25th Sunday - Year A - Matthew 20:1-16a
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.
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.
"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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
“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.”
Eze 33.7-9; Rm 13.8-10; Mt 18.15-20
Over the triple doorways of the cathedral of Milan there are three inscriptions spanning the splendid arches. Over one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, "All that which pleases is but for a moment."
Over the other is sculptured a cross, and there are the words, "All that which troubles us is but for a moment."
But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, "That only is important which is eternal."
If we always realize these three truths, we will not let trifles trouble us, not be interested so much in the passing pleasures of the hour. We should live for the permanent and the eternal.
Three Point Plan
In our Gospel text today, Jesus gives us a three-point plan for handling disagreements in the community known as church. Jesus gives us a three-point plan for handling disagreements in the community known as church. This emphasis on community – and not individuality – is hammered home by the conclusion of the Gospel text today, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
The post-resurrection writer of this Gospel ascribed to St. Matthew would have known about the various and sundry issues causing strife in the Matthian church – the church over which Matthew would’ve been leader. This manual for maintaining community standards was a way to keep the people of the community in harmony, and in addition to the levels of trying to reprove a sibling, these three steps dealt with the seriousness of issues – major schism making offenses would’ve almost certainly wound up before the whole of the community.
These instructions for, in plainest terms, church discipline – the maintenance of community standards for the good of the Church, and it doesn’t end very nicely, “If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew – the most Jewish of the Gospels – uses this language to say that when someone is in clear violation of the will, standards, and principles of the community the church community is to wash their hands and kick the dust of their feet. It’s harsh words that are meant to be harsh: the Church hearing this originally was young and schism was breaking various churches apart from the moment of the resurrection. The only way to preserve this new group of Jews and Gentiles following Jesus as Messiah was to keep the community together without personal petty conflicts – or heretical, schismatic ideas – was to have a form of discipline and way to expel people from the body.
It is important to note, however, that it’s not a single member that calls for the expulsion of a member or two members or three members from the body. Before that step was taken, an individual, two additional individuals, and finally the whole church community must have first spoken to them. Before moving to the end of this text, I implore you not to hear that God is a vending machine whose buttons can be pressed if two people (or more) are pushing them. This requirement of more people is part and parcel of what is really the crux of this text: community. Jesus again underscores that in the conclusion of this selection from the Gospel, “For where two or tree are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christ – and the early church mothers and fathers – didn’t intend for Christianity to be practiced in solitude. Full stop. Whether someone “believes in organized religion” or not, being together with others for the work and worship of Christ is part of this religion, and in the first century, it took the will of the community – bound together in tension of being human beings trying to do their best in the world – to expel members.
Students blame teachers for their poor results; children blame parents and parents blame children for family discord; while workers blame the management and the management blames the worker. Everyone is blaming each other, but nobody is prepared to shoulder the blame. Nobody is prepared to search within for their faults. And nobody is bold enough to admit their mistakes and do something about them. This is the reason for the misery which plagues our lives.
We speak of a thing as correct with reference to some rule or standard of comparison; as, a correct account, a correct likeness, a man of correct deportment. We speak of a thing as accurate with reference to the care bestowed upon its execution, and the increased correctness to be expected there from; as, an accurate statement, an accurate detail of particulars. We speak of a thing as exact with reference to that perfected state of a thing in which there is no defect and no redundance; as, an exact coincidence, the exact truth, an exact likeness. We speak of a thing as precise when we think of it as strictly conformed to some rule or model, as if cut down thereto; as a precise conformity instructions; precisely right; he was very precise in giving his directions.
In any industrial production process, a quality controller is on hand to ensure that the product being manufactured is up to standard. It is his responsibility to ensure that faulty goods are rejected and only the perfect products are packed for sale. Without this step, a company's reputation is likely to suffer. The same is true in life. By failing to assess our faults within, and by not taking appropriate measures to correct them, we are unable to live at peace with the world.
