Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:1-25
It was important to the Jewish people that their lineage is rooted in Judaism. At the time, if in any man there was the slightest admixture of foreign blood, he lost his right to be called a Jew, and a member of the people of God. The pedigree of Jesus can be traced back to Abraham, and proves that he is the son of David. Let us look at some of the cast of characters that make up the family genealogy of Jesus:
Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3 Abraham is called by God to leave his country and build a new nation under God. On the way, he makes a covenant with God that his descendants will be given the land too. Abraham speaks regularly with God and has a close relationship, but he is not without fault. He disowns his wife Sarai to cause favor with the Pharoah (Don’t worry, God sends plagues so Sarai is returned.) and commits adultery with a maidservant and has a child Ishmael (who God also blesses with descendants). Abraham had his son Isaac at 100 years old.
Ruth: Her mother-in-law Naomi’s husband, her sister-in-law Orpah’s husband and her own husband all died because of famine. Normally, the sisters-in-law would return to their homelands; Orpah did. But Ruth stayed. Ruth 1:15-18 They made their way to Bethlehem where Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s helped them with food in his fields and eventually married Ruth. It is important to note that Ruth is not Jewish but a Moabite.
David: David was the youngest son of Jesse and tended to the sheep. Samuel anointed him when he was still a young boy and he defeated Goliath by slinging a stone into his forehead (and then cut his head off which the cartoons never include!). Saul was the current king. He felt threatened by David and sought to kill him. David had chance to kill him first, but he spared Saul. Saul was later killed in battle, so David was anointed king. He praised God for his greatness and reigned well. He did have relations with Bathsheba and had her husband killed to get him out of the picture, but he repented of this. The psalms are attributed to David. He sang a song of Thanksgiving 2 Samuel 22:2-7. His son Solomon became ruler after him.
Zerubbabel: (Because it’s fun to say) Zerubbabel was the head of the tribe of Judah during the time of the return from the Babylon exile. He was the prime builder of the second Temple, which was later re-constructed by King Herod. He led the first group of captives back to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the Temple on the old site. Ezra 3:1-3
The Jews were a waiting people. They never forgot that they were the chosen people of God. Although their history was one long series of disasters, it was the dream of the common people that into this world would come a descendant of David who would lead them to the glory which they believed to be theirs by right. Jesus is the answer to their dreams. He breaks the barriers of Jew/Gentile, male/female, and saint/sinner in his pedigree (Barclay’s Daily Bible Study Series, p. 15-17).
Matthew pictures Mary and Joseph living at Bethlehem and having a house there. The coming of the magi, guided by the star, causes Herod to slay children at Bethlehem while the Holy Family flees to Egypt. After Herod’s death, the accession of his son Archelaus as ruler in Judea makes Joseph afraid to return to Bethlehem, so he takes the child Jesus and his mother Mary to Nazareth in Galilee, seemingly for the first time. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and went to Bethlehem only because they had to register there during a Roman census. The statement that Mary laid her newborn child in a manger because there was no place for them in “the inn” indicates that they had no house of their own in Bethlehem. Luke leaves no room for the coming of the wise men or a struggle with Herod. The Holy Spirit is content to give us 2 different accounts of the Christmas events. To treat them separately is being faithful to them (Raymond Brown in Scripture from Scratch’s “The Christmas Stories”, 1994)
From Altogether Gift, by Michael Downey:
In Jesus Christ, Love’s Word, we see in a fleshly way the compassion of the Father. The Hebrew word for a woman’s womb and the word for compassion are related, and both are related to the word for mercy. Thus, the mother’s intimate, physical relationship with her newborn is the prime image for compassion and, hence, the compassion of God in Christ.
By the Incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorption, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life.
