1st Reading – Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11
Some scholars suggest that this prophet may have delivered this uplifting message to his people while standing among the ruins that had once been Jerusalem. With these words of hope, they could begin to rebuild their city – and their lives. It was the ‘year of favor’ from the Lord. A ‘Year of Favor’, or a Jubilee Year, was a time of social reconciliation and economic restitution according to Leviticus 25: 9-19, 23-55. The land was to rest without planted crops. The poor could eat freely of whatever ‘wild crops’ grew. Property that had been once seized, borrowed, or rented was to be returned to its rightful owner. Slaves were to be set free. All debts were to either be remitted or forgiven. For such was the favor and forgiveness that Israel had experienced at God’s hand. (Celebration, December 15, 2002) When you experience and know this kind of joy, you want to DO something about it.
Henri Nouwen reflecting on joy in Here and Now:
Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety…Joy does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives. Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world…God’s light is more real than all the darkness.
2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
As we wait with joy and hope for the many ways the Christ will come and does come, we are called to be faithful – and faith-filled – living with a trust in the amazing love of our God. Paul is trying to encourage three ways of living that are important: prayer-living, discerning-awareness, and wholesome-holiness. These three ways will help us to experience Christ in our lives no matter the circumstances. Let us not ‘quench the Spirit’ of Life and Love that is offered to us. This is a Christmas gift worth opening and using! (Celebration, December 15, 2002)
In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy…Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise-then you will discover the fullness of your life. ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
The Gospel – John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen
Maybe John the Baptist saw the crack, and helps us see the light coming through it.
This gospel may seem out place with the other two readings. We have been prepared with joy and hope; we have been encouraged with positive words and messages. But John’s message in this gospel is filled with negations: “I am not the Messiah, not Elijah, nor the Prophet . . .” He knew himself to be the “voice of one crying in the desert.” Yet, in that solitary truth and task he found joy. There is comfort and assurance in knowing who we are and what our calling is. There is joy in knowing how to look for the “one who is to come.” John is incomplete by himself: so are we! Let us with John be expectant in the midst of a desert – looking for light in the midst of darkness. Even a tiny flicker of light can dispel the darkest gloom. Maybe then we will be free to discover the many and various ways the Lord Jesus Christ comes into our lives. (Living with Christ, December, 2011, p. 123)
Let us pray with Joyce Rupp:
looking high into winter trees
I see the distant nests
cradled in arms of branches
nests: round, full of warmth,
softness in the welcoming center,
a circle of earth’s tiny goodness,
flown far from the far corners,
patiently pieced together,
and hollowed into a home.
nests: awaiting the treasure of life,
simple, delicate dwelling places
from which song will eventually echo
and freedom of wings give flight.
advent has been on my mind.
prepare the nest of heart.
patch up the broken parts.
place more softness in the center.
sit and warm the home with prayer.
give the Christ a dwelling place. Amen.
1st Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
From Celebration, Dec. 2002:,,This is the beginning of 2nd Isaiah. It is sometimes called the Book of Consolation. It was written to a people who were in exile, a people who were
shamed and saddened in the truest sense. Although they were separated from their land, God would still care for them. The prophet was to speak to his people “tenderly.” The Jerusalem Bible translates this passage more literally by directing the prophet to “speak to the heart” of the people. For the Hebrews, the heart was the seat of the intellect and will. God wanted them to trust deeply that he would still care for them.
From Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk for Year B, p. 61: Today’s reading refers to Israel’s return home as well as the prophet’s commissioning, The heavenly court witnesses and approves God’s command, call, and commissioning of the prophet. So commissioned, the prophet’s word announces a new age of restoration for the people. Through the power of God’s Word, the world will be reconciled. The people stood on the threshold of a new age,. The creative Word of God had spoken as it was spoken at the dawn of an earlier age, the creation of the world, and into the hearts of all believers was infused the seeds of new life. God’s glory would be revealed when the people were safely restored and in their own land. For Christians the glory of God is revealed in the advent of the One Who Is to Come. What does all of this mean to you?
2nd Reading: 2 Peter: 3: 8-14
From Mary Birmingham, p. 63-64: This letter is a pseudonymous work attributed to the apostle Peter. Most scholars date it around the mid-second century (130-150AD). It is probably the last letter written of all the canonical New Testament documents. Its imagery concerning the ‘end of the world’ was a part of the culture of the times. Total destruction by fire was a popular belief from Persia to the Greco-Roman world. These images were also common in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Such images or
opinions are not scientific assertions but mythopoeic images. Some scholars also suggest that the translation of heurethesetai (dissolved by fire) is better translated ‘will be laid bare’. Yet, keep in mind that the main point of this passage is that our God is a patient God – and that we need to use whatever time we have to repent, to change, to be reconciled.
