A reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31)
From Mary Birmingham: The Book of Proverbs begins with a personification of wisdom, Lady Wisdom. She promises wealth, prosperity, happiness, and a long life to those who follow her council. The end of this book [from which this reading is taken] depicts a woman who has faithfully followed Lady Wisdom’s counsel. The image of the woman is drawn with broad, artistic strokes. This lady ministers in her home to the needs of those who come seeking; she is not an extraordinary or exceptional woman, yet she performs with skill, tenacity, and commitment. She helps all around her, her family and the poor. In her service she finds peace and happiness. She is the ideal for all ‘wise ones.’ (Word & Worship Yr A, 572)
When Dorothy Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, her funeral was attended by all sorts of people – everyone from a cardinal (Terence Cooke) to beggars, from executives to addicts, the sane and the demented: all paid their respects. This woman might be considered a good example of the wise woman, even though she had ‘only’ been a poor single mother herself. But she never let her own inadequacies keep her from doing all she could to welcome and help those around her. She once said: “Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ . . . In the church, one never needs money to start a good work. People are what are important. If you have people who are willing to work, that is the thing. God is not out done in generosity. (Celebration, Nov. 2005)
From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
This worthy wife sounds like she is living out her calling, or as this book describes, her “sealed orders”. It is as if before we were born each of us talked over with God our special purpose in this world. Our sealed orders are something that we agreed to in the context of a loving dialogue with the God who created us. They are not a task we are to complete, but rather our special way of being. They are our essence. Our sealed orders, our unique way of giving and receiving life and love, are the foremost criteria of discernment for decision making. They make for a meaningful life. Consider spending time with the Lord to discover your sealed orders:
1. Take a moment to grow quiet and breathe in the love of God.
2. Think of a person you know who lives a life that seems rich in meaning and purpose, and imagine yourself in the presence of that person. Breathe in the quality of a clear sense of direction that you feel with this person.
3. Now recall moments in your own life when you have felt a clear sense of direction. In your imagination, relive one of these moments. Breathe in again that clear sense of direction. As you do so, how might you begin to describe your sealed orders?
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (5: 1-6)
The beginning of this passage reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Slip sliding away, slip sliding away, you know the nearer your destination the more you slip sliding away.” The problem is, disasters do strike without notice and when we’re not prepared. That’s life. But Paul is talking about the end times again because he thought they were right around the corner.
Imagine your own fear if you were to envision that great day as one of panic, rout and confusion. In addition to these images, the Day of the Lord was also associated with cosmic upheaval and universal judgment. Aware of this fear, Paul continually tried to remind his readers that they were children of light and of day, whose faith in Jesus would strengthen and sustain them through every trial and against all adversity. We are already children of light and day:
Harry Emerson Fosdick, (1878-1969), a pastor and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York once compared fear and faith, “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable — and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”
From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
We often reach our final decisions much more easily by focusing on our sealed orders rather than on our fears. When we allow love to touch what we like least about ourselves and the underlying hurts and fears, we have a greater awareness of and capacity to carry out our sealed orders. Know and allow yourself to be a child of the light!
From a blog entry on our parish blog: Stay awake. Stay awake to God. All God wants is to be close to us. God reaches out to us many times throughout the day, whether we notice or not. We are never absent from God, unless we turn away from God ourselves. Stay awake to the hope, love and surprises God has in store. This can only be good. Pay attention to the blessedness in life. It’s there. And it’s life-giving. Stay alive to it. There is beauty in the lost moments. Even concentrating too much on the chatter in our heads closes us off to the reality of God revealing Godself in the day. Stay alive to the possibility that God might show up. Whether we like it or not, God just may know better than we do. Life is not supposed to be a game we have already figured out on our own; it’s just meant to be played. Stay alive to the idea that God is ever present. It’s why Jesus came to live with us. He died so we could stay alive to what God has in store for us: life in abundance!