A reading from the Book of Proverbs (31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31)
From Mary Birmingham: The Book of Proverbs begins with a personification of wisdom, Lady Wisdom. She promises wealth, prosperity, happiness, and a long life to those who follow her council. The end of this book [from which this reading is taken] depicts a woman who has faithfully followed Lady Wisdom’s counsel. The image of the woman is drawn with broad, artistic strokes. This lady ministers in her home to the needs of those who come seeking; she is not an extraordinary or exceptional woman, yet she performs with skill, tenacity, and commitment. She helps all around her, her family and the poor. In her service she finds peace and happiness. She is the ideal for all ‘wise ones.’ (Word & Worship Yr A, 572)
When Dorothy Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, her funeral was attended by all sorts of people – everyone from a cardinal (Terence Cooke) to beggars, from executives to addicts, the sane and the demented: all paid their respects. This woman might be considered a good example of the wise woman, even though she had ‘only’ been a poor single mother herself. But she never let her own inadequacies keep her from doing all she could to welcome and help those around her. She once said: “Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ . . . In the church, one never needs money to start a good work. People are what are important. If you have people who are willing to work, that is the thing. God is not out done in generosity. (Celebration, Nov. 2005)
From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
This worthy wife sounds like she is living out her calling, or as this book describes, her “sealed orders”. It is as if before we were born each of us talked over with God our special purpose in this world. Our sealed orders are something that we agreed to in the context of a loving dialogue with the God who created us. They are not a task we are to complete, but rather our special way of being. They are our essence. Our sealed orders, our unique way of giving and receiving life and love, are the foremost criteria of discernment for decision making. They make for a meaningful life. Consider spending time with the Lord to discover your sealed orders:
1. Take a moment to grow quiet and breathe in the love of God.
2. Think of a person you know who lives a life that seems rich in meaning and purpose, and imagine yourself in the presence of that person. Breathe in the quality of a clear sense of direction that you feel with this person.
3. Now recall moments in your own life when you have felt a clear sense of direction. In your imagination, relive one of these moments. Breathe in again that clear sense of direction. As you do so, how might you begin to describe your sealed orders?
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (5: 1-6)
The beginning of this passage reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Slip sliding away, slip sliding away, you know the nearer your destination the more you slip sliding away.” The problem is, disasters do strike without notice and when we’re not prepared. That’s life. But Paul is talking about the end times again because he thought they were right around the corner.
Imagine your own fear if you were to envision that great day as one of panic, rout and confusion. In addition to these images, the Day of the Lord was also associated with cosmic upheaval and universal judgment. Aware of this fear, Paul continually tried to remind his readers that they were children of light and of day, whose faith in Jesus would strengthen and sustain them through every trial and against all adversity. We are already children of light and day:
Harry Emerson Fosdick, (1878-1969), a pastor and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York once compared fear and faith, “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable — and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”
From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
We often reach our final decisions much more easily by focusing on our sealed orders rather than on our fears. When we allow love to touch what we like least about ourselves and the underlying hurts and fears, we have a greater awareness of and capacity to carry out our sealed orders. Know and allow yourself to be a child of the light!
From a blog entry on our parish blog: Stay awake. Stay awake to God. All God wants is to be close to us. God reaches out to us many times throughout the day, whether we notice or not. We are never absent from God, unless we turn away from God ourselves. Stay awake to the hope, love and surprises God has in store. This can only be good. Pay attention to the blessedness in life. It’s there. And it’s life-giving. Stay alive to it. There is beauty in the lost moments. Even concentrating too much on the chatter in our heads closes us off to the reality of God revealing Godself in the day. Stay alive to the possibility that God might show up. Whether we like it or not, God just may know better than we do. Life is not supposed to be a game we have already figured out on our own; it’s just meant to be played. Stay alive to the idea that God is ever present. It’s why Jesus came to live with us. He died so we could stay alive to what God has in store for us: life in abundance!
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 14-30):
The very rich man in this story sounds like an honorable person at the outset. It is only at the conclusion that we learn that he is dishonorable. The 3rd slave even describes him as such, and the rich man agrees with him! The first 2 slaves not only served their master but imitated him. Why not? If you can’t beat the system, join it. The 3rd slave did what most rabbis would later commend as the safest and most honorable course of action for a free man, but maybe not for a slave. In 1st century Mediterranean culture, people believed that all goods already exist and are already distributed. There is no more where this came from, and the only way to get more is to defraud another. Anyone who suddenly acquired something “more” was automatically judged to be a thief. (Pilch, the Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 164) So then why is the parable saying the 3rd slave is wrong?
• It may have been to capture the attention of Jesus’ audience.
• The message is we are not to be complacent but increase what Jesus has given us.
