Commentary on Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, cycle A

History of this Feast Day from USCCB:  On the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King.  Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 with his encyclical Quas Primas (“In the first”) to respond to growing nationalism and secularism.  He recognized that these related societal ills would breed increasing hostility against the Church.  His encyclical reminds the faithful that while governments and philosophies come and go, Christ reigns as king forever.

1st Reading – Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17

Prophet to his people during their exile in Babylonia, Ezekiel shared their sense of having been failed by their leaders, who, from David onward, had been ideally cast in the role of shepherd of God’s flock, Israel.  As history attests, however, that ideal was not always realized and, as a result, the people of God were left unattended, like sheep left to flounder on their own without a shepherd.  Right before this reading, Ezekiel reprimands failed shepherds in the past.  Only God will restore and lead God’s people to wholeness.  It is a message of hope  (Preaching Resources from 11/20/2005).

From The Word into Life, Cycle A, 122:  Usually we reserve the title, “pastor” for the leader of a religious community.  The pastor is to shepherd . . . But perhaps we fail to recognize that every believer is also commissioned, through baptism, to look to the needs of others. We are a priestly peopleand priestly people “pastor.” Ezekiel responded to the needs of his despondent exiled community in the early sixth century BC. To encourage them, he presented God as a shepherd. Yahweh would focus attention on the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the sick. Later, in today’s gospel we find Jesus who fulfills this image and also identifies with all those who suffer.

Ezekiel’s vision of a new beginning under leadership may seem to be slightly diminished by the ominous parenthetical phrase included in verse 16:  “but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.”  Some scholars suggest that this phrase is a gloss, later interpolated into the text and, as such, should be omitted.  Certainly, it seems unlikely that God would shepherd the people lovingly with one hand and strike them down with the other.  Others may be more correct in pointing out that this surprising phrase may be the result of a copyist’s error. Only a yod (smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet) differentiates the Hebrew text (I will destroy) from the Greek (Septuagint), Syrian and Vulgate translations, which read: “I will strengthen the fat and the strong.” 

What other meanings do you ‘get’ from all this? What if the fat and strong were fat and strong because they took too much for themselves?  (Celebration, Nov. 1999)

What of the reference to goats?  Why are goats generally seen as bad in scripture?  Goats were often used for sin and guilt offerings.  Most Palestinian goats were black (vs the white sheep).  Goats often lead the flock, so they can be associated with political leaders; perhaps Ezekiel was comparing the goats to the failed shepherds (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 315).  More on goats later.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28 

In the Jewish tradition, offering the ‘first-fruits’ of a harvest was a way to bless the entire harvest – a way to consecrate the entire harvest. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s Kingdom, we have the promise and blessing of abundant life in this Kingdom. So death is an enemy that has been overcome!  

 (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year A, 581): When Paul talks about Adam, he talks about all of us when we choose that which is bad for us. It is our ‘false-self’ – our deeply insecure self that does not trust that God has created us to be God’s image. As Adam, we reject living in a loving, trusting relationship with our creator. In other words, ‘being Adam’ is being in sin. It is giving into our endless capacity to destroy ourselves. As ‘Adams and Eves’, we are faced with death – with the fact that someday the world will have no time or place for us. It is only our faith in the God that Christ Jesus brings us that saves us from this terrible predicament. In Jesus we find a God who loves us despite our insecurities and wishes to show us the way beyond this death sentence. (Thoughts from John Dwyer, “A Retreat with Paul,” Part 2)

The Gospel – Matthew 25: 31-46

From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Nov.2002:  As Jesus explains it, there is only one way to exercise power in this world: for the sake of the powerless.  Those with food and drink, should share it.  Those who are on the inside should be hospitable to those on the outside.  If someone is cold, someone with clothes should keep him or her warm.  If someone is sick, those who are well should be attending.  If people are oppressed, those who have their liberty should look to their needs. If you want to inherit the kingdom, you can do so right now: Put your hat on and go visit the sick Christ.  Set a place at your table for the lonely Christ.  Forgive, support, or lift up the burdened Christ.  Then, the kingdom begins to grow within us – and among us.  At least, as best as we can in a pandemic!