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 14-30):
The very rich man in this story sounds like an honorable person at the outset. It is only at the conclusion that we learn that he is dishonorable. The 3rd slave even describes him as such, and the rich man agrees with him! The first 2 slaves not only served their master but imitated him. Why not? If you can’t beat the system, join it. The 3rd slave did what most rabbis would later commend as the safest and most honorable course of action for a free man, but maybe not for a slave. In 1st century Mediterranean culture, people believed that all goods already exist and are already distributed. There is no more where this came from, and the only way to get more is to defraud another. Anyone who suddenly acquired something “more” was automatically judged to be a thief. (Pilch, the Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 164) So then why is the parable saying the 3rd slave is wrong?
• It may have been to capture the attention of Jesus’ audience.
• The message is we are not to be complacent but increase what Jesus has given us.
• William Barclay makes this point about the gospel’s ending advice: “If someone has a talent and exercises it, he is progressively able to do more with it. But, if one has a talent and fails to exercise it, he will lose it – slowly, but surely. (The Gospel of Matthew, 324)
• From Celebrations, November, 2002 and 2005: Fearfulness only breeds fear and crippling inaction. If we dare to risk ourselves in loving God and others, then Jesus assures us that we will find a God who is eager to share his powerful presence and gifts. Along with this parable, we need to reflect on the kind of God that Jesus shows us — a God who welcomes sinners and who rejoices when the lost are found.
Fr. Richard Fragomeni once said that faith is a risk; it is a bet we make with our whole lives…
C.S. Lewis once suggested that the ‘one’ talent many Christians fail to ‘invest’ or fear to risk losing is love. In a series of 10 lectures on this subject (later published as The Four Loves) he explains:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one — not even to an animal or pet. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket or the coffin of your selfishness. But, in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.
In this parable Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure, and that God can find no use for the shut mind (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series for Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 323). Doesn’t this remind you of Pope Francis? In a recent homily, he said, “I am attached to my things, my ideas – does this mean I am closed? Or, am I open to the God of surprises? Am I a person who stands still, or a person on a journey?”
Let us resolve to become one-talent wonders, willing to risk ‘being fully alive’ so as to invest our love in God’s service. Let us not dig a hole to bury our love. Let us prefer service to safety, and risk to retreat. (Isn’t that what Jesus did?) We can love as Jesus did, fully, freely, and forever – at least, we can try!
From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
The power to be our real self and to accomplish something in life comes not so much from knowing who we are and what it is we want to do, but rather from feeling loved enough to be and do it. We must open ourselves to this love and grow in our capacity to take it in. As we do so, our capacity to carry out our special way of loving, which is our sealed orders, also grows.
A Reading from The Book of Wisdom (6: 12-16)
From Celebrations, November, 2002: The anonymous author of this book was probably a Greek-speaking Jew, maybe a teacher, who lived in Alexandria in Egypt in the 1st century BC. This was a great center for learning, and this person was obviously well-trained in Greek philosophy, rhetoric, culture and science. In Alexandria, there was a large Jewish community. It seems he wanted to counsel and instruct his fellow Jews so that they might hold fast to their faith traditions and their sacred heritage. He also wanted to encourage the evolving theological thought that included an awareness of life’s ongoing journey, which does not end with death, but continues into eternity,
From Eduard Schweizer: In Hebrew terminology, ‘wise’ means ‘seeing’ or ‘with eyes open.’ Being wise is not about one’s IQ: it is about having eyes and awareness that is open — alert — to what is and what is to come. We do not simply live for now — we must be open to what is yet to come (467).
Rob Bell has a podcast where he talks about simple vs. prudent. Simple is keeping things black and white and ignoring what doesn’t fit with a “blinders” way of thinking. Prudence is knowing there is a complexity to life, and that wisdom is seeking the way through that complexity. You can hear the whole thing in his Robcast Episode 123: Wisdom Part 7 – The Simple and Subtle.
From Mary Birmingham:
The feminine image of wisdom is commonly used in Hebrew Scriptures. “The words sophia in Greek and hokmah in Hebrew are feminine nouns that mean wisdom.” The Greeks understood wisdom to be “a human endeavor — something to be conquered by sheer human will and mastery. The Hebrew understanding describes wisdom as a readily attainable gift from God, just waiting to be embraced by the receiver. The attributes of Lady Wisdom are also attributes of the living, loving, pursuing God.”
