the cause for which he died, then we are called to take up his cross and walk in his footsteps doing those good things that he would do if he were with us in the flesh today.

No one will steal Harry

A group of friends went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck.

"Where's Harry?" he was asked.
"Harry had a stroke of some kind. He's a couple of miles back up the trail."
"You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?"
"Well," said the hunter, "I figured no one was going to steal Harry."

First Catch the Rabbit

Haddon Robinson points out that one old recipe for rabbit started out with this injunction: "First catch the rabbit." Says Robinson: "The writer knew how to put first things first. That's what we do when we establish priorities - we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.

The Gospel of today speaks of doing God’s will and not just having an intention. That means we need to put first things first; what is first in our life? It is of course God’s will. How does that will of God manifest in our daily lives? It is through surrendering to God’s will again.

They failed to Keep God’s Law

Ezekiel, for his part, relayed this message from God to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, many of whom had come from the royal, priestly and wealthy families. Only a few years before Jerusalem's destruction, King Josiah had urged them to devote themselves anew to following the Mosaic Law. But their capital and Solomon's Temple were both gone. Surely they thought God had unfairly punished them, they whined – for hadn't they done what had been asked of them?

Not exactly, Ezekiel replied. What Jesus said of first-century Jews also had been spoken by Isaiah about their immediate pre-exilic ancestors. “These people honor Me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Isa 29.13, Mk 7.6). When we exalt ourselves for this or that good deed or pious act, we risk developing the pride that can in fact turn us away from our fellow human beings. Such pride can lead us far away from God – farther away, in fact, than those who had the most sordid record of sin but have turned to God and turned their lives around. If they stay the course but the self-righteous remain blind to their own sins, who in the end will enter through Christ's narrow gate?

Be sure of My faithfulness, God says. But only those who fully realize that they don't deserve to enter heaven are most ready to trust in Me. And that is why the gate is narrow. Those who puff themselves up have a hard time getting through indeed.

He Humbled Himself

Now St. Paul enters our discussion. What proof do believers need that God wishes our attitude to be the opposite of pride? Look at “God-with-us” himself. Adam and Eve, giving in to the pride urged upon them by the serpent, literally tried to grasp equality with God in the Garden of Eden. But if anyone born of woman ever had the right to that equality, it was Jesus Christ – and, of course, He already possessed it as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity!

Instead, our Lord did the exact opposite. He who could have called for our absolute service at any moment on earth instead humbled Himself, served us and sacrificed Himself all the way to the cross. If God would so humble Himself for the sake of us lost and condemned humans, how can any of us ever be so proud as to think we deserve heaven?
Sacrifice for one another

With that in mind, Paul says, let us love each other as brothers and sisters (filios) and empty ourselves in self-sacrifice for each other (agape). Let us never think we are better than our neighbor. We are all lost and helpless before God – we all share the same sure and certain hope of heaven that He made possible for us. Only by living as Christ lived among us can we be exalted as He was.

The Two Sons

This brief parable is a favorite in children's religious-education classes, whether Catholic or Protestant. But we adults can fail to recognize ourselves in the vineyard. Do we obey our heavenly Father when we fail to follow through in answering His call? If we go to church, go through the motions and say the right things yet ignore our neighbor and serve ourselves first, how can we be sure of entering heaven before – or even after – those who wander for years but come to their senses and come back to Him in time?
The Warning

Jesus, who spoke this parable during Holy Week, was warning the Jewish leaders that they had fallen into the trap of pride. Like their ancestors in Ezekiel's time, they had forgotten that they were nothing without the God who had chosen them. John the Baptist, even as he announced the coming of the Messiah, had warned them that they had to repent. But now the Messiah had come and in fact was speaking to them – and still they allowed their pride to rule their hearts. Still they assumed that they had earned their way to heaven and those downtrodden wretches were doomed.
For God no one is far away

Guess what, Jesus is telling them – and us. Those “downtrodden wretches” are turning to Me! They are heeding their heavenly Father's call to work in his vineyard, tardy though they may be. They are humbling themselves. They recognize what you fail to recognize – that no human being born with Original Sin can ever hope to enter the narrow gate on his or her own. John tried to tell you.