Reginald Fuller adds these three points: 1) Watchfulness is a part of Christian living. 2) Rightly understood, the imminent hope in Christianity is a motivation for the pursuit of holiness and Godliness in life. 3) While we can demythologize our scriptures in order to have them ‘speak’ more clearly to us today, we must also hold dear to the fact that the final goal of history is the hope of a new heaven
and a new earth. (“Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel: Mark 1: 1-8
This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, as is stated. Mark has no infancy stories. Most scholars believe that this is the earliest gospel written, probably between 68-73 AD. Mark was not an eye-witness to Jesus or his ministry. (He seemed to have incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of the Palestinian geography and customs.) He is a Greek-speaking believer who relied on already established traditions concerning Jesus, most of which were probably oral. He is a skilled craftsman who wished to share the joy of our salvation by writing a ‘gospel’ – a work of good news. He is addressing this ‘good news’ to a community that was suffering persecution. The center of this good news for Mark is Jesus’ suffering and death. This gospel is sometimes called a long ‘passion narrative’ with a brief introduction. For Mark, Jesus’ death assures us that God is forever with us, even in what appears to be utter destruction. This is good news! (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
John’s clothing seems to be taken directly from 2 Kings 1:8 as the traditional ‘dress’ of a prophet. John’s diet also has to do with the truth of the good news he is to proclaim. Locusts were traditionally regarded as God’s instruments of judgment because they were agents of bitter and punishing destruction (Exodus 10:4, Isaiah 33:4, Psalm 105:34). Honey, however, signified peace and plenty and was a symbol of God’s comfort and care (Exodus 3:8, Deuteronomy 6:3). Together, these two ‘ingredients’ seem to announce the dual character of the gospel. Like locusts, the good news of Jesus Christ would lay bare and devour evil; like honey, the gospel would bring comfort, peace and sweet salvation to the repentant sinner. Today, John still stands in our midst. He still calls us to prepare ourselves, our ways, our hearts, our wills, and our world to welcome the challenge and the comfort, the purifying power and the peace that is Jesus. (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
Ronald Rolheiser says that we all live with “an innate tension” – we want to be ‘ourselves,’ different, unique, independent. Yet, we also want to belong, to unite, to be a part of community and to be intimate. Baptism both calls us to be ‘set apart’ from the world and to be part of a new unity, the family of God, the body of Christ. John the Baptist and Jesus show this tension. John ‘stood out’ – by his life style and his cry of repentance. His motivation, though, was to get people to come back to living the way God had called them – to be people of compassion and honesty. Jesus did not seem to set himself apart at all by externals. What set him apart was the integrity of his life which was filled with the intimacy of God and care for others. That set him apart – and that allowed him to show us and to call us to a greater intimacy with God and compassion toward others. Think of how you live with this tension and how God might be calling you. (“In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
How is the “nest” of your heart in relation to the dwelling of the Lord? Do you have room for your God? Is there an awareness in your life of the presence of the Lord? Where in your life does the Christ most seek a welcome?
Let us pray with St. Irenaeus…
It is not you that shapes God,
it is God who shapes you.
If then you are the work of God,
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer God your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of God’s fingers. AMEN
1st Reading: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
From commentator Roger Karban: Today’s Third-Isaiah reading only makes sense when we understand that our biblical writers believed people thought with their hearts, not their minds. So when the prophet accuses his people of “hardening their hearts to Yahweh,” he’s actually charging them with closing their minds to Yahweh. Since they don’t expect anything from God, they don’t even think about God. Though Third-Isaiah knows Yahweh is on the verge of helping those recently released from the Babylonian Exile, God can only do what people permit God to do. Anticipation of God’s actions plays a big role in experiencing God’s actions. Isn’t that part of what Advent is…waiting in joyful expectation of what God is going to do in our lives?
This reading may make us feel we’ve got to try harder, do more. But the reading ends with a different message. We are to be clay. We are to allow God to work on us. So it is more a message of surrender. Allowing. Letting God in. Gerald May describes the difference between willfulness and willingness. Willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence. Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. Willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but…”. Both reflect the attitude we have toward the wonder of life itself (Will and Spirit, p. 6). How might an attitude of willingness be helpful as we walk toward Christmas?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series: There are 3 things that stand out in this passage of thanksgiving:
- A promise which came true. Paul preached Christianity to the Corinthians and said Christ could do certain things for them. He proudly claims that all has come true.
- A gift has been given. Paul uses a favorite word of his, charisma, which means a gift freely given to someone. It comes through salvation and through whatever special skills we may need in life to be the most of who we are.
- There is an ultimate end. If we are clothed in Christ, we have nothing to fear.
