Homily

28th Sunday (A)

The prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading was about God preparing a banquet for all people (Isa 25:6-10), a banquet of fine wine. While it could refer to the feast at the end of time in heaven, it could also be seen referring to what God did for us in Jesus through the Church. As more and more Gentiles entered the Church the Lord removed the veil covering all peoples. Isaiah’s word from God was that in the future not just the Jews would be the Chosen People but all peoples would be chosen and invited to God’s banquet. At this banquet prepared for all peoples Isaiah saw a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. This prophecy of fine wine was fulfilled in the very first miracle of Jesus at the wedding in Cana when Jesus changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11). When Jesus performed the miracle at Cana it meant the Old Testament prophecies about the future Messiah were now beginning to be fulfilled and after Pentecost all peoples would be welcomed into the Church to taste this wine.

The parable of the royal banquet is a parable about the Kingdom of God and about the people who will eventually belong to it.  It is also the first of three parables that challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish leadership. The parables all contrast the true Israel with the attitudes and lives of the Pharisees, demonstrating the claims of the Pharisees as false.  In addition, the Parable of the Royal Banquet and the Wedding Garment is Jesus’ interpretation of the History of Salvation.  It is also one of the three parables of judgment or “rejection parables” that Jesus told in the Temple of Jerusalem during the last week of his public life, addressing the “chief priests and elders of the people”, i.e., their religious and civic leaders.  This parable was delivered by Jesus; on his last visit to the Temple on what we know as the Tuesday of Holy Week. The encounter was part of the Master’s last confrontation with those who saw Jesus as their enemy, before they had him arrested.  The actual parable is the disturbing story of a King Who celebrated the wedding feast of His Son.  When the important guests who had been invited refused to come, He brought street people in to take their places.  Here, Jesus combines the parable of the marriage feast with another rabbinic parable, the parable of the wedding garment.

Last week we have seen the parable of the landlord and the wicked tenants, this too, is an allegory unfolding the whole of salvation history.  The parable was intended to be a fitting reply to the accusation that Jesus was unfit to teach because He was mingling with the publicans and sinners.  It also answers the question of Jesus’ authority to teach in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Jesus hints in the parable that he is befriending the sinners and preaching the Good News of God’s salvation to them because the scribes and Pharisees have rejected him and his message, while the sinners have accepted him wholeheartedly.  That is why he compares God to a King who gives orders to invite the ordinary folk from the waysides as guests for his son’s royal banquet.  Jesus also declares that the source of his authority is God his Father Who has sent His Son to preach the Good News of Salvation.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells this parable in reply to the statement made by one of his listeners: “Blessed are those who are invited to take part in the Messianic Banquet in Heaven.”  This parable is based on the Jewish marriage customs of Jesus’ day and contains both a local and a universal lesson.

The universal call and rejection of the Jews: The “good and bad” (v. 10), in the parable constitute the mixed memberships of the Church: the sinners and the righteous.  The people in the highways and the byways stand for the sinners and the Gentiles, who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom.  Since this parable was directed to the chief priests and elders, Jesus contrasts their rigid observance of the Law with the open-hearted generosity expressed by the King: “Invite everyone you find.”  This is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet.  It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News.  The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted.  In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh’s call.  This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

Even though Isaiah’s prophecy about all being invited to taste the wine in the banquet (Isa 25:6) of the Church open to all people is now fulfilled, there is a warning at the end of the parable in the Gospel. The king noticed someone at the wedding banquet not wearing the wedding garment and ordered him to be thrown out (Matt 22:11-14). We can understand this to mean that the man was not living a good life, he was not living like one invited by God to his banquet. In the Book of Revelation we are told that the Bride of the Lamb, the Church, wears a clean white linen garment which is the righteous deeds of the holy ones (Rev 19:8). Yes we are all invited to the feast in the kingdom of heaven but we are to come to the feast properly dressed, living good lives that show we are worthy to be invited to that feast.

He demands the bridal dress, which is charity and love. “All of us are invited to be Lord’s guests, to enter with faith in his banquet, but we must wear and guard the bridal dress, charity, and live a deep love for God and the neighbor” (Pope Francis). This dress is symbolically woven of two woods, one is vertical and the other is horizontal: the love for God and the love for the neighbor. All of us are invited to be Lord’s dining companions and to enter through faith in his banquet, but we must wear and guard the bridal dress: charity, which is the measure of our faith. We cannot separate prayer, the encounter with God in the Sacraments, from the proximity to the neighbor and above all to his suffering.

We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet: From the moment of our Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace.  These are great privileges and blessings freely given to us by a loving God.  But the same obstacles, which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom, can equally prevent us too. They are pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures.  Hence, we must be prepared to make the right decisions, which will help us to remain faithful to the commandments of God and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people.  That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day.   The parable ends on a slightly pessimistic note: “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  It is a sad fact that, although everyone is called to experience the love of God, relatively few will really try to follow His teachings. The Eucharist that we celebrate is a banquet in which he feeds us with his own body and blood to give us life. A day is going to come when we will join him to celebrate the heavenly Eucharist, in which we will see him face to face.

 

27th Sunday (A)

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

This Sunday’s first reading, taken by Isaiah 5: 1-7, is a masterpiece and introduces the parable of Jesus who speaks of the vineyard and tells us that the punishment of God is in order to convert and not to destroy. This prophet of the Old Testament uses the allegory of the vineyard to describe the story of the people of Israel when they betray the love of God who had chosen them as the people elected to announce that He had not forgotten humanity and to give flesh to the Son of God.

This story of infidelity – Isaiah says – cannot go on forever. God’s patience has a limit and there will be a judgment (5.3). God expected fine grapes, and instead got poor grapes (5.2). Without metaphors: he expected justice and there was oppression, he expected righteousness and here is dishonesty (5: 7). At this point there is nothing but punishment: the vine will fall in ruin and will no longer be cultivated and brambles and blackthorns will grow. But God’s punishment is not forever.

The parable we are presented with today is the third in a line of three parables to be found in Matthew’s Gospel, which concern themselves with vineyards. It is no mistake that Jesus often uses the vineyard as a symbol of the Kingdom of God. There certainly are many parallels between a vineyard and the Kingdom. Maintaining a vineyard is hard work and it takes equally hard work to enter the Kingdom of God, but the hard work of planting, pruning and harvesting the vines and then pressing the grapes eventually leads to the production of wonderful wine which brings joy to the heart. We can see how his is a very appropriate parallel for the hard work which ultimately leads to the unsurpassable joy of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. The parable for today is the most direct of the three parables about vineyards.

It comes closest to describing the actual situation of Jesus who is represented by the son of the owner of the vineyard. The tenants are clearly understood to be the Chief Priests and Elders who have usurped the rights of the owner. And the prophets are the servants who are beaten up and kicked out by the tenants. Jesus warns the priests and elders that the vineyard is about to be taken from them but they ignore his words and carry on with their distorted beliefs and twisted actions, which eventually end up with them putting to death the Son of God. But Jesus warns them that the stone, which the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone. Jesus whom they dismissed as someone of no consequence turns out to be the very stone upon which God chooses to build his Church.
The true vine is Jesus Christ, the son of the Lord of the vineyard. The grace of God bears its plenitude of fruit in him. Jesus saves us from destruction – the harsh destiny of the wicked, abusive tenants in the old vineyard. By his sacrificial obedience to the Father’s saving will, the “Song of the Vineyard” is transformed from a tone of reproach to an exultant song of praise and thanksgiving. United with Christ, the Church exults in the fruitful harvest of “life in the Spirit” that the “new vineyard” produces.

The Lord’s vineyard at present is the Church, and we Christians are the tenants from whom God expects fruits of righteousness.  The parable warns us that if we refuse to reform our lives, to become productive, we, too, could be replaced as the old Israel was replaced by the “new” Israel.  We cease being either God’s vineyard or the tenants of God’s vineyard when we stop relating to others as loving servants. In the parable, the rent the tenants refuse to pay stands for the relationship with God and with all the people of Israel, which the religious leaders refuse to cultivate. This means that before anything else, God checks on how well we are fulfilling our responsibilities to each other as children of God.  The parable teaches that instead of glorying in our privileges and Christian heritage, we are called to deeds of love, including bearing personal and corporate witness that invites others into God’s kingdom.

The parable has several messages. It tells of God’s trust in men. The owner of the vineyard entrusted it to the cultivators. He did not even stand over them to exercise a police-like supervision. He went away and left them with their task. God pays men the compliment of entrusting them with his work. Every task we receive is a task given us to do by God.

It tells of God’s patience. The master sent messenger after messenger. He did not come with sudden vengeance when one messenger had been abused and ill-treated. He gave the cultivators chance after chance to respond to his appeal. God bears with men in all their sinning and will not cast them off.

It tells of God’s judgment. In the end the master of the vineyard took the vineyard from the cultivators and gave it to others. God’s sternest judgment is when he takes out of our hands the task, which he meant us to do. A man has sunk to his lowest level when he has become useless to God.

It tells of human privilege. The vineyard was equipped with everything ”the hedge, the wine press, the tower” which would make the task of the cultivators easy and enable them to discharge it well. God does not only give us a task to do; he also gives us the means whereby to do it.  It tells of human freedom. The master left the cultivators to do the task as they liked. God is not a tyrannical task-master; he is like a wise commander who allocates a task and then trusts a man to do it.  It tells of human answerability. To all men come a day of reckoning. We are answerable for the way in which we have carried out the task God gave us to do.  It tells of the deliberateness of human sin. The cultivators carry out a deliberate policy of rebellion and disobedience towards the master. Sin is deliberate opposite to God; it is the taking of our own way when we know quite well what the way of God is. It tells of the claim of Jesus. It shows us quite clearly Jesus lifting himself out of the succession of the prophets. Those who come before him were the messengers of God; no one could deny them that honor; but they were servants; he was the Son.

