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.

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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.