Hence, it is essential that we regularly pause and ask ourselves, "What are my faults? And what can I do to correct them." Only then can progress be made. This habit of introspection is important in every aspect of life. Consider a team - in football, cricket, baseball or any other sport - which performs below standard. Only by analysing and accepting their mistakes can individual players and the team as a whole improve. To help a player improve, the first necessity is for him to analyse his own performance and his own strengths and weaknesses. The second requirement is a good manager who gives constructive criticism.
The Selling Game
If real progress is desired, then introspection, admission of faults and steps for their correction are essential. In the intensely competitive consumer market, companies which adopt a self-critical review policy succeed and progress rapidly. Those who believe, "no consumer is wrong," or "if anything is wrong, it is wrong with me," or "you can always improve" will be more capable of meeting their customers' demands and so increase their profits.
Until one reflects within, the intensity with which baser instincts have taken a controlling grip in one's life will not be realised. If one does not stop to reflect, one's actions will lead one away from God.
The same attitude of indifference and acceptance of sinful ways can be said about other sins that have gradually become acceptable within society by most of the people. These are the sins of divorce, common-law relationships, the removal of prayer from the schools, the teaching of atheism etc... All of these are perversions of the truth that lead away from God's Holiness and holy ways.
While some may be hesitant to speak up against the sins of others, saying, "It is none of my business.", or "They are protected under the Charter of Rights.", this is not so according to God. As a Christian, we have an obligation to make it our responsibility and we have an obligation to contact our representatives of the Government to ask that the Charter of Rights and the laws be changed to reflect the ways of God. Until such time as it is done, God will condemn us alongside those who live in sin!
Regular review, regular check, regular correction, examination is a must to make progress in our life. First of all parents are invited to show the right path to children, teachers are expected to correct children so that they may really make progress and achieve their goal. Management must review the condition or workers, and workers must review their work performance, so that they work as per their commitment they had made on the day agreed to work in that firm.
Being in community requires putting ourselves aside – and our passions and factions aside. As St. Paul directs, “I come with Christians far and near to find, as all are fed, the new community of love in Christ’s communion bread. As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us makes us one, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound, we’ll go our different ways, and as his people in the world, we’ll live and speak his praise.”
As we gather around this table – we practice an act of community in sharing a meal together. As we gather around this Altar we affirm our belief in Christ as Lord, who breaks bread with us and causes proud divisions to end. As we gather around this table we meet with one another to share in this feast. When we leave from this table, though, we remain bound, tied inexplicably with the entire body of the baptized. Whether we like them or not, we have to live in a community of love with them…or at least try. And as we go our separate ways – with those we like and don’t – we must do the work and the worship of the Holy and Triune God.
Jer 20.7-9; Rm 12.1-2; Mt 16.21-27
A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed.As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said:“I don’t believe that God exists.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the customer. “Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist.
Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children?
If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.” The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument.
The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard.
He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”
“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!”
“No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that
“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.” “Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist! That’s what happens when people do not go to Him and don’t look to Him for help.
That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”
Friends, nothing in this world will improve unless we change! Unless we change our thoughts, our words and our actions according to the Divine Will of God, nothing will improve. Prayers are fruitless when there is no sincerity of heart. As Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in Heaven" (Mt 7.21).
Nothing can we obtain in this world without hard work. If people have made a mark, they have behind their success tireless efforts and constant hard work. Hence, it’s a hard reminder to all of us that we need to work, never give up and always look ahead with the hope that we can do it, we can achieve our goal and we are capable of reaching there.
Today’s passage reminds us that suffering is a fact of life, but not necessarily unfortunate fact of life. How big is our perspective? Is meaning compressed in the matter of our own existence, in which case suffering is the darkness of 'lights out'. Or is the matter of our own existence just a vignette on the cosmic stage of meaning, in which case suffering is but a temporary shadow in the corner of the stage?
God's loving goodness and omnipotence are so great as to encompass painful and unpleasant circumstances in serving His ultimate good of drawing all things to and in Himself (Rm 8.28).
