32nd Sunday O T Year A – 17

32nd Sunday O T Year A – 17

Wis.6.12-16, 1Thess.4.13-18, Matt.25:1-13

There was a man with four wives. He loved his fourth wife the most and took a great care of her and gave her the best. He also loved his third wife and always wanted to show her off to his friends. However, he always had a fear that she might run away with some other man.

He loved his second wife too. Whenever he faced some problems, he always turned to his second wife and she would always help him out. He did not love his first wife though she loved him deeply, was very loyal to him and took great care of him.

One day the man fell very ill and knew that he is going to die soon. He told himself, “I have four wives with me. I will take one of them along with me when I die to keep company in my death.”

Thus, he asked the fourth wife to die along with him and keep company. “No way!” she replied and walked away without another word. He asked his third wife. She said “Life is so good over here. I’m going to remarry when you die”.

He then asked his second wife. She said “I’m Sorry. I can’t help you this time around. At the most I can only accompany you till your grave.” By now his heart sank and turned cold. Then a voice called out:

“I’ll leave with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” the man looked up and there was his first wife. She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the man said, “I should have taken much better care of you while I could have!”

Actually, we all have four wives in our lives.

  1. The fourth wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it’ll leave us when we die.
  2. The third wife is our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they go to others.
  3. The second wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been there for us when we’re alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.
  4. The first wife is our soul, neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go.

How many of you have ever run out of gas? It would appear that every year at least a half million people call for help because they have run out of gas. Besides flat tires, dead batteries, and misplaced keys, running out of gas ranks right up there in the reasons why people call for roadside service.

One might understand this happening a generation ago, when gas gauges were not entirely accurate, and when all the warning lights of our day were non-existent. But now we have warning messages that our fuel is running low (giving us perhaps an hour more of driving), and then additional progressively urgent warnings indicating just how many estimated miles of driving we have left. One must say that most people who run out of fuel are “without excuse.”

Why, then, do we do it, seemingly as often today as people did years ago, when all of the advantages of technology were not available? In our gospel, it is not gasoline that is lacking, but olive oil “the fuel burned in the lamps of Jesus’ day.

And, I believe we will discover that the five foolish virgins did not really “run out” of oil; they never had it.

This parable is confusing for some people, but a little clarification goes a long way. The virgins are girls, bridesmaids. Virgin is just the standard word for an adolescent girl. Their job was to be a part of the procession, carrying lamps.

I used to think that the wise girls were really the selfish girls. I learned about sharing in kindergarten, but it seems that these girls did not. Why not share the oil? Then I finally heard, as if for the first time, the reasoning of the wise girls and realized that they were right.

There might not be enough for both. The oil each girl had in her flask might keep her lamp lit for 8 hours but would only keep two lamps lit for 4 hours. If they had shared the oil, they might have ended up with no light at all. It would be foolish to share the oil and burn through the limited supply twice as quickly.

What about the strange words of the bridegroom, “I do not know you”? The foolish girls went to town to buy some oil, and when they came back, presumably with well-lit lamps, they knock on the door respectfully. “Lord, Lord”, they say, “open up for us.”

He does not refuse to open, but simply admits that he does not know them. There is a parallel here between this parable and the end of the Sermon on the Mount, 18 chapters earlier. There Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you.’” The girls say “Lord, Lord.” The bridegroom says, “I do not know you.”

So, what do all these symbols mean? Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit: it is used in Baptism and Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick to signify the Holy Spirit. If that is the case, there are two kinds of Holy Spirit in this parable, for there are two kinds of oil container.

Some of the Holy Spirit is in a lamp, burning. Some of the Holy Spirit, at least for the five wise girls, is in a flask, not burning. So also, in every Christian, there are two kinds of Holy Spirit: there is the Holy Spirit that burns:

A jumping up and down, casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healing the sick with a touch, floating in the air kind of Holy Spirit, and then there is the Holy Spirit that does not burn – a quiet, prayerful, loving your neighbor, biting your tongue, suffering patiently kind of Holy Spirit.

Of course, there is really only one Holy Spirit, just as the oil in the lamps and the oil in the flasks was the same oil. It is not the Holy Spirit who is different; the difference is in the containers: our souls. Now all the girls had lamps, but only some had flasks.