How might how “willingness” help us live our lives as Paul sees the Corinthians doing? Might it help us live in gratitude like Paul?
Gospel Reading: Mark 13:33-37
From commentator Roger Karban again: Mark’s Jesus directs his call for watchfulness to a community still expecting an imminent Parousia. Yet the command to be alert goes far beyond just looking for Jesus’ Second Coming. The story he tells demonstrates how constantly being on guard is an essential part of our faith. As servants of the risen Jesus, we never know when the “master” is going to break into our lives. If we’re not continually attentive, we’ll miss what, as Jesus’ servants, we’ve been uniquely trained to experience. How do we do this?
When someone we care for travels abroad, we wait with HOPE for their return. So there is an eagerness in our watching. We are looking for good to happen. “Like the seed long since sown in springtime, God’s inward arrival comes through unobtrusively and slowly, but with terrific force, and becomes manifest in all the seeming banality of our lives,” (M. Birmingham, W&W Worksbook, cycle B, p. 53). We often have apocalyptic readings during Advent because Christ came to us as a child, and he came to us in his resurrection. He keeps coming and coming every day into our lives. Do we see it? Do we wait in hope for it?
Waiting is active. Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words like that push us into passivity. But there is none of this passivity in Scripture. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it, (Henri Nouwen’s “Waiting for God” Advent Prayer Booklet, p. 2).
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.
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 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 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 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?
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. 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. )
What Paul speaks of is freedom. He seems to be okay with living or dying, because either way he is with Christ. Margaret Silf says, “Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s? It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows. But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands,” (Inner Compass, p. 110). We are called to live in a state of: I don’t mind…
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 (There are many dwelling places…)? 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)
1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11
In this ‘biblical world’ rain is precious. The total rainfall averages 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’ Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002) We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life. How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?
Thomas Merton had no religion growing up. His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man. His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little. He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him. He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, he began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith. It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest. In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord. This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’. Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?
2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23
Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002) Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.
“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf. She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher. But I bow to that spider,” said by Brother David Steindl-Rast. To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him: Spirituality for the Future series.
The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23
When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .
- What if we focus on ourselves as the sower? As the seed?
- Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.” Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar: “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
- Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold. (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)
1st Reading: Isaiah 49:14-15
One can only imagine Israel’s hopelessness. There is nothing harder to bear than to have the one you counted on the most desert you in the midst of despair. Because of what Israel perceived to be God’s non-action in their Babylonian captivity, they felt they had been completely abandoned by their God. But today’s word of the Lord has spoken. Human beings are a part of God – the womb of God – never to be forsaken or abandoned. God always forgives, invites, and tenderly caresses those who are God’s children, God’s own (Birmingham, W&W, p. 403).
Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” This is not the life God wants for us! God’s loving grace is a free gift for us…poured out in abundant supply. God wants us to know we belong to God, never to be forgotten. Have you ever felt forsaken? Can you think of others out there who do? Bring this to the Lord.
2nd Reading; I Corinthians 4:1-5
You can almost hear in this reading how Paul is trying to defend himself and who he stands for (who, of course, is Jesus Christ). He is humbling himself. He explains that we are meant to be servants and stewards of God, despite not even completely understanding God’s mysteries. He was not concerned about how he might be judged because he felt his conscience was clear. His actions were between him and God.
St Augustine of Hippo said in explaining his role as bishop, “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger; the other is safety. If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall, as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.” We have to learn how to sink the roots of servanthood deep into the soil of our character (habits) so that our commitment holds up in the face of life’s inevitable challenges (Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 71)
St. John Neumann reminded us that our conscience is the highest moral indicator. We are to follow our conscience above all else. Human beings have the right to act in freedom according to their conscience. They may not be forced to act contrary to their conscience, especially when it comes to religious issues (CCC, #1782). Faith, prayer, and the word of God enlighten our conscience. “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a [person]. There s/he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his/her depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and one’s neighbor.” (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes] ,16).
Gospel Reading: Matthew 6: 24-34
“No one can serve two masters.” Soren Kierkegaard reflected on this idea. He said, “If it is possible that a man can will only one thing then he must will the good,” (A Kierkegaard Anthology, p. 271). This is a singularity of thought. This is living authentically. It is not living with two masters. It is behaving as true to ourselves as we are able. Yet even when we fail, we can turn back again. Kierkegaard continues in hope, “For as the Good is only a single thing, so all ways lead to the Good, even the false ones – when the repentant one follows the same way back…let your heart in truth will only one thing, for therein is the heart’s purity,” (p. 272). Even when we choose wrong, we can follow our way back to the good.