The suffering of man has been taken up by the Divine Suffering Servant (cf. Is 52.13; 53.12). Jesus emptied Himself to become incarnated into suffering humanity (Phil 2.5-8). Denied His self; will to accept work of Suffering Servant (Lk 22.42). His resurrection reality is the victory over suffering (I Cor 15.57). Christians are incorporated into the suffering Person and work of Jesus Christ in the Body of Christ (Rm 8.17; II Cor 1.5; 4.7-12,17; Phil 3.10; Col 1.24; I Pet 4.13). Suffering has a beneficent purpose. Suffering is the birth pangs for the greater experience of life. In suffering life becomes more real than the superficialities of comfort. Suffering is analogous to the surgery required to heal the disease of our self-orientation (Mt 9.12). True love is strengthened and perfected by suffering.
Christian responses to "suffering" has a positive value. This does not mean that Christians should seek, desire, court, invite, or pursue suffering or claim proud badge of courage in "suffering for Jesus" or develop persecution-complex or martyr-complex
What is Needed
Mystery of Suffering
Acceptance of the situations of life and consider that suffering is not so much a problem to be solved rationally, but a mystery to be observed personally and spiritually. Only way to "see" the mystery is by the reception of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Thus we participate in the mystery of Christ (Col 1.27; 2.2).
Our sufferings, sicknesses and adversities are not happenings in themselves, but are defined by the effect we allow them to have on us. Entrust ourselves to God, His purposes and ways Recognize His sufficiency of grace in the situations (II Cor 3.5; 12.9).
Receptivity of God's activity – Faith
Persevere - Rm 5.3; 12.12; Jas 1.12
Endure - I Cor 4.12; II Tim 4.5; Jas 1.3,4
Entrust ourselves to God - I Pet 2.21-23; 4.19
Embrace your difficulties and appreciate them for providing new ways to grow spiritually. Try to think of the positive benefits and spiritual lessons that troubles can almost certainly provide. Here are some of them:
Is 22.19-23; Ps 138.1-3, 6-8; Rom 11.33-36; Mt 16.13-20
“I don’t Care one Bit”
The bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of the last century was a great evangelizer who tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics. He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship. He would call them fools and other insulting names. The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners. The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him. Finally, the priest addressed the young scoffer, saying, “Look, let’s get this over with once and for all. I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.” And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose, you white-robed wimp!” “Fine,” said the priest. “All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me. I want you to stare at the figure of Christ on His cross, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can. ‘Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” So the young man went into the sanctuary, and looking at the figure, screamed as loudly as he could, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” The priest said, “Very good. Now do it again.” And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” “You’re almost done now,” said the priest. “One more time.” The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the crucifix, but the words wouldn’t come. He just could not look at the face of Christ and say those words any more. The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, “I was that young man. That young man, that defiant young man was I. I thought I didn’t need God but found out that I did.”
The conversation between Jesus and Peter receives diverse interpretations and even opposite ones in the several Christian Churches. In the Catholic Church, this is the foundation for the primacy of Peter. This is why, without in fact, diminishing the significance of the text, it is convenient to place it in the context of the Gospel of Matthew, in which, in other texts, the same qualities conferred on Peter are almost all, attributed to other persons. They do not belong exclusively to Peter.
It is always well to keep in mind that the Gospel of Matthew was written at the end of the first century for the community of the converted Jews who lived in the Region of Galilee and Syria. They were communities which suffered and were victims of many doubts concerning their faith in Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tries to help them to overcome the crisis and to confirm them in the faith in Jesus, the Messiah, who came to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament.
Who do People say that I am?
Jesus asks the opinion of the people and of his disciples concerning himself. The answers are quite varied. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets. When Jesus questions about the opinion of his own disciples, Peter becomes the spokesman and says. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”. Peter’s answer signifies that he recognizes in Jesus the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Old Testament and that in Jesus we have the definitive revelation of the Father for us. This confession of Peter is not new. First, after having walked on the water, the other disciples had already made the same profession of faith. “Truly You are the Son of God!” (Mt 14.33). In the Gospel of John, Martha makes this same profession of Peter. “You are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world” (Jn 11.27).
