25th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

25th Sunday O T Year – A – 14

Is.55:6-9; Phil.20-24, 27; Matt.20:1-16

 

I read a story long time ago that one day a great crowd gathered outside the gates of heaven. There was a great anticipation and restlessness as to what would happen next. St. Peter was seen whispering something to Jesus. After some tensed moments, St. Peter came out with an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a predicament here. If we go by the record, none of you will qualify for heaven. But God is good and generous.

On behalf of the Blessed Trinity, I hereby declare general amnesty! Open the gates and let the heavenly feast begin. There was tremendous applause and rejoicing as the gates of heaven were partly opened. Then St. Peter took the microphone again. Everyone was quiet. “There will be final test though, but the general amnesty still stands!” With that, the gates were thrown wide open and everybody started coming in.

There was a group that refused to come in. The group’s members went to St. Peter with a complaint: “We sacrificed much and worked hard on earth. We followed your Ten Commandments. We prayed regularly. We went to Mass every day. Some of us were catechists, lay cooperators, Eucharistic ministers and church workers. How come we get the same reward as the others who lived dirty and useless lives? That’s unfair!” And they refused to enter heaven.

In fact they organized a protest rally and pitched their tents outside the gates of heaven. “Well, that was the final test,’ St. Peter said. They were forever barred from heaven, why? It is because they were still selfish, arrogant and proud. They were thinking of their merits instead of rejoicing in God’s generosity. Such will be the case of people who are selfish, envious and self-righteous.

Today’s readings are all about the sense of justice and the extravagant grace of a merciful God. While God is both just and merciful, God’s mercy often overrides His justice and, hence, God pardons us unconditionally and rewards us generously by opening Heaven for the Gentiles and the Jews.

One of the things I like about this parable is that it makes me angry or at least get a strong reaction out of me. You and I are supposed to get angry at some of the conclusions of the parables, and then only we pause to reflect on why we are angry. It is then that we get the meaning of “God’s grand reversal.”

A fresh apple pie fills the kitchen with its tantalizing aroma. The expectations are high as the family gathers around and the Grandma cuts the pie into equal pieces. Even little Jimmy gets a big slice. Hey! He didn’t even help to make the pie. Why should he get that much!” complains his sister, who helped Grandma slice the apples. The other siblings join in with similar complaints, but the Grandma only smiles and hands Jimmy a fork. “We are all part of the family,” Grandma replies. “Why don’t you all just enjoy what you have got? It is plenty!”

God’s rewards are not earned. They are gifts. As someone said: Rule number one is, God is gracious. Rule number two is, leaning rule number one.” God’s ways are not our ways. And this takes us to the first reading in which the prophet Isaiah reminds the exiles in Babylon that their God is more merciful than they are, and more forgiving. He is ready to pardon their infidelity which has resulted in their exile. Their merciful God will bless them with material and spiritual blessings.

In the second reading, Paul offers himself as an example of total submission to God’s grace. He is ready to live continuing his mission if that is God’s will. At the same time he is ready to die and join the Lord if that is God’s will. Paul was a latecomer in God’s vineyard, preaching the Gospel. But he worked with zeal and interest to spread God’s News of Redemption and Salvation for all. Paul is an example of how grace operates. Being a Christian means accepting God’s word without explanation or justification.

Today’s Gospel is known as “the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard” or “the Parable of the Generous Landlord.” This remarkable and rather startling parable is found only in Matthew. A priest in New Orleans after Katrina saw a child with one shoe. He asked where she had lost the other. The girl replied, “I didn’t. I found this one.” God tells us through this parable: “Don’t cut me down to your size. You fashion God to your image, but I am an original.” This may be the most puzzling of the forty parables of Jesus.

The aim of the parable is a warning to the disciples. Jesus teaches his disciples not to claim any special honor or any special place because they are closely associated with him or because they are the first members of his Church. All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members.

It may be a definite warning to the Jews. As the chosen people of God, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles. Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect. Matthew, by retelling this parable, may well desire to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.