• William Barclay makes this point about the gospel’s ending advice: “If someone has a talent and exercises it, he is progressively able to do more with it. But, if one has a talent and fails to exercise it, he will lose it – slowly, but surely. (The Gospel of Matthew, 324)
• From Celebrations, November, 2002 and 2005: Fearfulness only breeds fear and crippling inaction. If we dare to risk ourselves in loving God and others, then Jesus assures us that we will find a God who is eager to share his powerful presence and gifts. Along with this parable, we need to reflect on the kind of God that Jesus shows us — a God who welcomes sinners and who rejoices when the lost are found.
Fr. Richard Fragomeni once said that faith is a risk; it is a bet we make with our whole lives…
C.S. Lewis once suggested that the ‘one’ talent many Christians fail to ‘invest’ or fear to risk losing is love. In a series of 10 lectures on this subject (later published as The Four Loves) he explains:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one — not even to an animal or pet. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket or the coffin of your selfishness. But, in that casket– safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable. The only place outside heaven where you can be safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.
In this parable Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure, and that God can find no use for the shut mind (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series for Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 323). Doesn’t this remind you of Pope Francis? In a recent homily, he said, “I am attached to my things, my ideas – does this mean I am closed? Or, am I open to the God of surprises? Am I a person who stands still, or a person on a journey?”
Let us resolve to become one-talent wonders, willing to risk ‘being fully alive’ so as to invest our love in God’s service. Let us not dig a hole to bury our love. Let us prefer service to safety, and risk to retreat. (Isn’t that what Jesus did?) We can love as Jesus did, fully, freely, and forever – at least, we can try!
From Healing the Purpose of Your Life by the Linns:
The power to be our real self and to accomplish something in life comes not so much from knowing who we are and what it is we want to do, but rather from feeling loved enough to be and do it. We must open ourselves to this love and grow in our capacity to take it in. As we do so, our capacity to carry out our special way of loving, which is our sealed orders, also grows.
A Reading from The Book of Wisdom (6: 12-16)
From Celebrations, November, 2002: The anonymous author of this book was probably a Greek-speaking Jew, maybe a teacher, who lived in Alexandria in Egypt in the 1st century BC. This was a great center for learning, and this person was obviously well-trained in Greek philosophy, rhetoric, culture and science. In Alexandria, there was a large Jewish community. It seems he wanted to counsel and instruct his fellow Jews so that they might hold fast to their faith traditions and their sacred heritage. He also wanted to encourage the evolving theological thought that included an awareness of life’s ongoing journey, which does not end with death, but continues into eternity,
From Eduard Schweizer: In Hebrew terminology, ‘wise’ means ‘seeing’ or ‘with eyes open.’ Being wise is not about one’s IQ: it is about having eyes and awareness that is open — alert — to what is and what is to come. We do not simply live for now — we must be open to what is yet to come (467).
Rob Bell has a podcast where he talks about simple vs. prudent. Simple is keeping things black and white and ignoring what doesn’t fit with a “blinders” way of thinking. Prudence is knowing there is a complexity to life, and that wisdom is seeking the way through that complexity. You can hear the whole thing in his Robcast Episode 123: Wisdom Part 7 – The Simple and Subtle.
From Mary Birmingham:
The feminine image of wisdom is commonly used in Hebrew Scriptures. “The words sophia in Greek and hokmah in Hebrew are feminine nouns that mean wisdom.” The Greeks understood wisdom to be “a human endeavor — something to be conquered by sheer human will and mastery. The Hebrew understanding describes wisdom as a readily attainable gift from God, just waiting to be embraced by the receiver. The attributes of Lady Wisdom are also attributes of the living, loving, pursuing God.”
‘Lady Wisdom is to be sought after, while we keep in mind that she is readily found by those who love and seek her . . . Wisdom does not just look for the seeker, she ‘hastens to make herself known’. She desires to be ‘perceived.’ She is eager to find a place in the human heart. Ultimately, wisdom is none other than God the Pursuer, who eagerly searches for the hungering human spirit. It is deep within the recesses of those spirits that Lady Wisdom takes up her residence” (565).
A Reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians (4:13-18)
From Celebrations, November 2002: Paul’s imagery here is his attempt “to describe the indescribable and to make known the unknowable. In such an endeavor, human words are but feeble tools.” They are not to be taken as literal — but as the poetry that they are — using the common ways of his culture to talk about such things. The apocalyptic props of trumpets and clouds and archangels are to be “visions of hope” — not a literal description of the end times.
