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.



25th Sunday O T Year – A – 17

25th Sunday O T Year – A – 17

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. Amen


Extra example:

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.

24th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

24th Sunday, O T Year A – 17

Sir.27:30—28:7, Rom.14:7-9, Matt.18:21-35

The great British convert and apologist G. K. Chesterton once said, “Forgiving means to pardon the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.” By contrast, you and I often are willing only to forgive if we deem someone’s sins not too serious or offensive.

Today Jesus challenges us to go further in being instruments of His mercy. One way to realize to what extent we ought to extend mercy to others is to turn the table. We ought each day to consider how much God Himself has blessed us in showing us His mercy.

We ought to reflect on how each day we act sinfully, in a way that calls for God’s mercy. All of us long to find a place where we are at home, where we are trusted. But even more importantly, we long to find a place where we can be forgiven, for we know that there are times when we fail to live up to the trust that people place in us.

We might ask ourselves, “Which is more important to me: trust or forgiveness?” If we look to our own experience, it’s easy to answer these questions. If we consider the workplace, we can hope that our employers or supervisors might be patient and help us when we have trouble with a task.

But if we were to imagine our worst Monday, a day in which hour after hour produced nothing but terrible results, and finally ends in a major blunder or misjudgment, we would naturally expect to receive a pink slip instead of forgiveness.

Businesses have to trust people, or they wouldn’t have any employees. But they do not have to forgive endlessly. They can only tolerate a certain amount of error. After that, the relationship is over.

All of us long to find a place where we feel at home, which first and foremost means a place where we know we can experience forgiveness. Home is not simply where the heart is, but where the forgiving heart is.

The home in which we find the deepest sort of forgiveness, a selfless and generous forgiveness that seeks to build up the one who has transgressed: this is our truest home. The Church, in which we share in the Body of Christ, is our truest home.

By right, we should feel most at home there, before its altar, because it is there that we revel in the source of all forgiveness. When the priest speaks those words that Christ spoke at the Last Supper, we are taken into that home where forgiveness was first given by the God-man, when he said,

“This is the Cup of My Blood. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven….”

But in our home here, we find not only forgiveness.

In our home, the Church, when we share in the Eucharist, we give thanks not only for the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. We also give thanks for the fact that when we share fully in this sacrament, we receive not only a share in Christ’s forgiveness.

We receive a share in the life of Christ himself. We receive not only the Forgiver’s forgiveness. We receive the Forgiver. To receive forgiveness is to be restored to our former self. But to receive the Forgiver:

This means not simply that we’re restored to our former self, but that we’re raised from our state of sinfulness even beyond our old self, to a share in the life of the Forgiver’s Self.

We share in the life of Christ, and so are asked to offer forgiveness to others as Christ does: to all persons, in all circumstances, forever. Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.

There is the story of a man named George Wilson who in 1830 killed a government employee who caught him in the act of robbing the mails. He was tried and condemned to death by hanging. But the then President of the United States, Andrew Jackson granted him executive pardon.

George Wilson, however, refused to accept the pardon. The Department of Corrections did not know what to do. The case was taken to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Marshall ruled that “a pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned.

If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.” And hanged he was. Even if we are opposed to the death penalty, we still cannot but agree with the principle that pardon granted has to be accepted to become effective.

This is the point of today’s gospel. When God forgives us, we must accept God’s forgiveness. But then the gospel goes on to indicate that the way to accept God’s forgiveness is not just to say “Amen, so be it!” but to go out and forgive somebody.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant raises the frightening prospect that pardon already granted by God could be revoked. The king who forgave his servant his debt meant it. But when the servant went out and failed to forgive somebody, the king revoked the pardon.

By his action the servant had shown that he did not appreciate and therefore was unworthy of the pardon he had been given. Is this a good analogy of how God deals with us? That seems to be the point of the parable.

“So, my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt.18:35). In other words, when God gives us His word of forgiveness, everything is not over yet.

The deal is finally concluded only when we are able to go out and forgive those who sin against us. The free grace of God’s forgiveness needs our response of forgiving our neighbor to be finally ratified.

Isn’t that a frightening thought? “Forgive your neighbors the wrong they have done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (Sirach 28:2).

Why do we find it hard to forgive others even though that is the only way to anchor God’s forgiveness? I think the reason is because we fail to appreciate and celebrate our own forgiveness.

Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the 100 denarii our neighbor owes us rather than the 10,000 talents we owe to God, which God has graciously cancelled.

But God in his infinite mercy sent his own Son to die on the cross and take away our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor.

If we find ourselves in the club of those who find it so hard to forgive other people, chances are that we have not come to appreciate and celebrate enough the immeasurable forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God.

So, let us pray today for a deeper appreciation of the amazing love that God has shown us in Christ. It is this awareness that will make it easier for us to let others off the hook for their relatively minor offences against us.

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. 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.