‘Lady Wisdom is to be sought after, while we keep in mind that she is readily found by those who love and seek her . . . Wisdom does not just look for the seeker, she ‘hastens to make herself known’. She desires to be ‘perceived.’ She is eager to find a place in the human heart. Ultimately, wisdom is none other than God the Pursuer, who eagerly searches for the hungering human spirit. It is deep within the recesses of those spirits that Lady Wisdom takes up her residence” (565).
A Reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians (4:13-18)
From Celebrations, November 2002: Paul’s imagery here is his attempt “to describe the indescribable and to make known the unknowable. In such an endeavor, human words are but feeble tools.” They are not to be taken as literal — but as the poetry that they are — using the common ways of his culture to talk about such things. The apocalyptic props of trumpets and clouds and archangels are to be “visions of hope” — not a literal description of the end times.
The idea of the Second Coming had brought another problem to the people of Thessalonica. They were expecting it very soon; they fully expected to be themselves alive when it came but they were worried about those Christians who had died. They could not be sure that those who had already died would share the glory of that day which was so soon to come. Paul’s answer is that there will be one glory for those who have died and those who survive. The man who has lived and died in Christ is still in Christ even in death and will rise in him. Between Christ and the man who lives him there is a relationship which nothing can break, a relationship which overpasses death (see Romans 8:38-39). From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 202-203.
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” ~ Vaclay Havel
A Reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 1-13)
From Celebrations, November 2002: “This parable is clear and simple. The time for choosing Jesus is now; therefore, the time for preparedness is now; the time for ‘packing’ whatever faith, grace, repentance, conversion of heart, good works, and loving responsiveness to God . . . is now. This parable is “not about mercy but about being decisive and prepared. God’s gift is offered, but we must take hold of it, do something with it. Even the message of unconditional love does not override our free choice to ignore God’s intentions for us. Real foolishness is possible . . .” This is not a parable about caring and sharing. It’s a parable about responsibility; about doing our job of being a Christian . . . no one else can do our job for us.
What does the ‘oil” represent?
William Barclay says that “the oil signifies 1) a relationship with God; a person cannot borrow such a relationship, he/she must cultivate it himself/herself;
2) character, a person cannot borrow character . . . 3) Others simply say that the oil represents the wisdom and preparedness necessary for recognizing and welcoming the coming Christ . . .” We must be ready “to love the ways and will of God,” (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol II, 320, and Celebration, Nov. 2005)
From Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew:
This parable is found only in Matthew’s gospel although there are ‘hints’ of it in Luke 13:25. It certainly reflects the community’s struggle over Jesus’ delay in not returning in ‘glory’. Matthew does not want the delay to be the cause of the people not truly living their faith in the here and now. “When Jesus calls on his disciples to keep watch, he is calling on them to take the reality of God so seriously that they can come to terms with its sudden appearance at any moment in their own lives . . . (467).”
Some points made by Pheme Perkins in Hearing the Parables of Jesus (104-110):
• It may be tempting to separate ourselves into the wise and the foolish. Note that the wise don’t resolve the situation or make a big effort to fix it. The foolish are simply caught in their habitual type of behavior.
• The foolish servants do not have any idea of what their real situation is. They persist in showing their attempts to bail themselves out at the last minute. Those attempts fail because it really is the last minute. (And see how Jesus uses humor to portray the wrong way to go about things as opposed to “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.)
• The foolish are excluded due to their own decisions and actions. They fall back on their old patterns. They might have done better to wait outside until morning rather than call attention to themselves by their banging on the door. Reflect on this situation: What if they didn’t go get the oil and waited without lit lamps? Would they have gone to the feast despite their “darkness”? Perhaps Jesus is calling us to be ready for relationship, not necessarily for perfection.
• We all know good, responsible employees who seem to waste vast amounts of emotional energy lamenting the behavior of others who are not performing their job as they should. The parable does not suggest that we should always bail such people out. It suggests that maybe we should suggest ways to them of shouldering their own responsibility.