The idea of the Second Coming had brought another problem to the people of Thessalonica. They were expecting it very soon; they fully expected to be themselves alive when it came but they were worried about those Christians who had died. They could not be sure that those who had already died would share the glory of that day which was so soon to come. Paul’s answer is that there will be one glory for those who have died and those who survive. The man who has lived and died in Christ is still in Christ even in death and will rise in him. Between Christ and the man who lives him there is a relationship which nothing can break, a relationship which overpasses death (see Romans 8:38-39). From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 202-203.
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” ~ Vaclay Havel
A Reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (25: 1-13)
From Celebrations, November 2002: “This parable is clear and simple. The time for choosing Jesus is now; therefore, the time for preparedness is now; the time for ‘packing’ whatever faith, grace, repentance, conversion of heart, good works, and loving responsiveness to God . . . is now. This parable is “not about mercy but about being decisive and prepared. God’s gift is offered, but we must take hold of it, do something with it. Even the message of unconditional love does not override our free choice to ignore God’s intentions for us. Real foolishness is possible . . .” This is not a parable about caring and sharing. It’s a parable about responsibility; about doing our job of being a Christian . . . no one else can do our job for us.
What does the ‘oil” represent?
William Barclay says that “the oil signifies 1) a relationship with God; a person cannot borrow such a relationship, he/she must cultivate it himself/herself;
2) character, a person cannot borrow character . . . 3) Others simply say that the oil represents the wisdom and preparedness necessary for recognizing and welcoming the coming Christ . . .” We must be ready “to love the ways and will of God,” (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol II, 320, and Celebration, Nov. 2005)
From Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew:
This parable is found only in Matthew’s gospel although there are ‘hints’ of it in Luke 13:25. It certainly reflects the community’s struggle over Jesus’ delay in not returning in ‘glory’. Matthew does not want the delay to be the cause of the people not truly living their faith in the here and now. “When Jesus calls on his disciples to keep watch, he is calling on them to take the reality of God so seriously that they can come to terms with its sudden appearance at any moment in their own lives . . . (467).”
Some points made by Pheme Perkins in Hearing the Parables of Jesus (104-110):
• It may be tempting to separate ourselves into the wise and the foolish. Note that the wise don’t resolve the situation or make a big effort to fix it. The foolish are simply caught in their habitual type of behavior.
• The foolish servants do not have any idea of what their real situation is. They persist in showing their attempts to bail themselves out at the last minute. Those attempts fail because it really is the last minute. (And see how Jesus uses humor to portray the wrong way to go about things as opposed to “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.)
• The foolish are excluded due to their own decisions and actions. They fall back on their old patterns. They might have done better to wait outside until morning rather than call attention to themselves by their banging on the door. Reflect on this situation: What if they didn’t go get the oil and waited without lit lamps? Would they have gone to the feast despite their “darkness”? Perhaps Jesus is calling us to be ready for relationship, not necessarily for perfection.
• We all know good, responsible employees who seem to waste vast amounts of emotional energy lamenting the behavior of others who are not performing their job as they should. The parable does not suggest that we should always bail such people out. It suggests that maybe we should suggest ways to them of shouldering their own responsibility.
But remember the 1st reading — wisdom and God seek us out…
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi (1:14; 2:2, 8-10)
Malachi is a pseudonym meaning “My Messenger.” The author probably wished to conceal his (or her) identity because his attacks on the priests and ruling classes were very sharp. Malachi arrived on the scene after the excitement of the return from exile had worn off. Morals were suffering. People were reneging on their tithes, intermarrying (and losing their cultural and religious identity), and oppressing the widow, the orphans and the foreigner (US Catholic, K Guentert, p. 22).
Prophets know all about passion! Malachi feels so strongly about his faith and about impartiality for all people that his language is piercing. How do you show your passion in your faith?
St. Benedict said to, “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” And Malachi says something similar when he compares listening to laying it to heart. It hints to the idea that listening to someone should involve our whole self in attention. Some questions to test your ability to listen: Do you try to ignore the distractions about you? Do you smile, nod your head, and otherwise encourage the other to speak? Do you listen even though you anticipate what s/he is going to say? Do you withhold judgment of the person? (Think about how listening is part of being a good leader when we move on to the Gospel.)