“Blessed are you, Peter!”
Jesus proclaims Peter as “Blessed!” because he has received a revelation from the Father. In this case also, the response of Jesus is not new. First Jesus had made an identical proclamation of joy to the disciples for having seen and heard things which before nobody knew (Mt 13.16), and had praised the Father for having revealed the Son to little ones and not to the wise (Mt 11.25). Peter is one of these little ones to whom the Father reveals himself. The perception of the presence of God in Jesus does not come “from the flesh nor from the blood”, that is, it is not the fruit of the merit of a human effort, but rather it is a gift which God grants to whom he wants.
Peter receives three attributions from Jesus. (i) To be a rock of support, (ii) to receive the keys of the Kingdom, and (iii) to be foundation of the Church.
Simon, the son of Jonah, receives from Jesus a new name which is Cephas, and that means, Rock. this is why he is called Peter. Peter has to be Rock, that is, he has to be a sure foundation for the Church so that the gates of the underworld can never overpower it. With these words from Jesus to Peter, Matthew encourages the communities of Syria and Palestine, which are suffering and are the victims of persecutions, to see in Peter a leader on whom to find support, to base themselves concerning their origin. In spite of being weak and persecuted communities, they had a secure basis, guaranteed by the word of Jesus. At that time, the communities had very strong affective bonds with the persons who had begun, who were at the origin of the community. Thus, the Community of Syria and Palestine fostered their bond of union with the person of Peter. The community of Greece with the person of Paul. Some communities of Asia, with the person of the Beloved disciple and others with the person of John of the Apocalypses. Identifying themselves with these leaders of their origin helped the communities to foster their identity and spirituality better. But this could also be a cause of dispute, like in the case of the community of Corinth (1 Cor 1.11-12).
To be rock as the basis of faith evokes the Word of God to the people who are in exile in Babylonia. “Listen to me you who pursue saying injustice, you who seek Yahweh. Consider the rock from which you were hewn, the quarry from which you were dug. Consider Abraham your father, and Sarah who gave you birth; when I called him, he was the only one, but I blessed him and made him numerous” (Is 51.1-2). Applied to Peter, this quality of peter-foundation indicates a new beginning of the people of God..
Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom to bind and to loosen, that is, to reconcile the persons among themselves and with God. Behold, that here again the same power to bind and to loosen, is given not only to Peter, but also to the other disciples (Jn 20.23) and to their own communities (Mt 18.18). One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew insists more is the reconciliation and forgiveness (Mt 5.7.23-24.38-42-48; 6,14-15-35). In the years 80’s and 90’s, in Syria there were many tensions in the communities and there were divisions in the families. Some accepted Jesus as Messiah and others did not, and this was the cause for many tensions and conflicts. Matthew insists on reconciliation. Reconciliation was and continues to be one of the most important tasks of the coordinators of the communities at present. Imitating Peter, they have to bind and loosen, that is, do everything possible so that there be reconciliation, mutual acceptance, building up of the true fraternity “Seventy times seven!” (Mt 18.22).
iii) The Church
The word Church, in Greek eklésia, appears 105 times in the New Testament, almost exclusively in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters. Only three times in the Gospels, and once only in the Gospel of Matthew. The word literally means “convoked” or “chosen”. It indicates the people who get together convoked by the Word of God, and who seek to live the message of the Kingdom which Jesus came to bring to us. The Church or the community is not the Kingdom, but an instrument or an indication of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is much greater. In the Church, in the community, what happens when a human group allows God to reign and allows God to be ‘Lord’ in one’s life, is rendered or should be rendered present to the eyes of all.
Peter, who was a fisherman of fish, became fisherman of men (Mk 1.17). He was married (Mk 1. 30). He was a good man, very human. He was a natural leader among the twelve first disciples of Jesus. Jesus respects this leadership and makes Peter the animator of his first community (Jn 21.17). Before entering into the community of Jesus, Peter was called Simon Bar Jona (Mt 16, 17), that is, Simon, son of Jonah. Jesus calls him Cefas or Rock (Jn 1.42), who later becomes Peter (Lk 6.14).