But remember the 1st reading — wisdom and God seek us out…
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi (1:14; 2:2, 8-10)
Malachi is a pseudonym meaning “My Messenger.” The author probably wished to conceal his (or her) identity because his attacks on the priests and ruling classes were very sharp. Malachi arrived on the scene after the excitement of the return from exile had worn off. Morals were suffering. People were reneging on their tithes, intermarrying (and losing their cultural and religious identity), and oppressing the widow, the orphans and the foreigner (US Catholic, K Guentert, p. 22).
Prophets know all about passion! Malachi feels so strongly about his faith and about impartiality for all people that his language is piercing. How do you show your passion in your faith?
St. Benedict said to, “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” And Malachi says something similar when he compares listening to laying it to heart. It hints to the idea that listening to someone should involve our whole self in attention. Some questions to test your ability to listen: Do you try to ignore the distractions about you? Do you smile, nod your head, and otherwise encourage the other to speak? Do you listen even though you anticipate what s/he is going to say? Do you withhold judgment of the person? (Think about how listening is part of being a good leader when we move on to the Gospel.)
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (2:7-9, 13)
We see Paul here as an ideal authority figure and leader. We often do not think of Paul as humble, yet, an honest look at how he lived his life seems to give us a real-life example of what Jesus meant by being a humble servant. From this letter we see that Paul certainly had ‘turned his life’ over to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable – to risk everything. He ministered by entering into a personal relationship with those he wanted to share this good news. He knew the people by name. He worked alongside them, not wanting to be a burden in any way. He shared their joys and sorrows; their problems were his problems. Then, from within this close friendship, he preached, taught, corrected, and guided them. He challenged them to live as he did, in union with Jesus. He would encourage and praise those he brought to Christ. He believed in their goodness and in the power of God’s grace to transform them. In the middle of the two ‘critical’ readings, the church gives us Paul as a real-life example as to how we are all called to live ‘the priesthood of Jesus Christ’ that began with our baptism. (Celebration, October, 2005)
Paul is talking about being transformed by the Good News of God: hearing it, believing it and then living it. In Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium”, he said, “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus…we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel,” (#167). How profound if we truly lived that way!
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (23:1-12)
Jesus speaks of good leadership. To lead like Jesus, one must be servant, steward and shepherd. “Jesus leaders” build community and fellowship. They foster contentment and generosity in themselves and in others. They build trust and increase the flow of trust all around them. They are inspired to increase their capacity and to make greater contributions to the common good. And they inspire others to do the same. Service, contribution, and purpose become the hallmarks of both their individual and collective lives. It is a new way to live. It is always a struggle. And the struggle is lifelong, (O. Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 63).
What does it mean to you to be humble? The word was used in the spiritual sense to mean lowly like a servant. It was not a quality thought highly of by most Greeks. They saw it as ‘self-belittling,’ and thus it was abhorrent. But the Jewish tradition of which Jesus certainly approved took a different look at it. To be humble was to put oneself in a ‘right relationship’ with God who is the one who deserves our ‘bowing’ and our service. God would and could often use the ‘lowly’ to accomplish good. What became important – and we see this especially portrayed in Jesus – is that the one who is humble lives and acts obediently under God’s purpose. (The word, obedient, means to listen with one’s whole heart and mind.) God humbles us to put us in a right relationship with God and others – but then when we ‘repent’ or live this way of humble service, God raises us up. God exalts the humble. (Theo. Dictionary of the New Testament, 1152-1154).
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Cycle A:
Most scholars today believe that the harshness of this attack against the scribes and Pharisees is probably best attributed to the Matthean church. Matthew’s lengthy indictment was most likely based on a short statement made by Jesus during his ministry. Luke’s gospel has the same section, but only four woes (Luke 11: 37-52). The style of this text is very common in ancient Greek philosophical and Jewish literature. Dialogue and arguments between opposing sides of an issue were customarily caustic and insulting. Matthew was certainly not promoting anti-Jewish sentiments. The language is prophetic in its anger and intensity. It is meant to challenge all of us for we, too, are capable of hypocrisy (560-561).
A poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan …
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You hung my first painting on the refrigerator
And I wanted to paint another.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You fed a stray cat
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You baked a birthday cake just for me
And I knew that little things were special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You said a prayer
And I believed there was a God that I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You kissed me good-night
And I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
I saw tears come from your eyes
And I learned that sometimes things hurt –
But that it’s alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
And it made me want to look that pretty too.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
And I wanted to be everything I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking – I looked…
And wanted to say thanks
For all those things you did
When you thought I wasn’t looking.
Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
My job would be a lot easier if every rotten, lying, mean and angry person did not believe in God or did not profess a particular religion and if every good, kind, compassionate and happy person did belong to God and followed a religion. Then all I would have to do is just say, “Look around!”
But we know that is not true. We all know so many people who do not profess a common belief that are kind, caring and loving, especially to their neighbor and to the poor. And to be honest, we all know that there are a couple of bad apples in our bushel basket. I bring this up because in the Gospel Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is that we, “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with…
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Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – Mental Health Awareness Week
Let me begin with a piece of advice. If someone wants to ask you a question and they begin with something like, “We know you are wise and you never tell a lie and you don’t care how popular you are or whom you offend,” run the other way. It is clearly a set-up.
That is what the Pharisees and Herodians do to Jesus. He obviously knows it is a set-up and a pretty good one at that. They ask, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If he says no, he will be in trouble with the Roman authorities, if yes he will be encouraging cooperation with the hated Romans. Yet, Jesus disarms them immediately with his own question. He has them produce the coin that pays the tax and asks, “Whose…
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1st Reading: Exodus 22: 20-26
This pericope is the Covenant Code between God and God’s people. Certain classes are singled out: strangers, widows, orphans, the poor. God always sides with the marginalized. God reminds them that they were once strangers too. It’s like that saying not to know what someone is going through unless you walk a mile in their shoes.
From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now:
Compassion – which means, literally, “to suffer with” – is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same. It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation (p. 135). The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid…It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless – toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God (pgs. 138-139).
The 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 5-10
Paul seems very pleased with this early church. They must have been living Jesus’ words sincerely in their lives. He seems to emphasize the effect of modeling that sincerity, without the need to even say anything. How powerful affirmation is and being reminded that there is good in us!
Paul speaks of the “joy from the Holy Spirit” in the Thessalonians for reaching out to others. Henri Nouwen says, “Joy is the secret gift of compassion…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day…,” (p. 142, 31).
In verses 9 and 10 two words are used which are characteristic of the Christian life. The Thessalonians SERVED God and WAITED on the coming of Christ. The Christian is called upon to serve in the world and to wait for glory (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187).
The Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-40
On the face of it, the question appears very honest. The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah. How could anyone remember all of them? Were some more important than others? (Pilch’s Cultural World of Jesus, p. 154) But the Pharisees are continuing (from last week’s reading) in their quest to target Jesus. He turns to scripture for his answer, citing Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18).
From Eduard Schweizer, The Gospel According to Matthew:
Jesus “explicitly places the commandment to love one’s neighbor on equal footing with the commandment to love God, and adds that ‘the entire Law and the prophets’ depend (literally ‘hang’) on these two commandments, perhaps the way a door hangs on its hinges. Then righteousness as a whole depends on the fulfillment of these two commandments . . . they are (together) the ‘great’ commandment because they are the only ones needed. Jesus fuses these two and, thus, prescribes how to perform the first: only the first commandment is called ‘great,’ but the second is equal to it, for one can love God only by loving one’s neighbor (425-426).”