Every Christian is glad to have the power of the lamp, but not everyone wants to do the work required to fill up the flask. Some Christians go so far as to consider the lamps to be the real Holy Spirit.

They gather on Sunday and speak in tongues and play music that sets their hearts on fire; they like to see miracles and healings and spectacular conversions. These are gifts from God; I do not denigrate any of this, but if this is all Christianity is for them, they are like the foolish girls: lamps but no flasks.

It is in quiet prayer that we fill our flasks. The Church is calling us to return to silence, uncomfortable silence. Not merely the absence of noise, but the space to pray.

It is in patient suffering that we fill our flasks. Suffering is either accepted or chosen. We can accept suffering in sickness or cruel treatment. We can also choose to suffer by fasting or vigils or discomfort. Our culture cannot understand why someone would choose to be uncomfortable or accept suffering gladly.

It is in loving that we fill our flasks, loving our neighbor and loving our enemies: forgetting ourselves. To love means to live for. If we love ourselves, we live for ourselves. If we love others, we live for them.

It is the will of God that we fill our flasks, so if anyone says to us, “Oh you with your boring Christianity”, while juggling snakes and drinking poisons and dancing in the aisles, if anyone tells us that we are missing something because we do not shout often enough, let us go on nonetheless, filling our flasks, waiting for the Bridegroom.

Although many things need to be said about how best to understand the meaning of this parable, four brief observations adequately suggest to us what Jesus was trying to say:

(1) The delay of the bridegroom plays a critical role in the story. Had the bridegroom not delayed, all of the virgins would have been ready and waiting when the marriage procession arrived, and they all would have accompanied the bridegroom to the feast. Only because the bridegroom was delayed were half of the virgins caught unprepared and not able to accompany him to the feast.

(2) The wisdom of the wise virgins consisted in their understanding that the bridegroom might be delayed. Why did the wise virgins take the flask of extra oil with them? Was it not because they had the foresight to anticipate that they might have to wait? Had they thought there would be no delay, it would have been completely unnecessary for them to carry extra oil.

(3) In the end, the only crime of the foolish virgins was not being ready to follow the bridegroom to the feast when finally, he came.

(4) The bridegroom’s response to the crime of these foolish virgins is severe: he bars them from entering the marriage feast altogether; and, more severely, he makes the astounding claim that he does not know them.

As a conclusion, let me make a reference to wise virgins. Why is wisdom referred to girls / women? Wisdom is presented as a woman because both in Hebrew (hokmah) and in Greek (Sophia) wisdom is a feminine noun.

So, let us love our first wife/husband. The first wife is our soul, neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and pleasure. It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go. We need proper preparation so that we can meet the Lord and enter into his Kingdom. Let us be ready always because we cannot ask for anything or borrow anything at the Pearly Gate. Amen.

 

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31st Sunday O T Year A – 17

31st Sunday O T Year A – 17

Mal.1:14-2:2, 8-10; 1Thess.2:7b-9, 13; Matt.23:1-12

One of the shared criticisms directed at Catholics by our Protestant fundamentalist brethren especially the Born-again Christian groups (whom as someone called as Born-against Christians), is about the address we give to our Pope as “Holy Father” and the priests as “Fathers”.

They say that this is against the teaching of Christ in the Bible. They cited today’s gospel especially in verse 9 that says: “…do not call anyone your father, only one is your father, the one in heaven.”

If we follow this kind of interpretation, it is an absurd interpretation. If taken literally, the word would forbid us to call our natural father as ‘father.’

What will be the feeling of Mr. So and so if his children would not address him as ‘father’ or papa or daddy. Instead, his children would call his name. Will he be agree? I’m sure he will not.

Maybe he is going to scold or get angry with them especially that for us Asians, we have a great respect for the elders. Then, how are we to call our school, ‘teachers’ if there is only one teacher?

What Christ wants to teach us, is that, our concern should not be after honors, worldly dignity and crave for first places in gatherings.

If we extend our helping hands to others in need, we should not be proud of it that it is coming from us but rather, we should announce that it is coming from God because we don’t have as our own.

