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. Why is the Lord angry with His people?
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 encouraged his Philippian brothers and sisters and urged tenacity in prayer. Worry drains us of energy and hope. Not that he was suggesting a Pollyannaish approach to life either. Paul knew how hard life was. There was a large military presence in the area, and the Gentile Christians also had a difficult time dealing with the Jewish Christians. “What is the right thing to do?” was a constant question. So Paul says pray, and will 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?
THE GOSPEL – MATTHEW 21: 33-43
From Pheme Perkins’ Hearing the Parables of Jesus:
This parable is a striking image of escalating violence in a situation in which the social and legal structures were clearly too weak to deal with what could and did occur among people. The people who suffer its consequences are very often not the ones who are responsible for the socio-economic causes of the violence. The people who suffer from it are those who are close at hand and weak enough to appear vulnerable. Humans may use violence and vengeance to deal with situations of injustice; God will not. The tenants must turn around, stop their own illegal violence, and give the owner what he is owed. One must simply continue to pursue the relationship that should exist between oneself and the other party, hoping that the other party will then step into the role defined by that relationship. God continually appeals to the people to stand in the proper relationship with him, but he will never compel them to do so (p. 192-194).
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 to seek relationship with Jesus and bring good to fruition?
Father Bob’s homily a couple weeks ago…
Sorry this is so late.
The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross
Though he was in the form of God
Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at
Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave
Being born in the likeness of men.
He was known to be of human estate
And it was thus that he humbled himself
Obediently accepting death, even death on a cross.
We all have crosses. They are burnished and beautiful works of art. We proudly display them and wear them and admire them because they are the ultimate sign of God’s love, of his victory. That is why we celebrate the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross. Yet, we must admit that anyone who was dropped into any church from the century before Christ lived, they would certainly wonder why we were glorifying the cross…
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1st Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9
This chapter starts the writings of 3rd Isaiah, a prophet who wishes to encourage his people as they come back from the Exile and face the rebuilding of their country and their faith. This chapter started with that beautiful image of all being invited to come to the water – come to the feast where there will be rich food and plenty – come without paying and without cost! In light of this vision and the gospel story this reading really says it all: God’s ways are not our ways – alleluia! What do you think of this reading? When might God be found?
2nd Reading: Philippians 1:20c – 24, 27a
Remember when Paul talks about Christ being magnified in his body that he also referred to the church as Christ’s body. Paul is such a powerful example of how the grace of God can transform us and renew us, even in the midst of the most difficult situations.
This was probably written by Paul when he was in prison in Ephesus maybe about 52-55 A.D. In this ‘holding tank’ of a place, death was a real possibility. In this case, we know Paul later went free to travel to Rome where eventually he was again imprisoned and killed. So his words are powerful and real, even if at this point he did not face death. Besides this situation, this letter to the Philippians is probably a compilation from two or three short letters written by Paul to the community at Philippi over perhaps many months:
Letter A – 4:10-23: This is Paul’s thank you for the ‘care-package’ he received
while in prison by a messenger named Epaphroditus.
Letter B – 1:1-3:1; 4:4-7: This is news about Paul’s welfare and prospects in
prison. It includes Epaphroditus’ recovery from illness while with Paul,
along with Paul’s desire to send Timothy to Philippi and a warning about
the possible arrival of false teachers.
Letter C – 3:2-4:3, 8-9: This is an attack on the false teachers after their arrival
Today’s letter comes from Letter B as Paul faces the possibility of martyrdom. He is in a state of tension, and yet is living the peace that surpasses understanding (4:7) that he talks about in the letter. Paul knows now that “to live is Christ” – it is not about some mystical union, but about trusting that in all his labors and sufferings and work, Christ is at work. That is all that is important. Just like in the gospel, Paul shows us that we are not to be concerned about ‘rewards’ or our ‘pay.’ Rewards are not denied, but they are not the purpose of toiling for Christ and his kingdom. They always come as a surprise. Paul is a profound example of someone who takes the gospel parable to heart – and lives it. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
Aren’t we always “caught between the two”? Sometimes we are having to make a decision. Sometimes we know we are not living the way we are meant to live. How do Paul’s words ring true in your life?
The Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16a
This parable (unique to Matthew) follows Jesus’ discussion of the unequal ‘right’ of males to divorce a woman, Jesus’ blessing of the children, and then the story of the rich young man ending ch. 19 with “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Now Matthew opens this chapter with another illustration of the surprising and unsurpassing goodness of God and His kingdom. This chapter will go on to give us another prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death along with James’ and John’s request for places of honor in the kingdom. It will end with the healing of two blind men.
Given the surrounding stories and its own powerful message, what do you make of this parable? How does it comfort you? How does it challenge you? Can you sense the kindness in the owner’s face? Do you feel the gloom of the ones who had had no work and were hired late? Can you feel their amazement and joy?