To love was to have a sense of belonging to that person or group. In other words, to love another was to treat that person as a member of one’s family. To love God was to belong totally to God. In biblical terms, the heart was considered the center of a person’s entire being – the life, emotion, and totality of that person. The soul was the life force or physical life itself. Matthew seems to use mind instead of strength in order to stress the element of understanding and decision that is required to turn one’s heart over completely to God. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 553
Have you ever noticed the chalice that is used in Mass causes a reflection? Some of the cups are colored or muted, but the gold cups in particular act as a mirror. When Father Bob holds it up during the consecration, I can see the congregation in the cup. When it is on the table, I can see the book of prayers and other vessels for Mass. And when I go up for communion and receive the cup, I see myself.
It reminds me of other mirrors. The mirror on my van reflects things as bigger than they actually are. The mirror in my hallway tells me whether I’m going to stick with the first outfit I put on or a later rendition. The mirror in the parish office is one way, so inside I can see people coming in but they can’t see me. Most of these mirrors have a purpose of showing me something I need to know. They reflect information.
But the chalice is different. It reflects who we are to become, and that is Jesus. Everything that cup holds and brings forth is Jesus. As Catholics, we believe we receive Jesus in the bread and wine. Jesus wants us to look at his whole life, death and resurrection; and then, we should take that leap and say yes to all of it. We drink it in. We say yes to our belief in it and say yes to our living it.
So seeing what the chalice reflects is powerful. We aren’t just seeing ourselves but Christ who is in us. It is a glimpse of how God sees us, really. We drink the wine and we are given a message. God is saying, “Look! Look what love does! Now go do it!” Father Bob raises the chalice that is Jesus within and, as a community, we have the capacity to mirror Him.
Eucharist is more than bread and wine. It is an action. We are Eucharist-ing. We are like the cup itself, holding Christ and reflecting Christ. We share in this mission together at Mass. We are communing. And then we are sent forth (The word Mass comes from the Latin missa, or to go, sent forth.). As we attempt to come and follow Jesus, be strengthened by what Jesus gave us. Jesus gave His very self, and wants us to be His living mirrors.
How might you reflect Jesus this week?
Let us pray our 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5…
This letter was probably written about 50-51 AD. Paul was a tentmaker who came in contact with many in the Gentile world. A riot broke out in this city among the Jewish population who resented Paul’s successful reaching out to the Gentiles there. Paul and Silvanus had to flee. Because of this hasty departure, Paul soon writes this letter to express his prayerful thoughts and wishes for this new ‘church’ . . . (Birmingham, W & W, p.544-545)
In verse 4 Paul speaks of the Thessalonians as brothers beloved by God. This is a phrase applied by the Jews only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187). How does being loved by God make a difference in your life?
1st Reading — Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6
Cyrus was a Persian of Indo-European descent, who rose to power quickly. In fewer than 20 years, he was victorious over Media (549 BC), then over Lydia (546 BC) and finally over Babylonia (539 BC). This made him the head of the largest empire of the then known world. Because he was tolerant and understanding of differences, his reign was seen as a real turning point in ancient history. He allowed all who had been taken into exile by Babylonia to return to their own lands. The time of exile for the Jews had become a time for rethinking about and deepening their faith, rather than a time for all-out despair. Newly reliant on God, the exiles were eager to discover and welcome those signs of divine involvement that were pointed out to them by the prophets. So while the pagan world saw Cyrus as being taken by the hand of Bel-Marduk, the chief god of Babylonia, the Jews saw Cyrus as being used by Yahweh, the one and only God, to free his people and bring them home. (Celebrations, October, 1999 & 2002)
This 2nd Isaiah proclaims that true reality is a theocracy where God rules. Despite the reality of exile and hardship, God is ultimately in charge. Here we see the prophet giving voice to a rather new insight for the Jews. Their God who had protected them, called them out of slavery, and formed them as a nation also cared about other people. Their God was the God that was over all people guiding and caring for all throughout history. History is a stream in which light and darkness, well-being and evil are constantly mingled. But this prophet would have us trust that God is in the mingling and the flowing stream of life. (Celebration, Oct. 2005)
Again we hear the words that Israel is God’s chosen one, but that God wants all people to know God. We are God’s chosen. Henri Nouwen says, “It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.’ These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap,” (Life of the Beloved, p. 31). What other words do you associate with CHOSEN?