For God it is never too Late

Now I'm telling you. It's not too late. But don't let your time run out. Humble yourselves. Learn from Me – and come to Me. Don't wait too long and find the gate closed forever.

Practical Conclusion

No matter how spiritual we may seem to be, if we are not sensitive to the needs of persons around us we are no better than the rich man at whose gate sat the beggar Lazarus. This is what St. Paul meant when he said, "If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing..." (I Cor 13.2) My guess is that St. Paul knew Christians who were so spiritual and yet so insensitive to the needs of others.

There is a story that comes out of the Second World War that will haunt you if you think about it. It is about a little Jewish boy who was living in a small Polish village when he and all the other Jews in the vicinity were rounded up by Nazi troops and sentenced to death. This boy joined his neighbors in digging a shallow ditch for their own graves. Then they were lined up against a wall and machine gunned. But none of the bullets hit the little boy. His naked body was splattered with the blood of his parents, and as he fell into the ditch he pretended to be dead. The grave was so shallow that the thin covering of dirt did not prevent him from breathing.

Several hours later, when darkness fell, this 10 year old boy crawled out of his grave. With blood and dirt caked to his little body, he made his way to the nearest home and begged for help. A woman answered the door and immediately recognized him as one of the Jewish boys marked for death by the Nazis. So she screamed at him to go away and slammed the door. Dirty, bloody, and shivering, this little boy limped from one house to the next begging for help. But he always got the same response. People were afraid to help.

Finally in desperation, he knocked on a door, and just before the lady of the house could tell him to leave, he cried out, "Don't you recognize me? I am the Jesus you say you love?" The lady froze in her tracks for what seemed like an eternity to the little boy. Then with tears streaming down her face she threw open her arms. She picked up the boy, and took him inside to safety.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that when we do it unto the least of these, we do it unto Him. Christian Discipleship is a call to availability. It is also a call to sensitivity.

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada

ARTICLE: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A


Is 55.6-9; Phil 1.20-24, 27; Mt 20.1-16

 The Law of the Seed

Take a look at an apple tree. There might be five hundred apples on the tree, each with ten seeds. That's a lot of seeds. We might ask, "Why would you need so many seeds to grow just a few more trees?"

Nature has something to teach us here. It's telling us. "Most seeds never grow. So if you really want to make something happen, you should better try more than once."

This might mean.

  • You'll attend twenty interviews to get one job.
  • You'll interview forty people to find one good employee.
  • You'll talk to fifty people to sell one house, car, vacuum cleaner, insurance policy, or idea.
  • And you might meet a hundred acquaintances to find one special friend.

When we understand the 'Law of the Seed', we don't get so disappointed. We stop feeling like victims. Laws of nature are not things to take personally. We just need to understand them - and work with them.

Successful people fail more often. They plant more seeds.

Is God Unjust?

Has God been unjust to us? To me? To my family? To my Country? To my community? These questions cannot be answered. But God’s grace is really great. It comes to us without any of our merits.  Whatever we have today has been a gift of God’s grace.

That’s what the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is really about.  God’s grace comes to different people at different times and in different ways. And that includes everyone here.  Perhaps some of us may feel that we have not been the persons we could and should be. Maybe we are correct.  But we haven’t missed our opportunity for salvation.  God’s grace is amazing.  There is still time for him to radically change our lives. The landowner has "hired" (misthoomai) the workers (ergates), which implies an offer to pay (misthos) them for their work. In contrast, Mt 21.28 has a father telling his son, "Go and work (ergazomai) in the vineyard today," which may not involve payment for work done.

An Agreement

"What do you pay your volunteers?" is a question raised by experts in volunteerism. We don't pay them with money, but what kind of recognition, self-fulfillment, joy, sense of accomplishment, etc. do they receive for their work? An agreement (symphoneo) is reached between the landowner and the first workers. (Symphoneo was used in 18.19: "if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.") A denarius for a day’s work does not indicate a generous landowner. It was the minimum wage a family in poverty could exist on. This agreement speaks against interpreting this parable primarily as an illustration of God's generosity. The wages aren't that great. The workers have barely enough to live on. They remain in poverty, but their needs for this day will be met. Thus it may be better to translate agathos (v. 15) as "good" than as "generous". It was good for the landowner to give the workers a minimum wage that was enough to live on for the day. It was not a generous wage.