We just do our job and not expecting any return. Our expression has to be: “Everything is for the greater glory of God.”

Why Jesus forbids His disciples to use these titles: father and teacher? Even St. Paul called himself as the father of the Corinthians (1Cor.4:15)? It is because these can be abused and misused. It is in the abused sense; these titles are forbidden of being used.

Many used their titles, positions in government and organizations and honors to threaten, to look down other people, to exploit, deprive and oppress other people. What is happening now?

There is abuse of power especially those in the government and you can cite examples even by yourselves.

The message of today’s gospel is a clear warning also to all who hold office and authority in God’s church whether as bishops, priests and deacons or superiors. Instead of being servants of all servants of God, they become their masters.

However, this gospel also applies to all of us who are here. Like for example, the parents used their authority as parents to justify what they are doing instead of listening to their children’s plea.

In other words, it is service that matters. If we want to become great human beings and outstanding Christians, then we must serve the rest.

Our service should take the form of meeting their physical and material needs like: washing or cooking meals for the family and many more. It is a small thing but taken for granted. In the eyes of God, it is the greatest performance we ever have.

Our service should take the form of caring for the emotional and psychological needs of others like offering them companionship when they are down and friendship, speaking words of hope and encouragement, showing acceptance and giving recognition.

Another form of service might be to meet the spiritual and faith needs of others like giving good examples, living simple lifestyles and many more.

What is our feeling now when we hear Jesus criticizing the Pharisees? Are we happy? Are we satisfied or sad and sorrow because like the Pharisees, we are also hit by such criticism?

Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full”.  It is a call to humble service as Jesus says today. The reason that Jesus was so harsh on the Jewish religious leaders of his time was that they were leading the people astray.

They were the ones who were trained in the study of the Law and the Prophets i.e. the basis of their religion. Instead of “giving glory to the name of the Lord” as Malachi says in today’s first reading, the Pharisees were seeking their own glory.

They wanted the places of honor at banquets, having the front seats at synagogues and all other marks of respect as well as wanting people to call them Rabbi, Teacher, Father.

Jesus is asking us simply to “LET YOUR LIFE TELL GOD’S STORY”. And he tells us how. This may be done as it is said in the end of today’s gospel by serving and being there for others. “The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest”.

This is the good news of today’s gospel since it is possible for any of us. Jesus is inviting each of us to continue to do this in our daily lives and not just priests or religious. If I am the father or mother of a family, am I the best father or mother I can be for my family?

If I am a son or daughter am I the best that I can be in that family. The call is to think of the others. Do not seek to be the center of attention. If I am a priest or sister or bishop, am I the best one I can be in using the talents God gives me in the service of others.

The paradox is that the less we make ourselves the center of attention and serve others, the happier we will be and the more peace and joy we will experience in our lives.

Ultimately it is by realizing this, Jesus went this way before us in his own life that he is now inviting us to follow his way. We read in Jn.14.6 “I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE”.

He emptied himself to come amongst us to show God’s total choice of and love for us. He knelt down and washed the apostles’ feet. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. Why? To reveal to others that this is our heavenly Father’s way too.

God the Father is prepared to kneel at our feet and wash them if we will allow him. He will do anything apart from sin for our sakes. God is the ultimate servant for us.

His only concern is our happiness, our joy, and our peace. Can we do anything less for others so as to reveal to them by our lives ‘THIS IS OUR GOD and YOURS TOO!

“Lord, it is not easy to be of service to others.  Give us the Holy Spirit so we can show others the kind of God you are – a servant to all. Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen”

 

 

30th Sunday O T, Year A – 17

30th Sunday O T, Year A – 17

Exo.22:20-26 / 1Thess.1:5-10 / Matt.22:34-40

The central theme of today’s readings is the greatest Commandment in the Bible, namely to love God and express it in action by loving Him in our neighbor. The first reading, taken from Exodus, explains the different expressions of the love of one’s neighbor, especially of the underprivileged.

In the second reading, St. Paul praises the Thessalonian Christians for the heroic witness they bear to Christ by practicing mutual love.

In the Gospel today, Jesus combines the commandment to love God with the commandment to love one’s neighbor and gives the result as one Commandment of supreme importance in Christian life.