From The Cultural World of Jesus by John Pilch — On Sheep and Goats:  Sheep came to symbolize honor, virility, and strength.  Goats were considered lustful and lecherous animals.  Unlike rams, goats allow other males access to their females. Also, goats were associated with sin, for example, the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21-11) Even in Greek culture, the ram was associated with honorable Greek gods like Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon, while the goat was associated with Greek gods known for shameful and unrestrained behavior like Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. What is the basis for Jesus’ final, definite determination of in-group (sheep) and outgroup (goats)? Hospitality! The kindness and steadfast love that one owed one’s family was to be extended to others, especially those in need. 

From Good Goats:  Healing Our Image of God (Linns), p. 49:  All of us who have felt alienated, unloved, overwhelmed by shame or helplessly caught in an addiction know what it’s like to be in hell.  And all of us who have been welcomed home, who have seen our goodness reflected in the affirming eyes of another or who have been loved into recovery know what it’s like to be in heaven.  We all have wheat and weeds within us, sheep and goats.  The kingdom of God is within us, and we’re all good goats.

What Does Faith Really Mean to You? By Kris Rooney

This is a question asked in the book I’m reading, The Other Side of Chaos by Margaret Silf. So I thought I would write down what came to me, and I really encourage you to take time to do the same. And maybe be brave enough to share it.

What does faith really mean to me? It is a free gift of love that is continually offered over and over again, without expectation. It is knowing I am needed and wanted in the world. I am held by someone who knows me, loves me, is with me and is in me. And it doesn’t have to make any sense. It just is.

Sharing it makes it grow. When I get to talk about faith with other people and hear what their experience is, there is an expansion. It is warm, beautiful, loving, safe. When everything else may fail me…it remains, sustains, abides. Faith can connect us with one another even in a pandemic.

Faith does not always make things better. Sometimes I wish it would, but that is not faith’s task. Faith accompanies. Faith lifts our hearts. Faith lives in my heart, but often travels to my gut too. Faith opens and frees me.

And I am grateful for it.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

John 15: 4-5

**I think I may start a virtual faith-sharing group using this book after Christmas. Please feel free to contact me if that interests you.

Commentary on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

A Reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31)

From M 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 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!

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.  (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.

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.

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.

Commentary on 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

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, a modern theologian,  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 loves 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 . . .”.  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 (maybe 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…

Commentary on All Saints

1st Reading — The Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9 – 14)

This is the last book of the Bible. It abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism and language. This type of apocalyptic writing uses symbolic colors, metals, garments and numbers. It tries to show graphically how awful evil is and how much it offends the goodness of God. This book has its origin in a time of crisis and persecution, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the midst of horrible evil and suffering, we are called to trust and remain faithful to Christ and to a God whose care is ever with us – and will be with us for all eternity. No matter what adversity or sacrifice we may endure as Christians, we will end in triumph over evil and pain. This is its enduring message. It is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe. (The Catholic Answer Bible, Fireside Catholic Publishing, pp. 1372-1373)

Symbolism according to Word of God Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Iowa:

East:  Or the place the sun rises.  This is often connected with God.

Seals:  Hide the secrets of the future. Only God knows them and opens them.

144,000:  All of God’s people.  12 means God’s people, and 10 means complete.  Cubed (10x10x10) is holy and perfect.  144,000 (12x12x10x10x10) is really ALL of God’s people, holy and perfect.

White:  Clean & pure, or victory & triumph.

Elders:  There are 24 elders:  12 Old Testament and 12 New Testament

4 Living Creatures:  Cherubim or seraphim, like God’s personal servants.  They are very close to God and His throne and carry His word.

Throne:  Where God is, the center of all His glory and power.