This parable was probably quite a challenge to Matthew’s community, also. This Christian community was no doubt struggling to understand the place of Gentiles in their community – and God’s kingdom. This was a highly Jewish group of people who were being stretched to accept and welcome ‘the late-comers’, the Gentiles. The ‘same wage’ is extended to all. Of course, it is not about wages at all, but about salvation. No one can get ‘more salvation’ than another. Can there really be ‘higher places’ in heaven, if it is really heaven? All who work in God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, get the same wage: fullness of life with God for all eternity – incredible generosity = truly Good News! (“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
In Jesus’ culture, workers had to be invited to work; they could not apply or go looking for work. That was seen as dishonorable since you might be taking what belongs to someone else. To have a ‘patron’ was a particularly great blessing. A patron is someone who freely chooses to treat other people (always of a lower class) ‘as if’ they were family members. This is how God acts in this parable.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
It is important also to notice that the owner calls the ‘complaining worker’ at the end a friend, even though the worker never even addressed the owner with a customary title of respect. Discipleship is serious business; we need God’s insight and grace. Justice is only possible through love. This parable is a clear call to conversion for all of us. There is only one God, and we are not it! There is a place for us in God’s kingdom, but it is not on God’s throne! Our conversion is about seeing anew, considering a new world view. God is kind and faithful, but also surprising. We must stay alert and in relationship with our loving Lord if we do not want to miss what God is doing. Prayer and Scripture are ways for us to do just that. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 516-519)
Father Bob’s Sunday homily last week…
Wow a lot of Sundays in Ordinary Time have passed since I last blogged. To account for them, one was Deacon Tom preaching, one was vacation and one was my cousin’s wedding. This homily is a little parish specific but I did not want to stay out of practice too long!
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” What a thrilling promise Jesus makes. Sure it would have been convenient to know about this before Saratoga closed and we could have agreed about a horse, but it is still thrilling! The idea that I and at least one other believer can pray together to build the kingdom of God, and it will be granted. That is indeed, the only way the…
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The cross is a symbol of our salvation. Each time we look upon and venerate the cross; each time we cross ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we profess our willingness to take Jesus seriously, to live the radical Gospel fully, and to die for our beliefs, our values and commitment to God, to Jesus and one another (Sanchez, PD, NCR for 8/29-9/11).
1st Reading – Numbers 21:4b-9
What logic is behind this reading and command? Why should a victim have to look at that which can kill them? The reason becomes a bit clearer if we look at the meaning of the snakebites which is the same thing as looking at the nature of sin, since the people had revolted against God and Moses. They were not even grateful any longer for the free bread that came to them from heaven. God sent the snakebites to punish them – not vindictively but as a ‘reality-check’ –considering how their sin and ingratitude had distanced them from God, the source of life – discovering later in their pain that they were suffering, lonely and God-forsaken. The only answer is to open the door again, and so they do that. They own up to their sin and ask for God’s help once again. Moses is told to make a serpent out of bronze, and so he does. This serpent has no sting; they can look on it without fear and without death. They can face their wrong-doing knowing that it has been taken up into the splendor of God’s on-going love which has brought them out of slavery to new life – a love that will continue to lead them if they but follow. (Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Philippians 2: 6-11
This early Christian hymn that Paul is using should help us to appreciate how freely God gives his love to us and how completely this love is revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord – the only one that is worthy and safe to be called Lord.
This is the Paschal Mystery: that by emptying ourselves, we may rise to new life. Ronald Rolheiser in the Holy Longing says, “Like all things temporal, our understanding of God and the church too must constantly die and be raised to new life. Our intentions may be sincere and noble, but so too were Mary Magdala’s on Easter morning when she tried to ignore the new reality of Jesus so as to cling to what had previously been, “ (p. 162). What needs to be emptied in you to bring about new life?
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he talks a lot about this emptying as a way of detachment. In making personal decisions, we should pray to get to the point where we could go either way in deciding (emptying ourselves). That way, we are truly leaving it in God’s hands to make the decision, and thus doing God’s will. He says, “One strives earnestly not to desire that money or anything else, except when one is motivated solely by the service of God our Lord; in such a way that the desire to be able to serve God our Lord better is what moves one to take or reject any object whatsoever,” (#155).
The Gospel – John 3: 13-17
God: all life begins with God; it is God who sent Jesus.
Loved the world: Here is the motive for all of God’s activity – God is love!
Gave his only Son: God gave in two senses – first, in the Incarnation God’s Word, God’s Message became flesh in the world; second, this Son in whom God is perfectly present endured death, the ‘lifting up’ on the cross.
Believes: God asks us to respond to his love – believe in Jesus. This believing in John’s gospel is always an entering into a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus.
Not perish/eternal life: God’s plan is NOT for human destruction, condemnation, or punishment. God wishes us to trust his love so that this love can lead us to an eternal life where death is destroyed, wrong is righted, and peace/shalom is established forever. This is the Good News we exalt on today’s feast.
(“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)
In Elizabeth Johnson’s Consider Jesus, she compares 2 theologians’ views on the cross. Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, was a prisoner of war during WWII and wrote The Crucified God. His view of salvation is that out of love, God freely chooses to be affected by what affects others, so that when people sin and suffer this influences the divine being. He saw the cross as an event between God and God. While Jesus suffers on the cross, both Father and Son are suffering, though in different ways. Each suffers the loss of the other, yet they have never been so deeply united in one love. In their common loving will to save the world, regardless of the cost, what is revealed is the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and Son. At Jesus’ death his Spirit, God’s Love, is let loose on the world. Only if all disaster is within God can God affect salvation. (Think of all the current disasters today and how God may reveal Godself in them.)
Compare Moltmann with Edward Schillebeeckx, a Belgian Roman Catholic who is a Dominican and contributed greatly to Vatican II. He says God wills life and not death, joy and not suffering, both for Jesus and for everyone else. The cross reveals the tension between God and sinful humanity. God, as pure positivity, enter into compassionate solidarity with Jesus on the cross, keeping faith with him, not abandoning him. God is present in the mode of absence. He keeps vigil until human freedom has played itself out and Jesus is destroyed. Then God overcomes the evil of death through the act of resurrection, conquering and undoing the negativity wrought by human sinfulness. We are saved not by the cross but despite it
Neither theologian is right or wrong…it is all just thinking aloud about knowing God. Jesus is the Compassion of God. Jesus is in solidarity with us, and we are all united with God in Jesus by being in compassionate solidarity with all those who suffer.