A Sunday school teacher was teaching her class about the 10 Commandments in preparation for their First Confession (8-year-olds)

After explaining the Commandment to “honor thy father and mother” she asked the class, ” Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?”

Immediately one boy puts up his hand and answered, “Thou shall not kill.” If we had grown up with siblings, we probably would have agreed with that boy.

And we may have to admit that some people are such a pain for us that we would have done something drastic if not for that commandment.

There is another joke. A pastor was speaking to a Sunday school class about the things money can’t buy.  “It can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them.

Driving his point home, he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1000 not to love your mother and father?” Stunned silence ensued.

Finally, a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?”

In the gospel, we heard that the Pharisees asked Jesus about which is the greatest commandment of the Law.

The Pharisees were such a pain for Jesus. As if they don’t know what is the greatest commandment of the Law. But they asked that question not so much for discussion but rather to disconcert Jesus.

To disconcert is to upset or to frustrate or to ruffle or irritate someone. It’s certainly not a nice thing to do to someone.

And Jesus could have given those Pharisees a piece of His mind just to shut them up, just as He had silenced the Sadducees earlier.

But being a good teacher, Jesus showed them where to look, and He left it to them to see whatever they want to see or whatever they have to see.

The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And then it is followed by this: You must love your neighbor as yourself.

So, to love God is to see God in your neighbor and that would also mean to see yourself in your neighbor. Jesus told the Pharisees where to look, but what they want to see is for them to choose and decide.

So, we are also told where to look. And what do we see? As for Jesus, He saw that it would be more loving to give those Pharisees a bit of His heart than to give them a piece of His mind.

We too would be happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.

But when we look at the people around us, those at home, those at work, those in Church, it would be easier to give them a piece of our mind than a bit of our heart.

And here lies the lesson of life – Nothing and no one ever goes away until they teach us what we need to know.

God doesn’t give us the people we want. He gives us the people we need – people who will hurt us, people who will leave us, but also people who will help us and people who will love us, so as to make us into the persons we were meant to be.

When we can see that, then we would have understood the lesson of life. And with that, we will be able to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

A fundamental theme that runs throughout the entire Bible is this: “God offers, we respond.” God’s offer of love for us is a given; His unconditional love is always offered to us no matter what. The result, however, is conditional. The result depends upon our response to His offer.

How, then, do we respond to Christ’s mandate that we love everyone as we love ourselves? First of all, we should take it for what it is – a mandate, a command. It is something we must choose to do with little regard for our feelings.

Feelings are important but feelings are not decisive. Convictions, things we are convinced of, are decisive. Feelings are not. More often than not, acting on our feelings leads us down wrong paths and into trouble.

Christ’s mandate was an utterly simple one, one with no complexities whatsoever. I don’t care how you feel, Jesus says to us, simply love your neighbors. Love them as your heavenly Father loves them.

Love them, the good and the bad alike, with the unconditional love with which your Father in heaven loves them. Love all of your neighbors in what you do to them, in what you do for them, and in how you act toward them.

All of those complicated and complex feelings of yours will eventually follow along. My religion, says Jesus, is a matter of what we do; it’s not a religion simply of nice feelings.

Be Blessed and be a blessing. Amen.

29th Sunday O T Year A – 17

29th Sunday O T Year A – 17

Is.45:1, 4-6; IThes.1:1-5b; Matt.22:15-21

A prosperous farmer was miserly in what he gave to his Church. So, his pastor went to visit him with the hope of getting him to increase his donation. The pastor pointed out to him that the Lord had given him a fertile piece of land and had blessed him with sunshine and rain so that his crops would grow.

The priest added, “You know, this farm and everything you have is really on loan to you from God.  You should be more grateful.”  The farmer replied, “I don’t mean to complain, Father, but you should have seen what a mess this place was when God was running it by Himself!”

The common theme of today’s readings is the nature of our obligations to God and to our country. The readings show us how, with God’s help, we can be ideal citizens of both earth and Heaven.

In the first reading and in the Gospel, a world superpower is matched up against the Kingdom of God.  Isaiah the prophet foretells how, indirectly, the policies of the great Persian Emperor Cyrus will help God’s saving plan for His chosen people.