We often think of saints and martyrs as sort of ‘out-of-the-world’ holy people – far beyond our own experience or sense of goodness. But they were ordinary folk like us. We should find encouragement along with the challenge. God doesn’t judge us only on our weakness but on our persevering in our willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others. The simple, everyday things we do will wash us in the blood of the lamb. Our smile is a saintly one. Our gesture of kindness is an expression of blessedness. Simple, kind, ordinary ways of giving of ourselves brings the kingdom of God’s love and goodness closer (Living Liturgy, 2003, p.236).

2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-3

When Christ appears, we shall see him and be like him.  The goal of all great souls has been the vision of God.  The end of all devotion is to see God.  But that vision of God is not for the sake of intellectual satisfaction; it is in order that we may become like him.  There is a paradox here.  We cannot become like God unless we see him; and we cannot see him unless we are pure in heart (see Gospel).  In order to see God, we need the purity which only he can give  (Barclay, p. 75).  Is this only for the mystics?  No, it is for all of us to wrestle with in our lives.  Maybe it is like Thomas Merton’s prayer, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you…”

But isn’t it true that when we are questioning our faith, our journey, our identity…we are also questioning if we are loved?  We need to be reminded that God’s presence is here.  God is with us.  God’s love will never leave us.  It is knit in our bones.  And right now, not just when we think we “have it all together”.  This letter from John speaks to that inner conflict we sometimes have. Barclay continues to say that John points out we are not merely called the children of God; we are the children of God.

The Gospel – Matthew 5: 1-12a

From Wm. Barclay, The Daily Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1:  This Sermon on the Mount could have been “the concentrated memory of many heart to heart” talks that Jesus had with his disciples.  Matthew writes that Jesus “sat down” – the typical position of a rabbi when he was teaching. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .

The Greek word for poor that is used here is ptochos. It means absolute and abject poverty. It describes the one who has nothing, a beggar. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, the idea of poverty underwent this kind of development: it meant poor, and because they were poor they had no power, or help or influence or honor or prestige. Finally, because of all this, they had no hope except to put their whole trust in God.  So the poor came to be described as the one who was humble and totally reliant on God: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” (Ps. 34:6) 

**We must be careful not to think that Jesus is saying that actual material poverty is a good thing. Jesus would never declare ‘blessed’ a state where people live in slums and have not enough to eat.  That kind of poverty we as Christians are called to remove.

Blessed are they who mourn . . .

The word used here for mourning is the strongest word for grief in the Greek language. It is the passionate lament for a loved one. It is the kind of grief that cannot be hidden.  It is a sorrow that calls for compassion from others – and that Jesus reassures us will come from God.  God does not send ‘suffering’ – but God can help us cope with it – and even learn from it. Sorrow can ‘drive’ us to the deep things of life. We are also called by Jesus to be people who deeply care about others, who empathize and feel with them. As God became one of us in Jesus, so are we called to unite with others.  It is right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. We are asked by Jesus to care intensely about the sufferings and needs of others – to mourn over the evil and sickness and blindness in this world –  to work with God to comfort and overcome the suffering where we can. 

Blessed are the meek . . .

The Greek word for meek, praus, expressed a great ethical idea. It was the happy medium between too much and too little anger. It was also commonly used to describe an animal that had been domesticated, trained. It was also the opposite of pride and “lofty-heartedness’. It meant true humility. It is a quality that helps us to realize the truth about ourselves — that we need to learn and to be forgiven – that we need to be God-controlled: gentle towards others and open to God’s Holy Spirit.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . .

Few of us really know what it is to be hungry or thirsty. In our abundance, we rarely starve for food or die of thirst – even if we use these words often. Yet, this is the kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about –a starving and thirsting for goodness, for what is right. God does not care just about our achievements, but also about our dreams – our yearnings – our hungers. If we hunger and thirst for God’s goodness, Jesus tells us that God will supply our need.

Blessed are the merciful . . .

