17th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

17th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52

On their golden wedding anniversary, a couple were kept busy all day with the celebrations and the crowds of relatives and friends who dropped in to congratulate them. So they were grateful when, toward evening, they were able to be alone on the porch, watching the sunset and relaxing after the tiring day. The old man gazed fondly at his wife and said, “Agatha, I am proud of you.” “What was that you said?” asked the old lady. “You know that I am hard of hearing. Say it louder.” The man repeated, “Agatha, I said I am proud of you.” “That is alright,” she replied with a dismissive gesture, I am tired of you too.”

The Kingdom of God, always somewhat mysterious for us, was always on the mind of Jesus. There are almost one-hundred and fifty references to God’s Kingdom in the New Testament, fifty-two of them in St. Matthew’s gospel alone. The more Jesus spoke about the Kingdom the more it seemed to His listeners to be another-worldly place. Perhaps that’s because in a world gone insane, sane things seem to be unreal.

Jesus gives us four images today. The first image, of the treasure in the field, teaches us that we are getting a very good deal on the Kingdom of Heaven. The image is so wonderful because it appeals to our natural greed. We want to find a Picasso at a rummage sale for $5. We want everything, so long as we do not have to pay for it. What Jesus is describing here is called insider trading. God wants us to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. Infinite treasure can be had for the price of a field. Is it too good to be true? No, it is too good to be false.

The secret to insider trading is not to haggle on the price of the field. Whatever the owner wants to charge, pay it. Do not be pennywise and dollar-foolish. Let us say that the asking price for this field is going to Mass 60 times a year, fasting twice a year and not eating meat on Fridays, confessing your sins, caring for the poor and the Church, loving your neighbor, loving God, and being humble. Does that sound expensive? There is an infinite treasure buried in the field; pay the asking price.

Sometimes people consider the next image as a repetition of the first. On the contrary, it is the opposite. Jesus does not say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl. He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant. What is the pearl then? It is You and Me or Each one of us. From our perspective, it is for us to seek the Kingdom of Heaven like a treasure. From God’s perspective, it is he who is seeking us.

He created our souls and they are like a pearl of great price. We are so valuable to God that he goes and sells everything. Where does he go? From heaven to earth. What does he sell? Himself, his life on the Cross. Why does he do this? To buy us back, to redeem us.

St. Paul is writing about this in the second reading. He describes a process beginning with God’s foreknowledge and ending with our glorification. “Those he foreknew he also predestined.” If God knew, before you were created, that he could save you, he planned to save you. “Those he predestined he also called.” And if he planned to save you, he called you to salvation. “Those he called he also justified.” And if he called you to salvation, he will make you a good person. “Those he justified he also glorified.” And if he made you a good person, he will give you a new life after death, better than this one, lasting forever.

This is the process that God follows for every person on earth. The only place for our action in the process is responding to the call. It may seem strange to us that God calls us only if we will respond. How does he know? But he just knows. Before he calls anyone, he knows whether they will say yes. Why should he bother calling someone who will say no? It is not a case of him being relatively sure of what a person will say. God is omniscient. This means that he not only knows all of “what is”, but he also knows every “what if”.

Consider the case of Solomon. God offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for, but God already knew what Solomon would ask for. He would not have offered if Solomon would have asked for riches or a long life or the death of his enemies. He wanted something that God wanted to give him, so God offered to give him whatever he wanted. Consider the case of Mary. God asked her whether she would be his mother. He knew that she was going to say yes before he asked. She could have said no, but then he would not have planned the entire universe around her saying yes.

Some people think that predestination and foreknowledge take away our free will. They do not. Free will is completely present, but it would be unreasonable to expect God to act as if he did not know what we were going to do. We do what we want to do, but God has already taken our decision into account. If he can buy the pearl, he is willing to go and sell everything, but if the pearl is not for sale at any price, why should he try negotiating?

So the two images come together. We see a treasure that can be had for the price of a field. God sees a pearl that can be bought for a very high price. If we purchase the field, God will buy the pearl. If we respond to the call, God will call us. If you think God is not calling you, try responding and you will find that the call was always there.