In the second reading, Paul praises his converts in Thessalonica for their fidelity to God and to Christ His Son, and for their practice of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity with the help of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating, “Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

With this answer, Jesus reminds his questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord.

We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State and working for the welfare of all citizens. We become Heavenly citizens by obeying God’s laws.

Every three years we are presented with today’s gospel, one that interests many of us because it deals with the question of separation between Church and State.

The first thing we should note is that the question put to Jesus was a lawyer’s trick question. It was not a question that sought enlightenment; it was not put to Jesus in order to learn from Him. No. It was put to Jesus to trap Him.

Was He to be seen as an insurrectionist revolutionary and an enemy of the State or was He to be seen as a collaborator with the hated Roman authorities who so brutalized the Jewish people?

The Pharisees, the religious fundamentalists of the day, hated the Roman tax. The Herodians, those Jews who supported the Roman puppet King Herod, supported the tax.

Both groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, hated each other. But here we find them joined together in a combined effort to trap Jesus, to discredit Him, and thus do away with Him, each trying to trap Jesus for their own reasons.

With a canny response Jesus discredits, them both. Here we find Jesus in His response to their tricky question asking them for a coin, which they gave Him.

Note that both they and Jesus were in the Temple area when this incident took place. Note, also, that the Roman coin had carved upon it the image of the infamous Tiberius Caesar, the one who had so desecrated the Jewish Temple.

The coin also bore the inscription: “Tiberius Caesar – Son of the Divine Augustus”. On the coin’s other side, it designated him as “Pontifex Maximus”, supreme priest. For Jews, this was blasphemous idolatry.

The fact that they had carried that coin with them into the Temple precincts tells us that they thereby discredited themselves. No good Jew would be caught with such a coin on the Temple’s grounds, the holiest site in all of Judaism.

Furthermore, we need to realize that Jesus’ response was directed at the precise issue of whether or not the Roman taxes should be paid. Jesus said nothing about the autonomy of Caesar in his secular role. Nor was Jesus making any statement at all about separating religion from society.

So, these questions remain: What is Caesar’s, and what is God’s? Is there anything at all that is not God’s – is there anything at all in human activity that does not stand under God’s judgment?

Are we, as modern-day Americans, exempting anything from God’s purview? Separation of church and state has benefited us here in the United States. We have a democracy, not a theocracy, and that has served us well.

We do not have a state religion; we have freedom of religion. We are free to practice our religious beliefs as we choose. But where is it written that freedom of religion means freedom from religion?

Are people of faith obliged not to express their beliefs and put them into practice in the public domain? We must remember that while rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s we must still render to God what is God’s.

Freedom of religion isn’t confined to how one worships on Sunday. People of belief should be able to practice in public what they hold to in Sunday worship free of governmental controls and mandates.

What is Caesar’s and what is God’s? The question is just as important to us now as it was when it was put to Jesus. And so is its answer.

So, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”: How?  It is the duty of Christians, as citizens of the country, to pay for the services and the privileges that government provides, like paved roads, police and fire departments, banks, schools and other necessities.

If we refuse to pay taxes, how will these needs be met?  Another way of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is to participate actively in the running of the government, electing the most suitable candidates and influencing them through frequent contacts.

Third, we must submit to the civil authorities and respect the laws of our country in order to live in peace. Be Blessed and be a Blessing. Amen.

 

 

28th Sunday O T Year A – 17

28th Sunday O T Year A – 17

Is 25:6-10; Phil4:12-14, 19-20; Matt 22:1-10

Life is full of opportunities knocking at our doors waiting to be opened. It is full of chances by which we can enjoy life to the fullest. But they are not always there forever.

We have to grab the opportunity while we have the time and the chance or else, we ended up blaming, not others, but ourselves. Invitation Is an example of opportunities knocking at our door to be opened.

But instead of us getting off our feet to open the door, we complain about the noise.

There is a story of a young man who went to other places in search of fortune. A few years later, he returned to his place with several passenger jeeps loaded with riches.