It may be an explanation by Jesus of His love for the publicans and sinners. Through this parable, Jesus describes the loving concern, generosity and mercy of God his Father for all His children, which Jesus reflects in his life.

The parable suggests that we can’t work our way into heaven because by our own strength we can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward. That is why God expects us to cooperate with His grace for doing good and avoiding evil. Salvation comes to us by God’s grace and our cooperation with it. It is a blend of faith and works.

Let us reflect this reflection entitled, “Funny, Isn’t It?” by an unknown author. It runs this way:

It is Funny how a $100 bill looks so big when you take it to church, but so small when you take it to the mall. Funny how long it takes to serve God for an hour, but how quickly a team plays 60 minutes of basketball. Funny how long a couple of hours spent at church are, but how short they are when watching a movie.

Funny how we can’t think of anything to say when we pray, but don’t have difficulty thinking of things to talk about to a friend. Funny how we get thrilled when a baseball game goes into extra innings, but we complain when a sermon is longer than the regular time.

Funny how hard it is to read a chapter in the Bible, but how easy it is to read 100 pages of a best-selling novel. Funny how people want to get a front seat at any game or concert, but scramble to get a backseat at church services.

Funny how we need 2 or 3 weeks advance notice to fit a church event into our schedule, but can adjust our schedule for a last minute party. Funny how hard it is for people to learn a simple gospel well enough to tell others, but how simple it is for the same people to understand and repeat gossip.

Funny how we believe what the newspaper says, but question what the Bible says. Funny how everyone wants to go to heaven provided they do not have to believe, or think, or say, or do anything.

Funny how you can send a thousand jokes through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending message how many on your list are not receiving it because you are not sure they believe in anything.

FUNNY, ISN’T IT? Spread the WORD and give thanks to the LORD for HE is GOOD! Amen.

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Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross – 14

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Num 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn.3:13-17

Ann Thomas tells this story of herself. She was at a garage sale with her friend Betty. Ann had just sorted through a tray of trinkets. Betty came up and asked, “Any luck?” “No!” said Ann. “It’s just a pile of junk.” She stepped aside to let Betty see for herself. Betty took one look at the pile, picked up a tarnished old cross and said, “I can’t believe it. I’ve found a treasure! This cross is made of antique silver.”

When Ann’s friend got home, she cleaned the cross and polished it. It was indeed a treasure. Ann ended the story saying, “Betty and I both looked at the same cross. I only saw junk; Betty saw a treasure.” Later Betty’s seven-year-old son, Bobby picked up the cross, held it reverently in his hands, and looked at it for a long time. Suddenly he began to cry. “What’s wrong?” asked Betty. Bobby said, “I can’t help it. I was looking at Jesus on the cross.”

Three people looked at the same cross. One saw junk, another saw a treasure; a third saw Jesus. Today’s feast reminds us to see Jesus and appreciate the price he paid for our salvation each time we look at a cross or crucifix. What is the aim of the feast? We celebrate this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross for two reasons: (1) to understand the history of the discovery and recovery of the True Cross and (2) to appreciate better the importance of the symbol and reality of Christ’s sacrificial love, namely, the cross in the daily life of every Christian.

Let us first look at the Historical notes. According to a reliable legend accepted by early Fathers of the Church, when the Body of Jesus and those of the two thieves were removed from their crosses, the disciples buried the body of Jesus in the tomb donated by Nicodemus. As it was customary, the crosses of Jesus and the two thieves were buried in a pit dug close to the tomb.

They remained there unnoticed till the fourth century. In the fourth century, while the pagan commander Constantine the Great was in combat with Maxentius for the throne of the Roman Empire, AD 312, some of his Christian soldiers suggested that he prays to the God of the Christians to help him in his battle. In answer to his prayer, the sign of a luminous cross appeared in the sky with the words “IN THIS SIGN YOU WILL CONQUER” inscribed on it.

Following this, Constantine won the battle over Maxentius. Indebted to the God of Christians for his victory at the Milvian Bridge, October 28, AD 312, Constantine became a Christian catechumen. The Emperor issued the Edict of Milan (in 313), guaranteeing Christian’s religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire.

He declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and commanded that the sign of the cross be placed on all the Roman standards and on the shields of all the soldiers. At the request of the Patriarch of Jerusalem who participated in the Synod of Nicaea the Emperor Constantine sent a team to find out the true cross. On September 14, AD 327, a team of excavators, led by Constantine’s mother St. Helena, found below the temple of Venus at Calvary the True Cross on which Jesus had been crucified.

The cross of Christ was identified by the miraculous healing given to a terminally sick lady when touched by the cross of Jesus. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Makarios, standing on a raised platform, lifted high the cross, “exalting” it, for all to see. The people fell to their knees, bowing down before the cross and crying out repeatedly: “Lord, have mercy!” In 355, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was established in Jerusalem to commemorate St. Helena’s discovery of the true cross of Jesus.

The first reading today describes how God punished the ceaselessly complaining Israelites in the desert for their stubborn and rebellious hearts by sending on them a plague of deadly serpents. When they repented and cried to the Lord for mercy, God instructed Moses: “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Num.21:8).

In the second reading, St. Paul explains how the exaltation of Jesus on the cross was an act of self-emptying by Christ. And God exalted Jesus as our Lord and Savior because of Jesus’ perfect obedience to his Father’ will.

In today’s Gospel Jesus explains to Nicodemus that He would accomplish human salvation by His death on the cross and that one needs to be reborn through water and the Holy Spirit to become eligible for his or her eternal salvation. Jesus further explained the necessity of his crucifixion and resurrection using the analogy of Moses and the bronze serpent in the desert.

The cross is the symbol of self-surrendering love. The cross and the crucifix are meaningful symbols as dove symbolizes peace and heart symbolizes love. The crucifix/cross is the symbol of God’s loving and sacrificial offering of Himself in a humble, total self-emptying love for all of us. It represents the cross-bearing Christ leading us in our life’s journey of pain and suffering, carrying his heavier cross and still encouraging us, strengthening us and supporting us.

In addition, we can say that the cross is the symbol of the risen Christ who promises us a crown of glory as a reward for our patient bearing of our daily crosses. Thus, the cross is a symbolic summary of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ — all in one image. Christians “exalt” the Cross of Christ as the instrument of our salvation.

Do you know the meaning of the word Cross: Christ Rescued Our Sinful Souls. We generally speak of crosses given by Nature (diseases, natural disasters, death), crosses involved in doing our duties faithfully, crosses given by the others and crosses we create for ourselves. We are taught to offer these sufferings with Jesus to the Father as gifts of love, in reparation for our sins and the sins of the world.

Now the question is how should we carry our crosses? We should not carry our crosses cursing our fate as does the donkey carrying its heavy load, or protesting like oxen or horses pulling heavy carts, or expecting a heavenly reward as a hired worker works for his wages. The true spirit of carrying our crosses is to do so like a loving spouse who nurses his /her paralyzed spouse or sick child with sacrificial love and dedicated self-surrender.

We find support in carrying our own crosses by comparing our light crosses with the heavy crosses of terminally ill patients, and by drawing strength and inspiration from Jesus walking ahead of us carrying his heavier cross and supporting us in carrying our crosses. When we appreciate, venerate and wear the cross, we remember the price Jesus paid for our salvation and help, support and pray for others in their pains and sufferings.

Today we approach the cross not with sorrow but with joy, not as a symbol of death but of life, not as a sign of defeat but of victory, not as a cause for fear but of hope, not as an instrument of cruelty and hatred but of eternal love.

We need to convert our pains and suffering into the cross of Christ, may be by accepting the sacrifice and suffering involved in helping others and sharing our blessings with others, may be by welcoming the pain involved in controlling our evil habits and tendencies and in practicing our faith and may be by serving others with sacrificial, agape love, self-surrender and commitment like a loving spouse who nurses his/her sick child or spouse. Amen.