The third image Jesus gives us today is the image of the net full of fish. He tells us explicitly what this image means. It is the relationship between the Kingdom of Heaven and the whole world. In the end, everyone will be caught in the net. Some will be worth keeping, those who were justified. They will be glorified. Some will not be worth keeping, those who did not respond to the call. They will be thrown away like a rotten fish.

The last image is the scribe instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven. He “is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Sometimes this image is used to point out why we have the New and the Old Testaments. Several times throughout history, people have tried to say that the New Testament is all we really need. This image includes the refutation to such an idea, but it is also means more than that.

Jesus says “every scribe” rather than “every person”. We are told that he gave these images to his disciples, but we do not know which disciples. What is unusual about the disciples he is speaking to is that they understand what he is talking about; usually his disciples need more explanations. Perhaps he is speaking to a group of scribes and telling them that if they become instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven they will be able to use both their new knowledge and their old knowledge.

It reminds me of men who go into the seminary after studying something unrelated to theology. This knowledge is often able to assist them in their ministry. St. John Vianney, who was a farmer before becoming a priest, would go assist his parishioners who were farmers and discuss angels while loading hay onto a wagon.

This is true not only of priests but of all of us. Taken together, we are experts in many different fields. Every scientist, every artist, every dancer, every advertising executive, every farmer, every machinist, every architect, every engineer, every social worker, every politician, every lawyer, and every salesperson who becomes a disciple of the Kingdom of Heaven is able to use their expertise for the benefit of the Kingdom.

We already spoke about what the Kingdom can do for us; this image is about what we can do for the Kingdom. The “Kingdom of God” is there within our grasp, it is being held out to us free of charge. It is free, but to take it we have to have empty hands. Amen.


16th Sunday O T – Year – A – 14

16th Sunday O T – Year – A – 14

Wis.12:13, 16-19; Rom.8:26-27; Matt.13:24-43

There is a story about a guy who falls in love with a beautiful woman and begs her to go out with him. “Be serious,” the woman says. “You’re fat, bald, ugly and your wardrobe is atrocious.” So the guy goes on a diet and loses 80 pounds and starts working out at a gym. He gets a hair transplant and plastic surgery. He goes to a tanning salon and buys himself a new wardrobe. Finally, he goes back to the woman and asks her what she thinks. “What a hunk!” she says, and she agrees to a date.

So he arrives at her door with a limo and driver. She emerges from her house radiant, promising him a never–to–be–forgotten evening. As they walk together toward the limo, lightning strikes the man. So now he’s lying on the street dying, and he cries out, “Why now, God? Why now, on the happiest day of my life?” God answers. “Sorry, Sam. I didn’t recognize you.”

It’s funny, sure, but not at all accurate. The psalmist says, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” (Ps.139:7-10) One of the words we used to describe God is “omniscient,” which literally means “seeing everything.”

We live in a strange world, don’t we? So many people begin things with good intentions, wonderful visions, and really want to make things better, both in their own lives and in the lives of others. Marx and Lenin, the fathers of communism, really wanted to make the lives of their countrymen better. Atomic energy was supposed to make the world a better place. But, as in so many great efforts, things are likely to eventually go wrong.

The same is true in our own personal lives. People fall in love and get married with nothing but the best of intentions, with high hopes, with hearts filled with love, and with wonderful visions. Then, somewhere along the line, things turn sour. Life is mixture of good and evil. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.

There’s much in our world that is both good and bad. Our governmental officials are both good and bad. There’s much in our Church that is good, and there are some bad things in it too. If we’re honest, we see that there is both good and bad in us individually and collectively. Everywhere we look we find this strange mixture of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Today’s readings from the Holy Scripture provided us with a very powerful message. The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom spoke of God’s righteousness. The Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans spoke of the intercession of the Holy Spirit on behalf of the children of God. And in the Gospel Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is “like a man who sowed good seeds,” or “like a mustard seed,” or “like yeast”. Notice how tiny and insignificant are the three examples that Jesus uses! Then, something creative and powerful happens!

The good seed has grown into a field of rich grain; the little mustard seed has developed into such a bushy tree; and the tiny bit of yeast has caused the dough to ferment into delicious bread! These parables open up layers of meaning of the mystery of the Kingdom, depending on how you focus your camera. They can be looked at from different angles.