“Now, I am going to play a trick on my relatives and friends,” he said to himself. He donned some rugged clothes and went to see his cousin Pedro, first. “I’m your long-lost cousin, Juan.

I’m back home after several years in other places. Just look at me how miserable I am. May I stay with you for a while?” he said. Pedro said: “I’m sorry, but there is no room here for you.”

Juan visited some of his relatives and friends but he was not accepted any of them.

So, he decided and returned to where he put his riches, dressed himself in luxurious clothes, rode through his place with a large entourage of servants and purchased all those businesses about to close down and bought a majestic mansion.

After only two days, the news of his riches had spread all over the place. “Who could have imagined it,” said one of the relatives and friends who rejected him, “if we had only known, we would have acted differently, but it is too late now. We missed the riches.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the wedding feast prepared by a king for his son. Calves and fattened cattle were killed and a long list of guests is drawn up which includes the wealthiest and most respected people in the kingdom.

Clearly, he wants a wedding feast that will be remembered with joy by his son and the prospective daughter-in-law. When everything is ready, the invited guests are summoned to come. But they refused to come.

Instead, they pursued their own travel and work plans. The king resorted to an unheard move; he invited all kinds of people.

Can you imagine a powerful leader inviting laborers, farmers, fishermen, urban poor and even beggars and others to a wedding celebration?

But there yet is another surprise. All are invited – sinners and righteous, unworthy and worthy persons but not all are allowed to stay.

Jesus explains that though the Kingdom of God is open to all, accepting the invitation means accepting the responsibility and challenge of Christian discipleship.

If we accept the invitation, we must put on “wedding garments,” (v. 11). The insistence of wearing wedding garments is a warning for each one of us about the future to come.

So, we must clothe ourselves in the garment of virtuous living or a good life. Mere membership in the church or in religious organizations and church ministries or charitable institutions does not guarantee us salvation.

To own salvation, we must have a virtuous living. There are several signs by which we may lose that invitation by God to be in His Kingdom.

Like such attitudes and actions as: “I will not attend or hear mass because I have to do my laundry today”; “I will not attend Mass this Sunday because I have unfinished business transaction, anyway, I’ll attend next Sunday”;

“I’ll not attend the meeting this Sunday because it’s our family day and our household meeting or not feeling well or I’ll go to the market, anyway Christ will understand my situation.”

By saying, “Christ will understand my situation,” we are bribing God in presenting to Him our situation and yet we are given so much time and opportunities to do all those things. We hurt God.

And so, we must drink the Christian BEER and that is B for Bible reading. E for Eucharist- to attend the Eucharist celebration and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

The second E is expression of love, especially to those that nobody loves them and then love God and us. And the last word R is for Rosary, by loving our mother Mary by praying the Rosary daily.

To become a participant of the kingdom of God is a privilege as well as a responsibility. The responsibility is to accept the condition of undergoing a radical transformation.

It is a transformation from self-centeredness to God centeredness, form hatred to forgiveness, from egoism to altruism and from greediness to sharing.

The followers of Jesus are called to create the kingdom of God situation wherever they are:

The school in which one teaches, the company or department where one works, the parish where one is a pastor, the old age home where one cares for the aged, the orphanage where one becomes a mother/father to the orphans etc.

The early Christians by following the way of Jesus created just, harmonious and inclusive communities on the model of the kingdom of God. Let us take inspiration from them and replicate such communities in the context in which we live and work.

Be Blessed and be a Blessing. Amen.

 

 

27th Sunday O T Year A – 17

27th Sunday O T Year A – 17

Is.5: 1-7, Phil 4: 6-9, Mt.21: 33-43

A lady answered the door to find a man standing there.  He had a sad expression on his face.  “I’m sorry to disturb you” he said, “I’m collecting money for an unfortunate family in the neighborhood.

The husband is out of work, the kids are hungry, and their utilities will soon be cut off.  Worse yet, they’re going to be kicked out of their apartment if they don’t pay the rent by this afternoon.”

“I’ll be happy to help,” said the woman.  Then she asked, “But who are you?”  He replied, “I’m the landlord!”

The common theme of today’s readings is the necessity of bearing fruit in the Christian life and the consequent punishment for spiritual sterility, ingratitude and wickedness.