23rd Sunday Year – A – 14

23rd Sunday Year – A – 14

Eze.33:7-9; Rom.13:8-10; Matt.18:15-20

There was an 85 year-old lady who found her husband in bed with another woman. She was so enraged that she dragged him to the balcony of their Miami high-rise and pushed him off, and he fell to his death. She was arrested, of course, and when she appeared before the judge he asked her if she had anything to say in her defense. “Well, your honor,” she said, “I figured if he were able to be unfaithful to his wife at age 92, he surely would be able to fly.”

We’ve all had times when we were angry enough to throw someone off a high building, but that’s not the way Jesus tells us to deal with the sin of another person. The common theme of today’s readings is our responsibility towards the salvation of others in our community because they are God’s children and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are, therefore, the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all others in our Faith community. This individual responsibility in a Christian society includes, as today’s readings remind us, our responsibility for each other. Perhaps the most painful obligations of watchful love are fraternal correction and generosity in forgiving and forgetting injuries.

In the First Reading, we heard of the mission of Ezekiel to be a “watchman” for the house of Israel. The role of the watchman is not to become a busybody, but rather to live with a wide-eyed awareness to what is good and right and life-giving. Watchmen, because they have a sense of what is good, also are able to sense danger. Watchmen would sense what is dangerous for the individual and for the community.

Watchmen can then sound the alarm; they can sound the call to action, and the prophetic call to change. A world which emphasizes privacy and independence may not have any room for watchmen. Thus, to be a watchman may not be popular today. But let us remember that we are brothers and sisters to each other. As such, we must be responsible for each other; we must be keepers to each other.

Our concern for each other would call us to be a watchman to the community where we belong. However, some world leaders found out that they could not afford to be independent. We have observed that some world leaders have bonded themselves to protect the world from danger, from terrorism. When they see an imminent danger, they would do something to prevent it from happening. They have become watchmen of the world.

In the Second Reading, St Paul exhorted the Romans to “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” So, we do not only show our concern to the other, but we should also love the other. Love and concern are very much related. Only those people who love can show concern to the person. Loving does not show what could be considered “comfortable” by the person.

If we truly love the person, we always tell what we want to say and to do, even if this appears a discomfort to the other. Even if it offers discomfort and pain to the other, we have to take note that “love does no evil to the neighbor.”

Our gospel today is taken from the fourth major discourse called the social Discourse where Jesus teaches us how he expects his followers to treat others. Our gospel introduces one of the topics Jesus spoke on in the Social Discourse with these words: “If your brother sins against you…” Two of the oldest and best Greek manuscripts do not have the words “against you.” They say simply “if your brother sins.” Most commentators hold that the words “against you” were not part of the original gospel.

In the gospel, Jesus gives an exhortation on fraternal correction. He says that if a person sins against you, the next thing you should do is “to go and tell his fault between you and him alone.” This does not happen always though. When a person has done something wrong against us, we usually create a wall between him and us. We do not want to talk to that person. What we want is that this person instead should be the one to come, and say sorry to us.

But what if the person does not know that he has already hurt you? What we should do? For Jesus, even if we are hurting, we should go to the person and tell him that he has done wrong to us. It may be difficult because it would mean getting rid of our pride.  The work of correcting our erring brothers or sisters is not easy. It gives us discomfort. It can be embarrassing. And it can be risky too because it might lose a long established friendship. Some people prefer silence, not to say any word to erring brother, sister or friend, lest that he or she may be hurt.

Again, all of us are responsible for the salvation of others. We cannot afford to think only of ourselves. We are all brothers and sisters and therefore must always show our concern and love for each other. We must remain a watchman for others, we must love others, and lastly, we must correct others when they have done wrong. This is difficult to do, but if we have the heart, that is, love and concern, for them, then we must do everything for them.

Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct anyone.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct others. Have we offered advice and encouragement to our friends and neighbors and coworkers when it was needed, and loving correction in private for a personal offense where that was possible?

Today’s readings remind us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we will become much more than simply the collective number of people we are. Today, Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another.

Let us admit the fact that a great degree of indifference to religion shown by our young men and women is due to lack of parental and fraternal control, training and example. Let us with love and concern; correct our own children and our brothers and sisters with whom we live in this world. Let God be praised. Amen.