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (2:7-9, 13)
We see Paul here as an ideal authority figure and leader. We often do not think of Paul as humble, yet, an honest look at how he lived his life seems to give us a real-life example of what Jesus meant by being a humble servant. From this letter we see that Paul certainly had ‘turned his life’ over to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable – to risk everything. He ministered by entering into a personal relationship with those he wanted to share this good news. He knew the people by name. He worked alongside them, not wanting to be a burden in any way. He shared their joys and sorrows; their problems were his problems. Then, from within this close friendship, he preached, taught, corrected, and guided them. He challenged them to live as he did, in union with Jesus. He would encourage and praise those he brought to Christ. He believed in their goodness and in the power of God’s grace to transform them. In the middle of the two ‘critical’ readings, the church gives us Paul as a real-life example as to how we are all called to live ‘the priesthood of Jesus Christ’ that began with our baptism. (Celebration, October, 2005)
Paul is talking about being transformed by the Good News of God: hearing it, believing it and then living it. In Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium”, he said, “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus…we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel,” (#167). How profound if we truly lived that way!
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (23:1-12)
Jesus speaks of good leadership. To lead like Jesus, one must be servant, steward and shepherd. “Jesus leaders” build community and fellowship. They foster contentment and generosity in themselves and in others. They build trust and increase the flow of trust all around them. They are inspired to increase their capacity and to make greater contributions to the common good. And they inspire others to do the same. Service, contribution, and purpose become the hallmarks of both their individual and collective lives. It is a new way to live. It is always a struggle. And the struggle is lifelong, (O. Phelps, Leading Like Jesus, p. 63).
What does it mean to you to be humble? The word was used in the spiritual sense to mean lowly like a servant. It was not a quality thought highly of by most Greeks. They saw it as ‘self-belittling,’ and thus it was abhorrent. But the Jewish tradition of which Jesus certainly approved took a different look at it. To be humble was to put oneself in a ‘right relationship’ with God who is the one who deserves our ‘bowing’ and our service. God would and could often use the ‘lowly’ to accomplish good. What became important – and we see this especially portrayed in Jesus – is that the one who is humble lives and acts obediently under God’s purpose. (The word, obedient, means to listen with one’s whole heart and mind.) God humbles us to put us in a right relationship with God and others – but then when we ‘repent’ or live this way of humble service, God raises us up. God exalts the humble. (Theo. Dictionary of the New Testament, 1152-1154).
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Cycle A:
Most scholars today believe that the harshness of this attack against the scribes and Pharisees is probably best attributed to the Matthean church. Matthew’s lengthy indictment was most likely based on a short statement made by Jesus during his ministry. Luke’s gospel has the same section, but only four woes (Luke 11: 37-52). The style of this text is very common in ancient Greek philosophical and Jewish literature. Dialogue and arguments between opposing sides of an issue were customarily caustic and insulting. Matthew was certainly not promoting anti-Jewish sentiments. The language is prophetic in its anger and intensity. It is meant to challenge all of us for we, too, are capable of hypocrisy (560-561).
A poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan …
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You hung my first painting on the refrigerator
And I wanted to paint another.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You fed a stray cat
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You baked a birthday cake just for me
And I knew that little things were special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You said a prayer
And I believed there was a God that I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You kissed me good-night
And I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
I saw tears come from your eyes
And I learned that sometimes things hurt –
But that it’s alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
And it made me want to look that pretty too.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
And I wanted to be everything I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking – I looked…
And wanted to say thanks
For all those things you did
When you thought I wasn’t looking.
1st Reading: Exodus 22: 20-26
This pericope is the Covenant Code between God and God’s people. Certain classes are singled out: strangers, widows, orphans, the poor. God always sides with the marginalized. God reminds them that they were once strangers too. It’s like that saying not to know what someone is going through unless you walk a mile in their shoes.
From Henri Nouwen, Here and Now:
Compassion – which means, literally, “to suffer with” – is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same. It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation (p. 135). The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid…It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless – toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God (pgs. 138-139).
The 2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1: 5-10
Paul seems very pleased with this early church. They must have been living Jesus’ words sincerely in their lives. He seems to emphasize the effect of modeling that sincerity, without the need to even say anything. How powerful affirmation is and being reminded that there is good in us!
Paul speaks of the “joy from the Holy Spirit” in the Thessalonians for reaching out to others. Henri Nouwen says, “Joy is the secret gift of compassion…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day…,” (p. 142, 31).