The Gospel – Matthew 22: 15-21
John Pilch points out that in Jesus’ culture such public questioning was never neutral – it was always seen as challenging to one’s honor. Jesus, too, ‘values’ honor – but his ‘honor’ comes from authentically pleasing God. He shows his questioners to be hypocrites by the very fact that they can present the Roman coin, something very shameful for the Pharisee to even touch much less to have with him or one of ‘his friends,’ the Herodians. These two groups were usually enemies, but they seem willing to ‘swallow’ what seems right in order to ‘get’ Jesus and to shame him. Jesus, nevertheless, exposes their true shame before the people. Jesus would like them to see that they should drop their game playing and do what is pleasing to God. (The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle A, 151-153)
Who are the Herodians? It is much disputed among theologians as to whether they were a religious sect who thought Herod was the Messiah, or perhaps anti-Roman Jews. It is most probable that they were those who favored the house of Herod, supporting Herodian rule and the Roman rule upon which it rested. In other words, they think like Herod (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 357). How did Herod think? Well, he was famously paranoid to the point that he coined the phrase, “Better to be a pig than a son in the house of Herod.” Herod did not eat pork but he did kill three of his children when he suspected them of wanting to usurp his throne,” (Powell’s Introducing the New Testament, p. 27). In other words, he was blinded by power.
St Thomas More (later beheaded by King Henry VIII of England) said that when a person separates their conscience from their public duty, they rush the nation toward chaos. What do you think?
“It is not always easy to know how to apply one’s convictions to particular issues. But we are never excused from doing so. For conscience remains the litmus test of all our behavior. All of us live in the human city, but we are always mindful of our primary citizenship in the city of God,” (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 671).
“If the symbols used to express the nature and actions of God do not find confirmation in and through one’s own experiences, then we should not be surprised to find that the reasons for being moral, the principles and values inferred from these symbols, and the actions required by them will have no persuasive power over one’s life,” (Gula’s Reason Informed by Faith, p. 55). Knowing God is a lived experience! We aren’t motivated to do something if we don’t understand why we’re doing it. Let’s look at the life of St. Augustine:
“For there was nothing I could reply when you called me: Rise, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten thee; and whereas You showed me by every evidence that Your words were true, there was simply nothing I could answer save only laggard lazy words: ‘Soon,’ ‘Quite soon,’ ‘Give me just a little while.”…”How long, how long shall I go on saying tomorrow and again tomorrow? Why not now, why not have an end to my uncleanness this very hour?”…(and after reading scripture and experiencing conversion)…”You, Lord, alone have made me dwell in hope,” (Confessions, p. 165, 178, 191).
This story can provoke questions in us: Do I get distracted by things in life so as not to follow where God is leading me? Do I (or someone I know) create drama in life rather than live in an honest way? Where do I put my energy? To what extent do I let my conscience help me make my decisions? How do I live a CHOSEN life?
1st Reading: Isaiah 25: 6 – 10
This passage is known as the “Isaiah Apocalypse”. Isaiah looks ahead to the last age and the end of all time. This piece, written after the exile, describes the reconstruction that will take place after the destruction of the earth and all its people. This destruction is a result of the sin of the people. But all is not lost. God can turn the tables, change his course, and refrain from striking the mighty blow. The feast is a sign that he will do it. He will restore the city on the mountain (Jerusalem). He will restore ALL people. This passage is particularly noteworthy as it is the earliest expression in the scriptures that God intends to conquer death. The banquet is a sign that joy (the wine) will reign triumphant over anguish (the veil over the people). The early church believed the eucharist to be the eschatological banquet here on earth while they were awaiting the glorious banquet in heaven (Birmingham, W&W, p. 538). Consider who is present, seen and unseen, at this banquet with you at the Lord’s Table. This is often a reading at funerals.
Isaiah’s security lies in the covenant with God, not in covenants with Egypt or other nations. The mysterious power of faith maintains: God alone is true protection. Such power will not collapse in the hour of disaster…never must a calamity shake Israel’s trust (The Prophets, A. Heschel, p. 73). Do you hear it? Think about the state of our country and the world today…does this give you comfort?