By his nature and character, Peter could be everything, except pietra – rock. He was courageous in speaking, but in the moment of danger he allows himself to be dominated by fear and flees. For example, the time in which Jesus walked on the sea, Peter asks. “Jesus, allow me also to walk on the sea”. Jesus says. “You may come, Peter!” Peter got off from the boat and walked on the sea. But as soon as he saw a high wave, he was taken up with panic, lost trust, and began to sink and cry out. “Lord, save me!” Jesus assured him and saved him (Mt 14. 28-31).
In the Last Supper, Peter tells Jesus. “I will never deny you, Lord!” (Mk 14.31), but a few hours later, in the Palace of the High Priest, in front of a servant , when Jesus had already been arrested, Peter denied, swearing that he had nothing to do with Jesus (Mk 14. 66-72).
When Jesus was in the Garden of Olives, Peter takes out the sword (Jn 18.10), but ends fleeing, leaving Jesus alone (Mk 14.50). By nature, Peter was not rock!
But this Peter so weak and human, so similar to us, becomes rock, because Jesus prays for him and says. “Peter, I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers!” (Lk 22.31-32). This is why Jesus could say. “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16.18). Jesus helps him to be rock. After the Resurrection, in Galilee, Jesus appears to Peter and asks him two times. “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter responds two times. “Lord, you know that I love you!” (Jn 21.15,16). When Jesus repeats the same question a third time, Peter became sad. Perhaps he remembered that he had denied Jesus three times. To this third question he answers. “Lord, you know all things! You know that I love you very much!” And it is then that Jesus entrusted to him the care of his sheep, saying. “Peter, feed my lambs!” (Jn 21.17). With the help of Jesus, the firmness of the rock grows in Peter and is revealed on the day of Pentecost.
On the day of Pentecost, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter opens the door of the room where all were meeting together, locked with a key because of fear of the Jews (Jn 20.19), he takes courage and began to announce to the people the Good News of Jesus (Acts 2. 14-40). And he did not stop doing it! Thanks to this courageous announcement of the Resurrection, he was imprisoned (Acts 4. 3). During the trial, he was forbidden to announce the Good News (Acts 4, 18), but Peter does not obey this prohibition. He said. “We know that we have to obey God more than men!” (Acts 4. 19; 5. 29). He was arrested again (Acts 5. 18-26). He was tortured (Acts 5. 40). But he said. “Thank you. But we shall continue!” (cf. Acts 5. 42).
Tradition says that, towards the end of his life, in Rome, Peter was arrested and condemned to death, and death on the cross. He asked to be crucified with the head down. He believed he was not worthy to die like Jesus. Peter was faithful to himself up to the end!.
Completing the context
Peter had confessed. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” He had imagined a glorious Messiah, and Jesus corrects him. “It is necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to die in Jerusalem”. By saying that “it is necessary”, he indicates that suffering has already been foreseen in the Prophecies (Is 53. 2-8). If Peter accepts Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, he has to accept him also as the servant Messiah who will be put to death. Not only the triumph of the glory, but also the journeys to the cross! But Peter does not accept the correction and seeks to dissuade him. The response of Jesus is surprising. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do”. Satan is the one who separates us from the path which God has traced for us. Literally, Jesus says. “Get behind me” (Get away!). Peter wanted to place himself in front and indicate the direction. Jesus says. “Get behind me!” He who indicates the course and direction is not Peter, but Jesus. The disciple has to follow the Master. He has to live in continuous conversion.
The Word of Jesus is also a reminder for all those who guide or direct a community. They have “to follow” Jesus and not place themselves in front of him as Peter wanted to do. No, only they can indicate the direction or the route. Otherwise, like Peter, they are not rock of support, but they become a rock of obstacle. Thus, were some of the leaders of the communities at the time of Matthew, full of ambiguity. Thus, it also happens among us even today!
Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada