25th Sunday (A)

Today we have another beautiful parable about the Kingdom of God. This parable strikingly brings out the very nature of God and how God the Father deals with us in His Kingdom. The owner of the vineyard went out at different hours of the day to hire workers in his vineyard agreeing to pay a denarius for their work. A denarius meant a day’s minimum wage just to support the family according to the system of the day. It was not an attractive payment at all. At the end of the day when the man settled his account with the workers he paid them what he had agreed a denarius- to all without any regard for the hours of work they had worked. This enraged the workers who toiled the whole day as those who worked for an hour also got the same amount as they got.

How could he treat all the workers in the same way as some worked the whole day and some put in only an hour of work? This is a judgment that we fail to understand, because it is the human way of looking at it. God’s ways are different from human ways and precisely that is what Jesus wants to bring out to our reflection. So the parable is not about fair labor laws and labor management but it is only about the nature of God, and about the nature of the generosity and compassion of God in His Kingdom. His compassion supersedes His justice. Prophet Isaiah says that the ways of God are different from human ways.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The parable is a warning to the disciples:

(i) 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.

(ii) As 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, probably wants to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.

(iii) As 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 figure of the Good Employer evokes the graciousness and solicitude of God who, in Jesus the Good Shepherd, seeks out the lost sheep. Indeed, God does not want that anyone be lost or without a place in his kingdom. The point of today’s parable is God’s abounding mercy. Each of us is the recipient of the kindness and generosity of God. The Parable of the Good Employer concludes with an enigmatic statement: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last”. This underlines Jesus’ promise that the disciples, now considered the last, will be the first in receiving the rewards of the kingdom.

The parable’s teaching on the grace of God: The parable suggests that we can’t work our way into heaven.  We can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward. We must learn that we’re all in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. In God’s kingdom, we can be grateful that He chooses to be generous.  What we really deserve for our sins is death. We learn also that in God’s service we have different tasks to perform.  No matter how menial the task, however, we all get paid the same amount.  In God’s eyes, we are all equal.  At the end of the day, we are all paid the right amount.  In the church, we’re all co-workers and hence we all receive exactly what is right, from a God who is notoriously generous and lavish.

The paradox of grace: What really bothers us in the parable is God’s equal rewarding of latecomers and newcomers. We are tempted to ask the question “Is it fair that we, the hard-working Christians, are going to be treated like these workers?  Is the man who lives a life of sin but who converts on his deathbed going to get the same reward that we receive?   The parable tells us that our heavenly reward is not something that we earn but rather a free gift.  God has made His rewards available to all through faith in Christ Jesus.  Is it fair that God gives his grace to all?  Fair is the wrong word.  God does not deal with us “fairly” and it is a good thing!  We should be thankful God does not give us what we deserve.  The word we are looking for is grace.  The question should be “What is grace?”  And the answer is, it is that “undeserved love” that God has shown us through the death and resurrection of His only Son Jesus Christ.

Saint Paul the Apostle is a privileged example of the laborer of the “last hour” who benefited from the abundant riches of God’s grace. A persecutor of Christian faith, he was converted and experienced the undeserved free bounty of God. Saint Paul is a model of a true response to divine love radically revealed in Jesus Christ. In today’s Second Reading (Phil 1:20c-24, 27a), the Apostle is writing to the Philippians from a prison in Ephesus around 56 A.D. Awaiting a possible death sentence, he reflects that for him both life and death take their meaning from Christ. Saint Paul asserts that with his whole being, he would bring honor to Christ, whether he live or die. Death for him is gain for he would relish the heavenly reward. To continue to live in this world, however, would mean a more fruitful labor for the Gospel. This would benefit more greatly the community of faith and encourage them to live a life worthy of the Gospel. Having been evangelized and brought under the power of the Gospel, they are to reflect in their life and their belonging to Christ.

 

 

24th Sunday (A)

“To err is human, but to forgive is divine.”

 There are moments in our lives when we get very angry and upset with people who keep hurting us again and again. We can tolerate and forgive once or twice, but isn’t there a limit to forgiveness? Won’t people think we are weak, and step all over us? Don’t we have the right to hit back? The world says: ‘Hit back!’ But God says: “Forgive!” Only forgiveness breaks the cycle of hate. Forgiveness reveals the greatness of love! It is John Paul II who said that “we cannot have peace without justice, but we cannot have justice without forgiveness.”

In the year 1981 there were assassination attempt on two great people, but their reactions were worth considering. Ronald Regan cracked a joke as he was taken to the operation theatre. It only shows how human he was in spite of his critical condition. Pope John Paul II too was critically wounded, but his reaction was completely different. He said I forgive the man and visited him in prison personally at a later time. It revealed the greatness and magnanimity of the Papacy and his convictions.

 Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, along with his family, was working among the socially outcast lepers in the state of Orissa, India. On January 23, 1999, he along with his two little sons – Philip and Timothy, were brutally burnt alive in their jeep by a group of Hindu fundamentalists led by one Dara Singh. The aftermath of this gory incident was nationally televised. What moved us to tears when we watched TV was the sight of Mrs. Staines asking Jesus to forgive her husband’s murders. She prayed that Jesus might touch the heart of these men (murders) so that they may not do to others what they had done to her husband and children. In the brutal murder of Mr. Staines and his children by Dara Singh and his gang, we see the triumph of barbarism, and in the forgiveness of Mrs. Staines, we see the triumph of faith and goodness; we see in her forgiveness the triumph of the human spirit touched by Christ.

 Today’s first reading from the book of Sirach reminds us that if we seek to avenge the wrong done to us we will not be forgiven the wrongs we ourselves commit against the Lord. If we ourselves are not forgiving how can we obtain pardon from our God? The Book of Sirach suggests that we should be constantly aware of the end of our life, of death itself and not let the sun set on our anger. Life is too short to hold on to grudges. The time may come suddenly when we regret, after the person concerned is no more, that we did not do in life all we could have done to improve our relationship.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s, where Jesus outlines a process for initiating reconciliation when there are ruptures within the Christian community. He speaks about moving from one-on-one confrontation to mediation to involvement of the whole community. It is in response to this that Peter asks how often one must forgive. He rightly recognizes the difficulties and complications that accompany such processes. Jesus’ response is that there is no limit to the number of times one must try to forgive. There are endless hurts that require endless offers of forgiveness and endless acts of repentance. One must always be ready to do the difficult work of repairing and reconciling.

The Jewish Law allowed people to retaliate in some circumstances so Peter thought he was being very generous when he suggested that forgiving a person who had repeatedly done wrong, seven times would be the upper limit. Peter expected Jesus to praise him for his generosity in forgiveness. Jesus instead raises the upper limit: “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times!” There can be, there has to be no limit to forgiveness, -that is the way God forgives and we are called to be God-like in our forgiveness of others. To illustrate the point Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving steward and the point to be underlined is the huge debt he was forgiven and how little he himself was ready to forgive. According to oriental tradition, the king had every right to order his official to be sold, along with his wife and children and all his property, in payment of the debt. The guilty official threw himself at the mercy of the king who had pity on him and forgave him everything. What the servant owed the official was a much smaller amount than the official owed the king. Yet despite the servant’s plea the official puts him in prison until his relatives and friends would get him the money. That official stood condemned because he was not mindful of how much he himself had been forgiven by the king. We cannot take the forgiveness of God for granted and abuse his generosity. We might be quick in our condemnation of the official but we must remember that sometimes we ourselves can be hard, cold and unforgiving, especially when the offence has been repeated once too often. We must be convinced that forgiveness is a way of living, a way of choosing to respond with love no matter what the response, it goes on no matter what the price.

One of the most important aspects of this great virtue is that we need to learn to accept and forgive ourselves. We cannot love others unless we love ourselves, so too we cannot forgive others without forgiving our own self. Often we do not acknowledge this, but it is a necessity first and foremost to experience the liberation within ourselves.

When we are hurt or being wronged or even betrayed by a trusted friend, there could be a mixture of resentment, disappointment, anger, despair, mixed in with a craving for justice and a seedling of forgiveness struggling for survival someplace in our emotionally turbulent hearts. It is vital for our wellbeing that this seedling not only survives but triumphs. Justice is essential, reasonable, arguable and human. Forgiveness is mysterious, exciting, energizing, life-giving, painful and divine. It is a response of love. There are aspects to forgiveness that are inextricably linked, the willingness to forgive others and the openness to accept forgiveness oneself. Both aspects grow or decline together within each heart. As long as we refuse to even try to forgive another, we become incapable of forgiving ourselves or of allowing another to forgive us. On the other hand, every time we forgive we open ourselves to be filled with peace. Forgiveness like love is a mystery. It goes beyond justice, apology and retribution. It is appreciated through being experienced. It cannot be measured or counted. Hence, the command of Jesus in this weekend’s gospel is to forgive unconditionally again and again so that our hearts may be enriched beyond all understanding.

 

23rd Sunday (A)

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”

Gather in Jesus’ name and work miraclesToday’s Gospel reminds 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 will gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we become much more than simply the sum of our numbers. Two becomes more than two, and three becomes more than three. The sum of our individual ideas, resources and abilities becomes much more because of the synergy that God’s presence provides. In our Faith community, we act together so that we may help one another in God’s Name, thereby multiplying our resources and ability to do what God calls us to do. Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. Through our links to one another in Christ, there is a capacity in our community, which enables us to use God’s power to make healing and life-giving love more effective among His people. We come together, we stay together, we work together – in our Lord’s name, bringing to focus the presence of God and unleashing the power of the Spirit to transform our lives and the lives of all God’s children.     We do gather in Jesus’ name and invoke his presence, and that opens our hearts to allow him to be a part of us and of what we do. That is what we experience at each Eucharist—we in him and he in us.

Our inability to perceive and translate it into our lives has led to hatred and hatred has led to violence, which has eventually resulted in killing and destruction of so many precious lives. Today individuals are broken and as a result the families and societies at large face the consequences of this brokenness. Today’s psalm response mentions the hardness of heart, which we might describe as racial or ethnic hostility, religious animosity, social prejudices and injustices, gender inequality, corporate greed, political extremism, ecological indifference, relationship abuses, the mentality of entitlement, etc. It is precisely for this reason the gospel emphasizes the need for reconciliation in individuals, which will have a positive effect on the society. The gospel is the message of love, peace and joy to be lived so that we become messengers of the good news around us.

Gospel deals with the relationship of members of the Church to each other and highlights one of the most painful responsibilities that we have towards others, namely fraternal correction. Matthew expands a saying of Jesus, originally concerned primarily with forgiveness, into a four-step procedure for disciplining members in the new eschatological Community of the Church. Jesus instructed his disciples about relationships among members of the Church, because through Baptism we assume a serious responsibility for our fellow-believers. Suppose a son or daughter, friend or acquaintance, relative, neighbor, even parent or teacher, does “something wrong” to us, whether the sin is of commission or omission. By outlining a four-step process of confrontation, negotiation, adjudication and excommunication, Jesus tells us how to deal with and finally mend a broken relationship within the Christian fellowship.

There was a famous monastery, which had fallen on hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with the singing of the chant, but now it was nearly deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled though the cloisters and praised their God with heavy hearts.

On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a little hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one spoke with him, but wherever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.

One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and to open his heart to him. So after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced like long lost brothers. Then they stepped back and just stood there, smiling at one another with smiles their faces could hardly contain.

After a while the rabbi motioned the abbot to enter. In the middle of the room was a wooden table with the scripture open on it. They sat there for a moment in the presence of the book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hand and began to cry, too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out. The two men sat there like lost children, filling the hut with their sobs and wetting the wood of the table with their tears.

After the tears had ceased to flow and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you this teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must say it aloud again.” The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The messiah is among you.” For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.” The abbot left without a word and without ever looking back.

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them he had received a teaching from “the rabbi who walks in the woods” and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the messiah!” and the monks were startled by this. “What could it mean?” they asked themselves. “Is brother John the messiah or Father Mathew or brother Thomas? Am I the messiah? What could it mean?” They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.

As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle, wholehearted, human quality about them now which was hard to describe but easy to notice. They lived with one another men who had finally found something. But they prayed the scriptures together as men who were always looking for something. Occasional visitors found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks, while young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.

St. Paul in his writing to the Romans exhorts them to Love one another. That fulfills the law.” If God is not known and loved, there can be no basis or motive for true love of neighbor. It is only the presence of God in each human being and the recognition of others as God’s children that can form a sound basis for the love of our neighbors.  In short, love is the basis of the law, and we fulfill the law by loving our neighbor. Paul reminds us that love requires that we should watch out for one another’s souls, and love specifies the manner in which our watchful care of one another should be conducted.