An interesting picture can be created with the word "idle" (argos = lit. "not working" which can imply "doing nothing" or "being ineffective"). The "cure" for being unemployed (at least in the parable's picture) has to come from someone else being willing to invite you to come and work. This results in two benefits: the hiree is given what is needed (work & wages) and the hirer receives what is needed (work done).

We need to Work

Does God need us to work? That seems to be a theme in Matthew where Jesus says: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (9.37b-38). Perhaps our great emphasis against works-righteousness (which is centered on getting what one deserves, i.e. "What do I have to do to be saved?") has kept us from seeing the importance and necessity of good works (which is centered on responding to God's grace, i.e. "You are saved, what are you going to do?").

The "cure" for our unfulfilled and non-productive lives is not going out and finding something to do to fill up the time that benefits just me; but hearing our "owner's" invitation to work in his vineyard.

The Owner’s Fault

The whole problem at the end of the parable is the landowner's fault - not because he paid them all the same, but because he paid the last first. Remember, as I said near the beginning of these notes, this parable comes as an explanation of Jesus statement: "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first" (Mt 19.30). Now we see what happens when this is acted out.

If he had paid a denarius to the first ones hired first, they would have gone home and not seen the last one's hired getting paid the same amount. The payment order allowed the first hired -- the long term workers (or church members?) to witness the last one's getting paid, which resulted in the first hires to think that they would get more (v. 10).

The word for "think" (nomizo) does not refer so much to a rational process (as logizomai), but "to assume," "to presume," "to suppose," based on what one expects to happen or what is "customary" or the "rule" (which are meanings for the root nomos). Usually such assumptions are wrong as in its other uses (Mt 5.17; 10.34).

God’s Ways

Look at some of the amazing ways that God has changed people we know. So often we have all encountered a person who has done serious damage to his or her life and family through alcohol or other chemical dependency.  Then we marvel how God’s Grace not only led that person to recovery, but made him or her, a source of strength for others looking to recover.  That is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer.

John Paul II was very much aware of the working of God’s Mercy.  He addressed women who had suffered through an abortion and empowered them with the determination to work for life and protect other women from going through what they went through.  This is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer.

Don’t Give Up

The Gospel encourages us not to give up on ourselves.  God never gives up on us.  We can always start new, whether we have just been lukewarm Christians or whether we have been at war with God.  Not only does God refuse to hold us to our pasts, He forgives us through confession and transforms us to become vehicles of conversion for others.  The Divine Employer does not want us wasting any more time.  Even if we are pretty well advanced in age, and the day is drawing to a close,  He still has work for us to do.

Pride of Performance does not represent ego. It represents pleasure with humility. "The quality of the work and the quality of the worker are inseparable." Half-hearted effort does not produce half results; it produces no results.

What are you Doing?

Three people were laying bricks. A passerby asked them what they were doing. The first one replied, "Don't you see I am making a living?" The second one said, "Don't you see I am lying bricks?" The third one said, "I am building a beautiful monument." Here were three people doing the same thing who had totally different perspective on what they were doing. They had three very different attitudes about their work. And would their attitude affect their performance? The answer is clearly yes.

The Traditional Symbol

The vineyard was a traditional symbol for Israel (see especially the classical text of Isa 5.1-7) and Matthew will present another vineyard story in 21.33-46. Although the story itself does not directly state this, the reader can presume it is the harvest time since the landowner hires a number of day laborers to work in the vineyard. The story begins reasonably enough. At dawn a "landowner" (literally, the "head of the household") goes into the village marketplace to hire laborers and offers them the usual daily wage of one denarius; see 18.28). The fact that the landowner himself hires the laborers (instead of his manager mentioned in 20.8) is somewhat unusual and begins to put the spotlight on the one who is the focus of this story. The landowner goes back to hire additional workers at different periods of the day (literally in the Greek "early in the morning," "noon," "the third hour" and, finally, "the eleventh hour"), tracking for the reader the long day of hard work. No specific wage is promised, only the landowner's word that he would pay "the usual wage" (literally, "what is just"; dikaios, the term so favored by Matthew; see, e.g., 1.19; 27.19). Curiously the laborers hired last, when asked why they are idle, reply that "no one has hired us"-an explanation that suggests they were willing to work but were ignored.