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence.” Thomas Merton
Jesus is not insensitive to the needs of the peasants. Like all human beings, they were anxious about the basics of life. Given the subsistence economy in which they lived, the unpredictability of nature, and the voracious taxes they were forced to pay, how could they think of anything but survival? Jesus’ advice is simple yet cleverly delivered. Without pointing his finger or naming names, he selects a masculine Aramaic noun (birds, associating men’s work like sowing, reaping, harvesting) and a feminine Aramaic noun (anemones, or lilies of the field, associating women’s work like spinning yarn, making clothes) and urges men and women not to worry. One must trust in God the heavenly patron who knows our basic needs and will meet them (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 41-42).
Ignatian Spirituality encourages a life of detachment to help us worry less. Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows. But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands (Silf, Inner Compass, p. 110).
Let us pray:
God, our Redeemer,
Oscar Romero taught us
Not to tire of preaching love;
It is the force that will overcome the world.
Help us be lovers in all sense of the word.
Help us be more like You. AMEN
Archbishop Oscar Romero’s life’s work was to oppose, at great personal risk, the tyrannical repression in El Salvador. He was a humble man (remember our reading last week on humility?), and yet he spoke out for what he believed was truth. He directed himself to all the people in El Salvador, people from the left as well as people from the right, people supportive of the guerillas as well as people in the government and the army, people who were being killed as well as their killers, the oppressed as well as the oppressors. He was killed during Mass by his enemies; he is now a martyr in the eyes of the church. What he spoke and lived is an example for all of us. His life exemplifies the readings for this weekend.
1st Reading – Isaiah 58:7-10
This is from 2nd Isaiah, written after the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed, but this is meant to be encouraging. Right before this section, Isaiah spoke of fasting and how it shouldn’t be done in a showy way. This is misdirected; use that energy to help the poor and those less fortunate. Spirituality that is other-centered shines like a beacon in the midst of the darkness (Birmingham, W&W, p. 380). Are we a community that is like a beacon? How could we be better?
” We have to try to bring out all that is good in each person and try to develop an atmosphere of trust, not with physical force, as though dealing with irrational beings, but with a moral force that draws out the good that is in everyone…Thus, with all contributing their own interior life, their own responsibility, their own way of being, all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace.” Oscar Romero 7/10/1977
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1-5
Don’t we sometimes think we are the ones that have it right, that there is only one way to solve a problem – and it’s yours? True human wisdom is pure gift from God (One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!). Who could ever look for God’s wisdom and power within an instrument of capital punishment and torture? Yet that was exactly what Paul was demanding that followers of Christ do if they wished to know true, divine wisdom. Paul proclaimed the power of the cross (p. 381).
“God willed to reveal himself and manifest the mystery of his will. Through Christ and with him through his Spirit humans can attain the Father and share in the nature of God…He wanted to teach us that we must live in continuous converse with him and that we must live by his life, that we must lose ourselves in the beauty, in the sublimity of God, giving him thanks for favors received, begging pardon for our infidelities, praying to him when the limitations of our power clash with the greatness asked of us. We must learn to understand that we have such a capacity and that God desires to fill up that capacity.” Oscar Romero 8/13/1978
The Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16
When Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth, it was the highest compliment. Salt was highly valued:
- It stood for purity (its whiteness).
- It was a common preservative. It kept things from going bad (preserves from corruption). Do you know someone who makes it easy for you to be good?
- It gives flavor. A Christian should be full of vigor and life! Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers, (Barclay on the Gospel of Matthew, Vol I, p. 119-121).
Jesus called himself a light to the world, so here he is complimenting the disciples again by referring to them as he would himself. We do not produce our own light but reflect the light of Christ. Lamps in those days were like a bowl filled with oil and the wick floating in it. It was hard to rekindle a lamp, so when it was not on the lampstand, it would be protected under a bushel basket, (p. 122-124). The light’s purpose is to shine. We are meant to shine too!
“To believe, to hope: this is the Christian’s grace in our time. When many give up hope, when it seems to them the nation has nowhere to go, as though it were all over, the Christian says: No, we have not yet begun. We are still awaiting God’s grace. With certainty, it is just beginning to be built on this earth…That time will come! For me, this is the greatest honor in the mission the Lord has entrusted to me: to be maintaining that hope and that faith in God’s people and to tell them: People of god, be worthy of that name.” Oscar Romero 9/2/1979
Oscar Romero said in a homily: As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.
Let us pray.:
Help us to bring light
into all the darkness of life, spreading hope for a better world,
a world where justice is made real by your children living together
Help us to bring salt
into the blandness of life,
encouraging vitality and joy in living
in a world that dares to hope
for the future that you promise
where all your children will know themselves
loved and valued
created in your image,
bringing you glory forever.