Jesus is not just talking about seeds of grain. Grain is life sustaining, but there are many other different types of seeds: seeds of doubt, seeds of evil, seeds of sin and despair. Like the enemy in the parable, in our society, there are people and situations sowing bad seeds in our minds. Sometimes “weed” creep into our lives and our marriages.

It can be a woman who flirts with your husband, or a man flirting with your wife. Result is a broken family. Sometimes, weeds appear to us in “attractive”, “interesting” and pleasurable forms. A weed can be a friend who invites you to take drugs, alcohol or go for gambling. Allowing the weeds to grow in our lives could mean the death of a relationship with family or friends. It could be a death of your education and progress toward your career.

The parable of the yeast instructs us on what to do with our lives. Spread love until it touches everyone. We all want as much love as we can get. We expect our families to love us. One day when you come home all gloomy, tell your wife or husband how your boss chewed you out. He or she knows how to boost you back up. And he or she will, because you love each other.

Christ urges us, let love work throughout our lives. So we can rephrase the parable of the yeast. The kingdom of heaven is like love mixed in among the good and the bad. Like the good seed, yeast and mustard seed, let our love spread out to more and more people.

Now the question is what do we do with the problem of evil? That’s the question raised in today’s readings. Answering the question is a big problem for all of us. The Scripture passages in today’s first reading and today’s gospel account suggest that we deal with evil as God deals with it, with patience and forbearance.

There are a couple of interesting points about the parable of Jesus we just heard that I want to point out to you. One is that when He was asked where the weeds came from Jesus replied: “An enemy has done this.” He doesn’t tell us why God has enemies; He simply takes it as a fact. We simply must take it as a fact of life. People, of their own free will, choose to defy God and do things on their own quite apart from Him.

Why, we ask, doesn’t God simply pull up all of evil’s weeds? Why doesn’t God, with fire and brimstone, simply blast evil off the face of the earth? Well, that’s a lot easier said than done. Suppose God did, what would happen? What would happen to each one of us? Aren’t we all a mixture of good and evil? Wouldn’t we still get caught up on their firestorm of evil’s destruction?  Which brings me to the second point, namely the fact that so very often what is evil appears to be good, and what is good appears to be evil. We can’t make the sorting; only God can.

There are no “quick-fix” and easy solutions. Patience and forbearance are necessary, and to have patience and forbearance one must have faith. This is what Jesus is calling us to have – faith in His heavenly Father’s plan, faith in His heavenly Father’s ultimate ways of dealing with us and with our world.

Yes, it is a strange world we live in. But at the same time it is a beautiful world, a beautiful world filled with wonderful… even heroic people. The great miracle is that goodness and love have survived evil’s onslaught. What is the vision in which you live? Do you really have faith in God your heavenly Father? Today, once again, Jesus invites you to share in His vision, in His hope, and in His faith that in the end God will bring good out of evil. Truly Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.

15th Sunday O T

15th Sunday O T -A – 14

Is.55:10-11; Rom.8:18-23; Matt.13:1-23

There is a story that really fits today’s readings. It is the story of a fussy vegetarian. A young woman was committed to being a vegetarian, but she was never satisfied with any of the fruit or vegetables she bought. For her, all melons were too ripe, or not ripe enough. In her eyes, she could never find tomatoes that were not bruised. Heads of cauliflower and broccoli were too big or too little. She was never happy.

Then one day, driving down the streets, she drove past a new store with a long line of people waiting to get in. She looked, and the sign outside the store said, “God’s Fruit and vegetable Stand.”  “Finally,” she said, “I can get some decent vegetables and fruit.” So she stood in line and waited. Hours went by before she walked into that door. She was enveloped in light, but she didn’t see any apples or oranges or tomatoes or cabbage, or anything to buy.

She walked to the light, and there was a counter there. And behind the counter, there stood God. She could tell it was God because of the light, and because he had an apron on with a big G on it. Anyway, she places her order, “I would like some perfect broccoli, and some perfect carrots, some perfect tomatoes and a perfect melon. Also, if you have perfect cucumber that would really be a miracle.” “Sorry,” God said, “I only sell seeds here.”