The parable breaks beyond the conventional pattern when at sundown the landowner sends his manager to gather the laborers and gives them their pay (payment was expected at the end of a day's labor; see Lev 19.13; Deut 24.14-15). The manager is instructed to give out the wages "beginning with the last and then going to the first"-words that alert the reader to the words of Jesus framing the parable. The laborers hired last receive a full day's pay of one denarius and when those hired first come for their wages, they expect to receive more and thus complain to the landowner when they receive pay equal to that of the other workers. The expression of their complaint is one of the keys to the parable's interpretation: "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (20.12).

The landowner's reply is gracious (he addresses the laborer as "friend," 20.13; see also 22.12) but firm. The laborer received exactly what was agreed and was not treated unjustly. More important, the landowner is supremely free to do what he wishes with what belongs to him and therefore the laborers should not look on his generosity with an "evil eye" (the literal expression behind the "envious"; see above 6.23). Therefore the parable ends with a firm emphasis not on conventional assumptions about a fair wage but on the sovereignty and generosity of the "lord of the vineyard" (the literal words of 20.8). He is the one who determines that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Practical Conclusion

Excellence comes when the performer takes pride in doing his best. Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it, regardless of what the job is, whether washing cars, sweeping the floor or painting a house. Do it right the first time, every time. The best insurance for tomorrow is a job well done today.

Michelangelo had been working on a statue for many days. He was taking a long time to retouch every small detail. A bystander thought these improvements were insignificant and asked Michelangelo why he bothered with them. Michelangelo replied, "Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle."

Most people forget how fast you did a job, but they remember how well it was done.

 

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ARTICLE: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Sir 27.30-28.7; Rm 14.7-9; Mt 18.21-35

 

First Things First

It is rather comical when the primary things are made secondary. Victor Borge told about a couple going on vacation, standing in line waiting to check their bags at the airline counter. 

The husband said to the wife, "I wish we had brought the piano." 
The wife said, "Why? We've got sixteen bags already!" 
The husband said, "Yes, I know - but the tickets are on the piano!"

We the Churchy People

We need to forgive people and accept the differences. Very often we who pretend to be holy and holier we cannot accept that the other person is different than me. We want all to be just like as I have been. I wish praises, first seats in the Church, best preference, I want people to greet me even when I don’t even look at their faces, I want them to serve me accompany me and take care of me. I cannot bear a comment, a joke, or a homily that stirs my conscience and targets my weaknesses. Hence, I feel everything is bad, disgusting, because I don’t like it. That is where we speak of “forgiveness” seventy times seven. If we are not able to do such adjustments in our own family, community and society, what kind of disciples are we? We spend hours and hours before the Blessed Sacrament praying, but when it’s a question of being with others, I am the first person to cast a stone at others who are so called sinners. We need to learn the best lesson from Jesus, He lived with all kinds of people, all sorts of cultures, personalities, temperaments, characters, with all kinds of criticism, and am pretty sure he listened to pretty base language of the sinners too.. Do we come to church to find fault with others? Do we come to church to see the clothing of others? Or how others behave? Do we come to Church to hear things that are only pleasing to us? Well when someone says something unpleasant do I have the capacity to accept that person as Jesus accepted the tax collectors, prostitutes and the pagans and the publicans? If not, well all that I learn about forgiveness is only to hear and forget, which amounts to creating a lot of “spiritual garbage”.

Levis or Nothing

Long back there was an ad of Levis pants on TV. The words were magical: “Levis or Nothing”. I used to think of this ad and tried to find a sense in it in the following of Christ; I would coin the phrase as: “Forgiveness or Nothing”. In Christianity if there is lack of forgiveness; there is going to be nothing at all. Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.