The Hebrew idea for mercy that Jesus is using means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we see things with his/her eyes, think things with his/her mind, and feel with his/her feelings. This is what God did in Jesus: God came to be one with us. Jesus is asking us to let God help us to reach out in the same way to others. 

Blessed are the pure in heart (clean of heart) . . .

The Greek words for pure is katharos; it has a variety of meanings. It means clean, such as soiled clothes that have been washed clean. It was also used to describe corn or wheat that had been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all its chaff. It also was often used to mean unadulterated or unmixed – such as a pure metal or wine. Jesus is calling us to be people who are sincerely who we are – not to be fake or have hidden agendas.

Blessed are the peacemakers . . .

The Hebrew idea of peace is expressed in the word shalom. It means everything which makes life good, full, healthy. It is the presence of all good things.  We are called not just to be peace-lovers, but peace-makers. It can be that if we love peace in the wrong way, we may allow a dangerous or threatening situation to develop and not take any action to prevent it because we ‘just want peace and quiet.’  As peacemakers, we are not to pile up troubles for another day, but to do all we can to create life-giving situations. What this beatitude is demanding is that we do not passively accept things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things and the making of peace even when the way to peace is through struggle.  We are to make the world a better place for all to live in – to help create right relationships with all others. Peacemakers are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live – people who bridge the gulfs and heal the broken – and sweeten the bitterness of life. Such people do God’s work.

Blessed are those who are persecuted . . .

Jesus is honest; being his follower is not going to be easy. But it is the way God will bless this world with God’s presence and strength. It is the way to abundant life. Jesus wants us to remember that despite persecution and hardship, “Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121)

This feast day was originally one for the early martyrs, when there were so many that all the names could not be listed. This is long before there was anything official about canonization. Also, in the New Testament all baptized Christians were called saints, hagioi, holy ones. The Greek means, ‘called as saints.” (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )  Who do you think of on this day?

The Communion of Saints is an important reminder that our relationship with God and with Christ is both vertical and horizontal, and that our relationship is always mediated. “In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successful images of Christ, God vividly manifests to humankind his presence and his face.  He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his Kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn . . . our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ.” (R. P. McBrien, Catholicism, Vol.II, 890; Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church)

Those in heaven live fully with God,

yet they remain united to us in love . . .

They pray for us.

They worship with us.

They lend us their spiritual strength in our weakness . . .

In the Eucharist, the whole communion of Christ,

living and dead,

gathers around the table . . .

we experience a profound closeness

with those who have gone before us . . .

It is a marvelous gathering of heaven and earth!  (Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,#49)

Commentary on 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

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.   The hallmark of covenant living was to be compassion, mercy, and God’s abiding love extended to one another, and especially to the most vulnerable among them.  The extent to which the Israelites lived today’s exhortation was the extent to which there was evidence of their fidelity to God and the covenant, (M. Birmingham, W&W Yr. A, p. 551).  What would it be like to live by a “Covenant Code”?  That all of our actions were based on principles that we agreed to live by, and they are all rooted in love?  It’s a very mindful way to live.  

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

Commentary on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

Feel free to pray the 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 and sisters loved 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 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)

It is the paradox of the human situation that those who do not even know God are chosen to be the instruments in enabling others to know God.  Even as Cyrus may not know God and is yet chosen to carry out God’s mission, the nations of the world who may not know God are waiting for God, for God’s teaching and redemption, (A. Heschel, The Prophets, p. 154).  In other words, the blind leading the blind!  But maybe you can identify with the feeling of God putting something in your life that you don’t feel prepared to do.

This image is from The British Museum and is the “Cyrus Cylinder”, a clay cylinder with the Babylonian account of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 BC, of his restoration to various temples of statues removed by Nabonidus, the previous king of Babylon, and of his own work at Babylon.  On it, it says, “the gods who dwelt there I returned to their home and let them move into an eternal dwelling. All their people I collected and brought them back to their homes,” (line 32, https://www.ancient.eu/article/166/the-cyrus-cylinder/).

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)

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?