Actually, this is what God does. He is giving seeds to us to sow. The Parable of the sower opens up layers of meaning of the mystery. At first listening one might think that the parable is about the four sorts of hearers, but Jesus’ intent in this parable is about the power of God’s Word. “My word shall achieve the end for which I sent it.”

As a former teacher and Principal, I’m often surprised at what some past-pupils remember. It would be less embarrassing on occasions if they conveniently forgot. “I remember you saying onetime…” and out it comes, if not word for word, at least in its general thrust as they heard it. Even merely spoken words can have an extraordinary life-span. Sometimes we remember things our parents said, long after they are gone; their words are not dead so long as we are alive and recall them.

What’s true of the ordinary word is even more true of God’s. That’s what’s stressed in today’s readings. It’s put in the strongest of terms in the reading from Isaiah 55:10-11: “So it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled, or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.”

The prophecies collected in Isaiah, chapters 40-55, are known as the Book of Consolation. Written for the exiles who would return from Babylon to Judah, the chapters are meant to comfort the dispirited people. There are promises of fertile land and restoration, water for the thirsty and secure defense against enemies as the result of Yahweh’s power, and mercy.

What Isaiah means is that, like rain and snow which water the earth so that seeds may sprout and grow, God’s word will accomplish its purpose to return the exiles to their homes in peace. Their return will be an everlasting memorial to the power of Yahweh’s word.  Thus, today’s passage promises spiritual fertility. It implies that God will make the peoples’ religious lives fruitful, as He has done for their land.

The only defense against God’s word is inadvertent or deliberate deafness. And being deaf or hard of hearing is something today’s Gospel does not recommend. In fact, it urges us to hive our ears cocked. But it conveys that message in a different image. It urges us to let the Word fall into good soil, so that it can yield a rich harvest in our lives.

Words have power. Consider the effect of saying these words out loud to another person: “I love you.” “Let us help him.” “Drop dead.” “I want divorce.” A simple phrase can crush or redeem. It can also destroy a nation or save it. “Let the bombing commence now.” “The aid package has been approved.” ‘We have discovered the vaccine.”

If human language has such an authority to make a difference, imagine the power in the divine word spoken. Unlike human speech, which can prove to be false, God’s word is always true. When God talks all the molecules of the universe listen, organize and respond. So creation came into being, and so Jesus entered the world through Mary.

If we appreciated this fundamental biblical notion, we might take more care with the words we speak. Made in the image of God, the things we say have more power than we sometimes imagine. God talks to us in varied ways. He can use people, events, things and even our misery to deliver His message.

Today we are challenged for an examination of conscience. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Am I merely hearing God’s word without understanding it? Does God’s word meet with a hard heart in me? Am I too anxious about money, security, provision for retirement or old age? Is God’s word taking root in me? Converting me? Transforming me? Enabling me to sacrifice?

And what about the “fruits” that we are being invited to produce: justice and mercy, hospitality for the immigrant and those with AIDS, the dispossessed, the unborn, the single mother?  By refusing to consider these, we may be missing the healing that the Word of God can bring into our lives.

God often visits us, but most of the time we are not at home.




14th Sunday in O T – A

14th Sunday in O T – A – 14

Zech.9:9-10; Rom.8:9, 11-13; Matt.11:25-30

There’s an old Aesop’s fable about a horse and a donkey. According to the story, the donkey carried all his master’s burdens even though he was very old and weak, while the horse walked alongside without a thing on his back. Weakly, the donkey said, “If you’ll share this burden, I might just live, but without any help, I’ll die.” The horse shook his head and said disdainfully, “Keep moving! Don’t bother me.” So the donkey walked along in silence, and not long after, he fell down dead.

So the farmer transferred the whole burden to the horse’s back, along with the dead donkey’s valuable skin. The horse groaned, “What a mistake I’ve made! If only I’d agreed to carry a part of the burden. Now I have to carry the whole thing!”

Sharing a burden together makes more sense, but only if we realize that part of the burden is ours in the first place. In our individualistic society, we often think we’re responsible for ourselves and nobody else – but perhaps that’s nothing new. After all, Cain did ask God if he was really expected to be his brother’s keeper.

Recognizing that we all have a stake in each other’s lives was part of the reason that at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we will all hang separately.”