Forgiveness is one of the hallmarks of Christian faith. Not only that we can receive forgiveness from God, but that we must grant it to others too. And we are constantly confronted by the need to forgive people because we all have people sin against us, in big things and in little things. From injustice in the workplace, or some sort of abuse in a friendship or marriage, down to the daily little slights we receive from others, like people pushing in front of us in the checkout line at the supermarket.

And we know that we can allow these things to build up, to make us bitter, to nurse these grievances until all that is left in our heart is a nasty festering mess of hatred. All because of what OTHER people have done to us, not because we've gone out to do wrong to others. And often it doesn't seem fair. After all, sometimes we don't want to forgive, what we want is JUSTICE.

As C.S. Lewis put it, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you". As N.T. Wright puts it, "failing to forgive one another isn't a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching"--to fail to forgive means to "cut off the branch we are sitting on". It is to deny the very basis of our own salvation - forgiveness of sin.

I will make all things New

Two peacemakers went to visit a group of Polish Christians ten years after the end of World War II. "Would you be willing to meet with other Christians from West Germany?" the peacemakers asked. "They want to ask forgiveness for what Germany did to Poland during the war and to begin to build a new relationship".

At first there was silence. Then one Pole spoke up. "What you are asking is impossible. Each stone of Warsaw is soaked in Polish blood! We cannot forgive!".

Before the group parted, however, they said the Lord's Prayer together. When they reached the words "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive . . . ", everyone stopped praying . Tension swelled in the room. The Pole who had spoken so vehemently said, "I must say yes to you. I could no more pray the Our Father, I could no longer call myself a Christian, if I refuse to forgive. Humanly speaking, I cannot do it, but God will give us strength!".

Eighteen months later the Polish and West German Christians met together in Vienna, establishing friendships that continue to this day.

Unique to Matthew

The concluding parable, one unique to Matthew, anchors the call for limitless forgiveness in a theological conviction (18.23-35). The story of the king who decides to settle his accounts has certain fantastic features that smack of popular storytelling. The monarch begins his accounting with a "slave," a member of the royal household, who owes a staggering amount, "ten thousand talents." Ten thousand was the highest denomination in ancient accounting and Josephus reports that the entire yearly revenue from the Jewish tax was only six hundred talents! When the slave is unable to pay this amount, the king threatens to punish the slave by having the hapless debtor and his entire family and possessions sold. The slave appeals for more time to pay off his debt even though this, too, seems an act of fruitless desperation. The king is deeply moved by the plight of the slave (the verb splangchnistheis-literally a stirring of one's intestines-implies a profound emotional reaction), and instead of simply giving him more time he decides to forgive the "loan" (curiously Matthew uses "loan" [Gk. daneion] rather than "debt" [Gk. opheilema] here).

Ungrateful Slave

Instead of being overwhelmed by his unbelievably good fortune, the slave goes out and acts brutally toward a fellow slave who owes him only "a hundred denarii" (by contrast, a single "talent" may have been equivalent to between six and ten thousand denarii!), by seizing the man by the throat, ignoring his plea for mercy, and casting him into prison. The rest of the slaves are greatly saddened by this display and report the merciless servant to the king. Judgment comes swiftly-the angry king condemns the slave for his lack of mercy and has him tortured and cast into prison until he should pay his original debt.

Reciprocal Act

This vivid story and its concluding saying illustrate Matthew's fundamental theology of reconciliation: "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (18.35). The driving motivation for unlimited forgiveness within the community is imitation of God's own way of relating to humanity. Because the slave was already forgiven a staggering and un-payable debt by his king, he should have lived his life in memory of that inaugural grace. Matthew asserts an identical motivation in 5.43-48 where love of enemies is motivated by the realization that the Father in heaven "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (v. 45). Likewise, Matthew's emphasis on the threat of judgment for those who do not forgive echoes previous teaching in the Sermon: The disciple prays for forgiveness of debt "as we also have forgiven our debtors"-a codicil of the prayer amplified in the sayings that are appended to the prayer: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (6.14-15). For Matthew, the divine will remains the guiding ethical principle for the community, a divine will proclaimed in Jesus' teachings and embodied in his actions.