Commentary on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

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:

  1. God’s invitation is an invitation to joy, to love, to new life  — a wedding!
  2. 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. (W&W  Wkbk, 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.

1st Reading: Isaiah 25: 6 – 10

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

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

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. 
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress. My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

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

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, 
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.  The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

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:

  1. God’s invitation is an invitation to joy, to love, to new life  — a wedding!
  2. 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. (W&W  Wkbk, 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.

Commentary on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A

1ST READING – ISAIAH 5:1-7

Isaiah realized that God cares for us His people like a precious vine: He cultivates us, cares for us, prunes us, nurtures us, waters us and removes the stones from our hearts.  He expects us to grow, to bloom, to produce a good harvest.

Those darn Israelites never seem to get it right.  Can you relate?  Do you ever feel like you try so hard and yet can’t seem to get it together?  Sometimes children work hard on an assignment and end up crumpling it up because of their frustration.  We hear the frustration in God’s voice through Isaiah.  This harsh love language can be difficult because of the strong emotion.  But in the end, God stays with the Israelites through their trials.

Some thoughts from Harold Kushner in How Good Do We Have to Be?:  “…if we cannot love imperfect people, if we cannot forgive them for their exasperating faults, we will condemn ourselves to a life of loneliness, because imperfect people are the only kind we will ever find,” (p. 111).  “Being human can never mean being perfect, but it should always mean struggling to be as good as we can and never letting our failures be a reason for giving up the struggle,” (p. 174).

2ND READING – PHILIPPIANS 4: 6-9

Paul says pray, and peace will be given.  Do you experience this in your prayer life?  Even if there is no answer, prayer reminds us of God’s constant presence, and there is solace in that.   Paul also says hold fast to Jesus’ teachings.  Hold on to what is true.  There is peace in that too.  Do you experience this?

Paul lays it down that thanksgiving must be universal accompaniment of prayer.  Every prayer must surely include thanks for the great privilege of prayer itself.  Paul insists that we must give thanks in everything, in sorrows, and in joys alike.  That implies 2 things:  gratitude and also perfect submission to the will of God.  It is only when we are fully convinced that God is working all things together for good that we can really feel to him the perfect gratitude which believing prayers demands.  The result of believing prayer is that the peace of God will stand like a sentinel on guard upon our hearts.  The word that Paul uses (phrourein) is the military word for ‘standing on guard’.  The way to peace is in prayer to entrust ourselves and all whom we hold dear to the loving hands of God, (Barclay, p. 77-78).

THE GOSPEL – MATTHEW 21: 33-43

From John Pilch’s The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A:

The tenant farmers are frustrated, desperate and driven to violence.  They beat and kill the first 2 delegations from the owner.  When the owner’s son shows up, they miscalculate and presume that the owner is dead.  Believing the son to be the sole surviving heir, they kill him in hope of gaining the vineyard for themselves.  The plan is stupid and illegal, but they are driven by their otherwise hopeless situation (Have you even done something “stupid” because of desperation?).  The owner is very much alive.  The owner must act.  Compare this vineyard story to the one in Isaiah.  There are no tenant farmers in Isaiah; God destroyed the vineyard itself.  In Matthew, the tenant farmers are destroyed and the vineyard given to others.  It is a problem of leadership.  The tenant farmers (and Jesus may have been calling out the chief priests and Pharisees) must be replaced because they have not born fruit.  So leadership will be transferred to others (us?) who will produce proper fruit (p. 145 – 147).

This parable ends with an image of a cornerstone.  This picture is from Psalm 118:22:  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”  Originally the psalmist meant this as a picture of the nation of Israel.  But Jesus is the foundation stone on which everything is built, and the corner stone which holds everything together.   It may be that people reject Christ, but they will yet find that the Christ whom they rejected is the most important person in the world, (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series:  Mathew Vol 2, p. 264-5).  Jesus is all about seeking relationship and bringing goodness to fruition.  At what lengths will you go to seek relationship with Jesus and bring good to fruition?