In verses 9 and 10 two words are used which are characteristic of the Christian life. The Thessalonians SERVED God and WAITED on the coming of Christ. The Christian is called upon to serve in the world and to wait for glory (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series, p. 187).
The Gospel: Matthew 22: 34-40
On the face of it, the question appears very honest. The Pharisees identified 613 commandments in the Torah. How could anyone remember all of them? Were some more important than others? (Pilch’s Cultural World of Jesus, p. 154) But the Pharisees are continuing (from last week’s reading) in their quest to target Jesus. He turns to scripture for his answer, citing Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18).
From Eduard Schweizer, The Gospel According to Matthew:
Jesus “explicitly places the commandment to love one’s neighbor on equal footing with the commandment to love God, and adds that ‘the entire Law and the prophets’ depend (literally ‘hang’) on these two commandments, perhaps the way a door hangs on its hinges. Then righteousness as a whole depends on the fulfillment of these two commandments . . . they are (together) the ‘great’ commandment because they are the only ones needed. Jesus fuses these two and, thus, prescribes how to perform the first: only the first commandment is called ‘great,’ but the second is equal to it, for one can love God only by loving one’s neighbor (425-426).”
To love was to have a sense of belonging to that person or group. In other words, to love another was to treat that person as a member of one’s family. To love God was to belong totally to God. In biblical terms, the heart was considered the center of a person’s entire being – the life, emotion, and totality of that person. The soul was the life force or physical life itself. Matthew seems to use mind instead of strength in order to stress the element of understanding and decision that is required to turn one’s heart over completely to God. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p. 553
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; Ezekiel 18: 25-28
Ezekiel is among the first people of Israel that the Babylonians take captive in 597 B.C. He is well known for his insistence upon individual responsibility for sin. Children are not responsible for what the previous generation did. We are free to turn from wickedness to good at any time; we will then be judged by the new life that we have begun. (Sunday by Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005, vol. 14, #54; “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Ezekiel speaks of metanoia, from the Greek meaning a change of mind. Even the term, “turning away” gives the feeling of a physical change of direction. This is not only about our sinful ways. Believing in God is life-changing. It is “an interior transformation that comes about when God’s Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally,” (Catholic Update on The Sacrament of Reconciliation, 1986). What is our response to this unconditional love?
2nd Reading: Philippians 2: 1-11
William Barclay makes this important point: Paul is never just interested in intellectual speculation and/or theological guess work. To Paul theology and action are always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. The purpose of these thoughts on Jesus’ humanity and divinity was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and arrogance had no place. Jesus did not desire to dominate people, but to serve them. So we as followers must have the same desire. And, in the end, the humble service that Christ lived won for him greater glory, even if the glory was not the goal. Jesus gains our hearts not by blasting us with power, but by showing us an irresistible, faithful love. (William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 37-39)
“Emptied himself” suggests humility. Humility was a big part of what St. Teresa of Avila wrote about in her Interior Castle. She says, “As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble,” (p. 38). She goes on to say, “If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good,” (p. 51). Hope connects with love!
The Gospel: Matthew 21: 28 – 32
Parables can shock us as they can lay bare the truth with great simplicity. We cannot really argue with a parable; we must either accept it or reject it. It is a challenge, but it is also an invitation. Mary Birmingham says that “Living in the reign of God demands that I acknowledge my sinfulness, my reluctance to serve God, and forge ahead anyway.” (M. Birmingham, W&W, Yr.A, 525, 527)
In Jesus’ culture the son who answered yes to his father even though he did not go to work would have been considered the honorable son. His reply was respectful; it was what the father wanted to hear. Obedience was important, but the honorable appearance was more important. Notice: Jesus did not ask which son behaved honorably. He asked: “Which of the two did the will of the father?” Jesus’ own honor is being questioned by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus rubs salt into their wounds with this very counter-cultural parable and its challenge. They recognize this challenge: 1) Jesus is making them family with harlots and tax collectors (sons of the same Father) and 2) the chief priests and elders are the ones who may behave honorably, but they are not the ones who are always seeking to do the will of their Father. They care more about appearing to be honorable than about truly being about the good that God wants.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Sometimes we can love humanity with great conviction, but find it extraordinarily difficult to love people in particular. For most of us, God is not the problem. The problem is those humans that God created, especially the creeps who don’t seem to deserve to take up our time and patience. When people draw near, they bring trouble. Yet, as Paul was emphasizing in his passage, it is our very relationships to each other that embody our relationship to God. Paul says we will only find joy and peace when we die to ourselves: an unwelcome prospect. Too often we want love, but not its cost. Love is more than logic and practical advice. It is a risk of the ego, an emptying of the self, a desire to serve rather than be served. This is at the heart of the Good News: first, God loved us with utter graciousness; second, we are called to love others with this graciousness. We jabber of love, but the living of it is a great shaking down of our pretense. Love in dreams can be easy; the reality of it can be a dreadful assault . . . (“The Word Embodied”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)
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: Jeremiah 20: 10-13
The “Confession of Jeremiah” reflects the interior dialogue of a prophet who gave his life as an authentic witness to God. Jeremiah suffered at the hands of his own colleagues. He was in great turmoil because he believed God ill-equipped him for his mission. He felt inadequate – that he was not up to the impossible task at hand. He felt duped and angry. Yet he knew that God had called him to the prophetic life. He was confident that the Lord remains faithful to those who are faithful to him. We are all invited into Jeremiah’s trusting hymn of grateful praise (Birmingham, W&W for Yr A, p. 429).