Jesus speaks about a yoke in today’s gospel. Since hardly anyone uses a yoke anymore, it might be easier and more practical to stick to the second expression Jesus uses: burden. Everyone knows what a burden is. Some of our burdens are self-imposed. Sometimes we impose burdens on others. Some other times others impose burdens on us. Most people that we know are carrying heavy burdens these days.

Anxieties and fears burden us all, fears about our economy, the cost of food and fuel, their home values and mortgages, what’s happening to our children, terrorism, and so on. The list seems both overwhelming and endless. People are trying to stretch out paychecks, paychecks that never seem to go quite far enough. They are working on stressed marriage relationships they fear are breaking up. They’re unemployed or they’re under-employed and are looking for a better job that will give them a reliable and adequate source of income.

Others are waiting for biopsy reports on certain abnormal cells that are growing in their bodies, filled with fear that they may have cancer. Or they’re trying to provide for and shape the characters of their children, children that are so influenced by all that is immoral and degrading in our culture. Many parents feel they are taken for granted, not appreciated, and that they are simply being used while getting nothing back out of life for what they’ve put into it.

All our burdens can be categorized as physical pains, mental agonies, anxieties, submissiveness, possession, calendar full of appointments, you name them! But the question now is, in what way do we respond or persevere or deal with these burdens which are parts of our lives? And Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke…for my yoke is easy.”

If you ask me the way on how we can persevere and respond to these burdens, I will answer you in a form of story. There were three groups who wanted to climb a mountain. After a half way through, they came together to refresh themselves. One group was sorry it had undertaken such a strenuous trip filled with dangers and disproportionate to the expected enjoyment…so disheartened and tired, this group turned their back and went home.

The second group was happy it was there in the clear mountain air and with the sun tanning them. So they spread their limbs out on the mountain grass and heartily ate the tasty sandwiches they had brought along. Some broke out into song and breathed in the freedom of the heights. They were contented and happy right there. Why move on higher. So they stayed right there and did not continue to climb.

The third group took off from the summit which they had kept before their eyes from the time they left that valley bottom. That was their goal and they relished tightening every muscle to attain it. But they arrived at the top and there they experienced what the others did not.

In other words, we deal our burdens in three different ways which each one of us belongs: The tired group or those who back out and making lied low. Life, for them, is meaningless if they go to the Church and get involve in. The second is the contented group or the half-baked Christians. We call them the sunshine-sunset group. The third is the enthusiastic group or those who work hard in order to attain the goal. Now, to what group do we belong?

“Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee” was the refrain of a popular Gospel song some years back. Putting your hand in somebody else’s is a gesture of intimacy, and that is the very characteristic of children with their parents. To a loving father or mother a child will give its hand unquestioningly, with complete trust. Holding his or her father’s hand there is nowhere the child will not venture.

It is not only willing to be led, but positively wants to be brought somewhere. Somewhere in the growing up process we outgrow our dependency on our parents, and having lost the need for their guidance, even God can become remote for us. Only those who are children at heart can fully understand what Jesus tells us about God – that God reveals Himself to “mere children.”

I remember one widow. Her husband died suddenly. The new widow had very little money and she had their two children to be raised. The widow found a job, she moved to a smaller home to save on the bills. And, she kept her faith. Always a regular at mass, she became even more active in church activities. Knowing Jesus walked with her, the widow did more than endure her troubles.

She thrived. She was good at her job. Compliments followed by pay raises which eased her financial worries. She began to give witness talks on weekend retreats. She found rest in Christ, the yoke easy, the burden light. There are many ways to make our burdens light. Take a family meal together each day. The old saying goes, “The family that prays together stays together.” So too, the family that eats family meals together stays together.

As families share their meals together, family members begin to share schedules and worries too. And, this is how Jesus works. One reason the yoke Jesus offers is light is that he shares it and bears it with us. As the people of God, let us remain yoked together in love and service.

The heaviest load we have to carry is that of our own unfulfilled ambitions, the burden of our bruised egos. Only a return to humility can restore our lost innocence and our lost paradise that honest humility that accepts our creature-status, our status as children before God. To enjoy the peace of Christ we must “put our hand in the hand of the man from Galilee’, who guides us along life’s journey and helps us to find the way home.

And that is why Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light”. Amen.