2ND Reading – Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20
This is probably a part of the ‘letter A’ (This Letter to the Philippians is most likely made up of 3 or 4 letters) which is a thank you note that Paul was writing while in prison in Ephesus. Paul seems to see his apostolic call as a call to accept not only the good things that are a part of this life of service, but also the difficulties and hardships — what he would call the cross. Because the Philippians are uniting themselves with Paul, he sees that as their willingness to share his hardships. (Celebration, Oct. 10, 1999; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
We have all had times when we lived paycheck-to-paycheck and other times when we could afford the big vacation. Throughout all of these times, where was God for you?
There is a freedom in Paul’s words. St. Ignatius says, “We should use God’s gifts of creation however they help us in achieving the end for which we were created, and we ought to rid ourselves of whatever gets in the way of our purpose. In order to do this we must make ourselves indifferent to all creation, to the extent that we do not desire health more than sickness, riches more than poverty, honor more than dishonor, a long life more than a short life, or anything at all in and of itself. We should desire and choose only what helps us attain the end for which we were created,”(Retreat in the Real World, p26).
The Gospel: Matthew 22: 1-14
Isaiah’s feast is on top of the mountain; the Psalm places it in a pasture (23); the Gospel banquet is a wedding feast and celebration. Compare to Luke 14:16-24 which scholars say may be the older version. It leaves out the verse on burning the city.
William Barclay says these verses form not one parable, but two, and they should be read separately to gain the most insight (Verses 1-10 and 11-14). He says we should be impressed in these stories with the unwillingness of the guests to come and to celebrate together AND the repeated patience and invitations of the king.
Here are other ideas he says to consider:
- God’s invitation is an invitation to joy, to love, to new life — a wedding!
- The things that get in our way of responding to God’s invitation are usually not bad things in themselves. The excuses that were offered were about daily life and normal business affairs. Yet this parable can be a warning: WE CAN BE SO BUSY MAKING A LIVINGTHAT WE FAIL TO MAKE A LIFE!
God’s love and life extended to us (GRACE) is a free gift – a surprisingly wonderful gift. We need to be open to God’s surprises and, like all gifts, it must be opened and used – God wants our response and our participation.
The second part of the Gospel parable is concerned with the wedding clothes. What do you think the clothes mean? Clothes were considered a sign of the real person – the outward sign of our essential character. For example, 1 Peter 5:5 says to “clothe yourselves with humility.” ((from Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). This parable of Matthew makes clear that God’s call requires a response: a changed life. We do not need to have the garment of God’s grace to be invited; it is freely given. But it does mean that we need to put it on if we wish to stay and participate. (Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p.539-541; The Cultural World of Jesus, 149)
Eduard Schweizer ( The Good News According to Matthew, 420-422) says that the last line about the called and the chosen concerns how we respond to God’s invitation: to be ‘called’ means that we take up the initial invitation – to be ‘chosen’ means to preserve in that call to the end. What is meant therefore is that we who are called by God must not look on this call as something that is ours by right; we must live it anew each day (choose) trying always to put on the Lord Jesus.
From The Word into Life, Cycle A:
These scriptures challenge us to face the fact that we often like to insulate ourselves and isolate ourselves from others. We choose not to become involved.
Yet, our God is a God of relationship. God refuses to be left alone! The royal wedding feast is a symbol of God’s love and union with his creation, and it is open to everyone. Parties are an apt image for Christian involvement. They force us to think of relationships. They move us to create an atmosphere of festivity. They remind us of the centrality of community. But whom shall we invite to our parties? We generally think of all those ‘nice’ people who will return the favor by inviting us to their homes. Today’s liturgy suggests that we expand our vision and look especially to those who are hurting. Will we attempt to wipe away tears, as Yahweh does in the first reading? Will we try to offer protection to the harassed, as Yahweh does in the responsorial psalm? Will we seek to provide hope for outsiders, as the king does in the gospel? We know people who belong in these categories. The challenge is to act upon this awareness and send out the invitations.