Jeremiah turns to God in prayer when he is overwhelmed and full of emotion, as most prophets do. Margaret Guenther in The Practice of Prayer says, “I enjoy listening to prophets when they say I like to hear (that is, when their target is someone other than me), but I prefer to tune them out when they threaten my comfort. Prophets can expect to be unpopular, to be opposed and even killed if they persist in their candor,” (p. 36). Consider the 2 men who were killed in Portland, OR when they tried to stop an anti-Muslim rant. Their deaths saved the lives of the 2 women being bullied. They are modern day prophets for us in their actions.
Who are our persecutors? Does God give us strength in times of struggle? How do you feel the Lord with you? What helps us persist in trusting the Lord?
2nd Reading: Romans 5: 12-15
When trying to understand Paul here, it is important to understand the Jewish notion of “corporate personality” – sort of like our modern idea of an ecosystem in which everything in that system is mutually interdependent. Paul is talking about the social effects of evil – death coming to all of us as we have sinned “in Adam.” This does not mean that Adam introduced into human life a hereditary trait that is henceforth transmitted biologically. It is more that we have all sinned in Adam because we have all sinned like Adam. Adam is that insecure, false, needy self that we are all like without Christ.
Death is also not to be seen in some crude mechanical way as a punishment for sin. The awful death that Paul is talking about is separation from God; such separation is sin, a turning away from the very source of life. Physical death is a biological inevitability in an imperfect world – but it is also the final revelation of our utter aloneness before the forces of life and death. Without Christ, we are hopeless. But Paul is reassuring us that God’s grace is much greater than our sin, our separation. With faith in Christ, we can overcome the chasm . . .
From Celebration, June, 2002 and R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu.
Sin can come in through a very small door – a moment of vanity, a selfish choice, an avoidance of compassion. It doesn’t take much energy. Sin can seem so easy; the failure to love can be ‘second nature’ to us – but it is our ‘false nature.’ Our first nature is to love and be loved. We can become insensitive, insecure, walking around in a fog of self-centeredness. But Jesus offers us another way – another door – a door wide enough to bring in love and life. Sin may give us many excuses to say no, but love makes us yearn to say yes. (Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 1999)
The Gospel: Matthew 10: 26-33
In Matthew 10: 16, Jesus says, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” Jesus knew that the way of discipleship is and was a very countercultural way of life. Yet, in today’s passage he also assures us of God’s loving concern with every aspect of our being – even the hairs on our heads. The problem may be with us. We hold records of everything that can and does go wrong with our frail mortality. We cling to our insecurity and worry, instead of living fully a life of faith and hope. But when we begin to speak the truth of God’s love, its certainty grows in us. When we act on this truth, we are brought into Christ’s marvelous light.
(Exploring the Sunday Readings, June, 1999)
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), a professor at the Union Theological Union in New York once wrote: “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 put hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.” (Celebration, June, 2002)
Sparrows are what bird-watchers call ‘junk birds’ – birds so plentiful that them seem uninteresting, unworthy of much attention. But Jesus assures us that God cares for such things – and even cares for us unworthy humans. Jesus urges