In today’s first reading, called “Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard,” the prophet describes God’s care of, and expectations for, His Chosen People. God’s chosen people have failed to bear fruit in spite of the blessings lavished upon them by a loving and forgiving God.

Further, they have been poor tenants in the Lord’s vineyard. Hence, God laments: “I expected my vineyard to yield good grapes. Why did it yield sour ones instead?”

In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 80), the psalmist pleads with God to look down from Heaven and to “take care of this vine,” knowing that if any good is to come of the vine, it will be God’s doing and not the people’s.

In the second reading, Paul tells Philippians about the high expectations he has for them, reminding them that they need to become fruit-producing Christians by praying and giving thanks and by practicing justice, purity and graciousness in their lives.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, reminds us that since we are the “new” Israel, enriched with additional blessings and provisions in the Church, we are expected to show our gratitude to God by bearing fruits of the Kingdom, that is, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, in our lives.

The parable reflects the frictions in tenant-landlord relations in Palestine. Most of the vineyards were owned by rich, absentee landlords living in Jerusalem, Damascus or Rome who leased their lands to tenants and were interested only in collecting rent.

The country was seething with economic unrest. The working people were discontented and rebellious, and the tenant farmers had picked up the revolutionary slogan, “land for the farmer.”

Hence, they often refused to pay the rent previously agreed upon and in some cases assaulted the landowner’s representatives.  It is natural, then, that Jesus’ parable should reflect the popular hatred of foreign domination and the monopolizing of agricultural land by a rich minority who supported Roman rule.

What’s the one of the big things that has preoccupied you & me since we were children and throughout all of the years that have followed? Isn’t it fear of rejection? Let us recall our early days as a child.

Even as a tiny baby you & me screamed, shrieked, and cried if you & me were not held, cuddled, and loved by our mothers and our fathers. As a child, you & me craved to play with playmates and you were miserable if they didn’t want to play with you.

And when you were a teenager? Well, words can’t begin to describe the pain and fear teenager experiences when faced with rejection.

With all of the rejection we give each other, and in the midst of all of the rejection we ourselves experience, do we ever stop and consider how God has been hurt by our rejection of His love for us?

Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and cried: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused!”  Then they crucified him.

We don’t like to admit it, but many times we reject God. Oh, we deny that… but in fact we do. How many times has there been when we just couldn’t be bothered by God. How many people act as if God simply doesn’t matter?

Then there’s the matter of rejecting God’s forgiveness. We are simply ignorant of the horrific sin that it is, slapping God in the face, declaring that God, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, simply doesn’t matter; that we can’t be bothered with it.

How many people do we know who should be here with us at Mass but are not because they can’t be bothered, have more important things to do than to receive God’s love?

How can God forgive us if we think it doesn’t matter? The pain of rejection is horrible. That pain is made crystal clear and perfectly evident when we take a good look at the crucifix and understand its profound message, namely our rejection of God’s love for us.

That’s why there’s a human body hanging on it. It’s not an empty cross, it’s a cross loaded to the full, with rejection, the worst kind of pain that any of us can ever experience. The crucifix presents us with God is nailed and immobilized because we won’t listen to him!

There’s no defense against rejection. No words can deal with rejection.

There’s nothing we can do against it — which is perhaps why Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the personification of human judgment and rejection, and stood there in utter silence. Words simply cannot deal with the reality of rejection. Nothing can.

The parable we just heard in the Gospel is more than just a parable about us. It is, rather, a glimpse into God’s heart. It tells us about how He feels, about the hurt and pain He experiences at our hands.

So, when you are experiencing rejection, and when the fear of rejection is overpowering within you, give some time to being alone with Christ. He’s here for you all of the time, twenty-four hours a day. He’s here in the Mass. He’s here in the Blessed Sacrament.

He’s here in His house waiting for you to come and visit Him. Why not pay Him a visit from time to time? Why not come here and spend some time with Him? He’d love that, you know.