Reluctance to Forgive

Part of our reluctance to forgive, I suspect, is due to this misunderstanding that the purpose of forgiveness is for the benefit of the one who has wronged us. We don't want the person who hurt us to gain anything, so instead of forgiving them, we harbour bitterness. But as Lewis Smedes points out though, "the first and often only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness". The Christians in Poland found that out.

Forgiveness, like all of the other commands of Jesus, is not meant to burden us--it is meant to liberate us. Forgiving others is for our own good.

Forgiveness in the Community

Forgiveness is also for the good of the church. There are a lot of hurting people in this community we live in. Are people staying away from church because they suspect we will make them feel worse? What would happen if we gained a reputation for being a loving and forgiving church? A church full of people addicted to forgiving one another?

Jesus reduced the mark of a Christian to this: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another"(Jn 13.35). Look around the sanctuary. Do you love everyone that is here? Maybe you don't even know the name of everyone here! Maybe you know some people very well, but you still struggle to love them. Perhaps some of these people rub you the wrong way . . . perhaps you are insisting on harbouring bitterness toward them. Have you forgiven them? Or do you simply "tolerate" them?

If love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian, how do we get there? Forgiveness. We learn how to love by forgiving those who have wronged us.

Forgiving and Loving

Let us resolve today to be known as a forgiving and loving church. Where do we start? How about coffee hour. Be good to one another. Love one another. Forgive one another. And do it over and over and over again. Because the more you forgive, the more you will see the benefits of it for yourself, and most importantly, for the Church of Jesus Christ

We are reminded in today’s parable that if we demand justice from others, then we can only expect justice ourselves. And because we, ourselves, have sinned against God, if it is justice we demand, then the justice we will receive, is that we will be condemned and “handed over to the torturers”(Mt 18.34). Because God does not give us justice, He gives us mercy.

Mercy isn’t always easy. Most of us go through some time in our lives when we find it almost impossible to forgive. Sometimes every emotion in our heart, and every bit of logic in our head, screams out at us saying that this person does not deserve our forgiveness. And the truth is that they don't deserve our forgiveness. But we also do not deserve the forgiveness that our heavenly Father gives us. And if we accept forgiveness from Him, how can we refuse to give it others? As we will soon pray in the Our Father. the forgiveness we ask for from God, depends on us forgiving the trespasses of those who trespass against us. God puts forgiveness before us as a moral obligation. We must forgive, or else we will not be forgiven.

But we know that must also forgive for our own sakes, because it is the only way to heal the bitterness that can otherwise possess our hearts. Even though mercy is difficult, not having mercy brings us even more difficulty, it leaves us with a wound in our heart that can eventually destroy us.

When forgiveness is especially hard, we’d do well to remember that it wasn’t easy for Christ either -it led Him to the Cross.

Sometimes, when forgiveness is particularly difficult, and it only comes with time, it has to be the result of a long slow process, of a long way of the cross. Sometimes we need to carry our injuries as part of our own Cross, in union with Our Lord, as we walk the way of the Cross, until we are able to join Him in forgiving, just as He forgave His executioners from the Cross.

With the grace that comes to us from the Cross and the example of Jesus on the Cross, we can find the strength to forgive others.

There is no peace except in the cross, no peace except in forgiveness. So let us think today of those times when we have failed to forgive others, and ask the Lord for the help and grace to be able to forgive as generously as He has forgiven us.

Practical Conclusion

“Hate the sin; love the sinner.”  Such a rule turns out to be the realistic response to sin and injustice.  For only in this way do we renounce our claim to vengeance—both personally and nationally—without abandoning our claim to truth and justice.  Yet putting this rule into practice depends on the experience of having been forgiven by Him to whom we owe everything.  Hence, the more a culture loses contact with this experience, the more it separates itself from wellspring of forgiveness, and the more it makes itself unfit for the “real world.”

 

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