He’d love to have someone come and give Him some time alone with Him, along with some words of love for Him. He knows rejection, and in His infinite love and caring for us, He gives us His power to overcome rejection and know what it is to love and be loved in return.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

26th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

Eze.18:25-28/ Phil.2:1-11/ Matt.21:28-32

Life has many contradictions, many paradoxes and many reversals of fortunes. What may seem to be a good thing may turn out bad. What may seem to be a bad thing may turn out good. But we can only see the present in its limitation, we can only comprehend the here and now.

We don’t know about the future, so we judge everything as good and bad according to how we see it now. For example, if one of our children is rather slow, or naughty, or not very pleasing to us.

What will be our attitude towards that child, as compared to the rest of our children who might be cleverer, or smarter, or better looking or more capable? Surely, we will favor the “better” one.

As for the other one, we will just have to accept him although we will not have much hopes or expectations from him. Yet, life has shown us over and over again that there are many paradoxes and many reversals of fortunes.

This is also a recurring theme in the Bible, that the first will be last and the last first. Jesus told parables like the rich man and Lazarus, the prodigal son, the workers in the harvest (last week) to tell us about the paradoxes and reversals in life.

Today he told another parable of two sons and their obedience to their father. The father asked both sons to go and work in the vineyard. The first said no but later changed his mind and went. The other said yes but yet did not go.

Jesus actually addressed this parable to the chief priests and elders. The tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners were like the first son.

They sinned, but when they heard the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness, they repented and turned back to God.

On the other hand, the chief priest and the elders were like the second son who said yes to all that God has commanded but yet did nothing to change their lives.

In many ways, this parable is also addressed to us to make us reflect on how we view people and how we treat them. If I were asked what the main theme of today’s reading were all about I would say it’s about honest sincerity.

Honesty is at the core of our truly religious expressions, particularly being honest with ourselves. Sin, we must remember, originates with the Father of Lies, and when we lie to ourselves we always get into deep trouble.

In the Gospel account, we just heard the younger brother tell his father: “Yes, I’ll go and work” while the older brother said: “No, not me.” Both used words contrary to their actions.

Talk is cheap. The younger brother simply didn’t live up to his words; the older brother changed his mind. The older brother had integrity; the younger brother gave cheap, valueless words to his father while having no intention at all of working.

How many of us recognize ourselves in that younger brother? The older brother had no intention of working and then had the honesty of saying so to his father. He was wrong, but he was honest.

The younger brother was the opposite. He said the expedient thing to his father knowing what his father wanted to hear but he had no integrity. He was insincere because he had no intention of working even though he said he would.

How many of us pray that way? We give God the words of our prayers, words we think He wants to hear from us. It’s convenient for us. We may even be self-deluded when we speak them and end up feeling like we are pious and religious.

On the surface, we feel righteous but deep down we know full well that we are not going to follow through on those words with our deeds and our actions. So, we give God our Father in heaven nice sounding words but never seem to get around to following through on them.

God is not fooled but we fool ourselves. The reality of life is that we favor those who are more pleasing to us, but we are indifferent or ignore those whom we think do not meet our hopes and expectations.

There is a story of a couple, who had a few children. All were normal and intelligent. Except one who had Down’s Syndrome and hence was slow and different from the rest.

The couple took joy in their children but for this special child, they had to swallow their disappointment and embarrassment. At times, they even asked themselves why they were burdened with such a child.

It seems that they will have to care for him all their lives. As the years went by, the rest of their children got married and left home to start their own families. As the couple became older, their children also became busier with their own families.

Naturally, the couple felt lonelier with all their children gone. Except for one, the slow “special” one. Because of his inabilities and disabilities, he obviously had to stay with his parents.

In the past, the parents thought of him as a burden and an obstacle to their freedom in life. But now, the old couple realized that he is the only one who is with them day and night.

Once upon a time, he had to depend on them and they had to fend for him. Now it seems that in their lonely old age, it is they who have to depend on him despite his inabilities and disabilities. It is just another story about how life has many paradoxes and reversals of fortune or status.

Let us not ignore these whom we think are of little or no use to us or those who are not pleasing to us and give us problems. God loves these people as much as He loves us.

And the paradox of life is that God will turn these people into His instruments to show us His love. So, let us accept those whom we think may not count for much in life. A time will come when they will show us what really counts in life. Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.