Are we good fruit-producers in the vineyard of the Church?  Jesus has given us the Church, and through her everything necessary to make Christians fruit-bearing: i) The Bible to know the will of God.  ii) The priesthood to lead the people in God’s ways.  iii) The Sacrament of Reconciliation for the remission of sins.  iv) The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual food.  v) The Sacrament of Confirmation for a dynamic life of Faith.  vi) The Sacrament of Matrimony for the sharing of love in the family, the fundamental unit of the Church. vii) Role models in thousands of saints we are expected to make use of these gifts and produce fruits for God.

26th Sunday (A)

We are called to conversion and obedience to the commandments of God.

Today’s Gospel speaks of the parable about two sons whose father operates a vineyard. He tells one to go and work there. The lad refuses but later changes his mind and goes. The second one is also told to go. He agrees to do so but in the end he does not. “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Jesus asks. They all agree that it was the one who refused at first, but obeyed later. The parable refers to the two kinds of personalities and characters. The first one is open to the grace of God and ready to repent and be converted. So he could be considered as more sincere and dependable. The other is superficial and would like to please everyone by mere words and not by deeds. He could be considered as insincere and dishonest and not reliable at all. He is very selfish in outlook and will do anything to materialize his plans, because of his duplicity.

The message is clearly directed at the religious and civil leaders of the people in Jesus’ time. They spoke much about God and, in particular, how God was to be served by a strict observance of the Law. But it is clear they did not have the spirit that Jesus was communicating through his life and teaching. They lacked the spirit of love, compassion, care and forgiveness for the weak and vulnerable. They also heard the teaching of Jesus but made no effort to carry it out as they were not palatable for them. They excused themselves by challenging Jesus’ legal authority to do what he was doing. Since Jesus did not fit into the parameters of their legal world, they could not classify him and they rejected him. On the other hand, the “tax collectors and sinners are making their way into the kingdom of God before you”. They certainly were not keeping God’s Law. They had said No to his commandments many times. But then they met Jesus and they have experienced a radical transformation (metanoia,) in their lives. They listened and they responded.

We can think of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) who was a chief tax collector. One of the Twelve Apostles, Matthew (Matt 9:9) also called Levi had been a tax collector (Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-28). Mary Magdalene is another from whom Jesus expelled seven demons considered to be an outcast (Luke 8:2). So certainly Luke intends us to understand that she had lived what we might describe as “a very bad life” before she met Jesus. The chief priests and elders of the people had not converted, because they were blind to the call of God. So in the parable that Jesus taught, the tax collectors and sinners were the first son who at first said no to his father but then thought better and obeyed his father and worked in the vineyard. They had lived a life disobedient to God in the past but when they heard the preaching of Jesus they converted. The chief priests and elders of the people were like the second son in Jesus’ parable who said, “Yes sir” but did not obey his father. They heard the preaching of Jesus and knew the Scriptures but their hearts were closed and they were not responding to God.

 

Why were tax collectors and sinners able to open their hearts and respond to the preaching of Jesus while the chief priests and elders were not? Perhaps it is because the tax collectors and sinners had reached rock bottom and realized that the lives they were living were empty and meaningless. The tax collectors were well known to be greedy. They paid taxes for the full year in advance to Rome, which they would later collect from others but Rome never checked if they were overcharging the tax they collected from others. Everyone suspected they collected much more tax than they paid to Rome. Surely the sinners and tax collectors realized their lives were meaningless and they received respect from Jesus, which they did not receive from any of their contemporaries. In Jesus they found life as it was meant to be. Jesus offered hope to the tax collectors and sinners; hope they never before had. When they converted the words of God to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading were fulfilled,…if a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins which he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. (Ezek. 18:27-28)

There are two messages coming out loud and clear. On the one hand, we can never be complacent about our relationship with God. It is possible for any of us at any time to find ourselves falling away from our commitment to Jesus and to his Gospel. And God always accepts us where we are. If we are in union with him, things are well; if we have by our own choice become separated from him, he accepts that too. His love and his grace are always available but they can be rejected and spurned. And we can “die in our sin”.

On the other hand, no matter how far we have strayed from God and Jesus in the Gospel, no matter how depraved we have become, it is never too late to turn back and we can be absolutely sure that a warm, no-questions-asked welcome is waiting for us. We remember the parables in Luke’s gospel about the lost sheep and the lost (prodigal) son. It is the meaning of the dialogue between Jesus and Peter after the resurrection – “Do you love me…?” Three times Peter had, in pure fear, used oaths to deny he ever had any connection with Jesus. Now, repentant, chastened and humbled, he comes back. Not only is he forgiven, his mandate to lead the community remains intact. His repented sin, far from being a disqualification, will make him a far more understanding leader. “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep.”

We have the magnificent hymn about Jesus’ own spirit of service and selflessness in the Second Reading. Paul says this in the context of a plea for greater unity in the Christian community at Philippi. In urging the Christians to serve each other’s needs with the deepest respect, he asks them to have the mind of Jesus himself, to think like he does. And he illustrates this by quoting what seems to have been an early Christian hymn. It speaks of the awesome dignity of Jesus as the Son of God. Yet Jesus did not emphasize this in his life among us. On the contrary he “emptied” himself and became just like us. He went further and took on the status of a slave and ultimately accepted human death, and the most shameful of all possible deaths, death as a convicted criminal on a cross, a barbaric form of execution.

If we were to be filled with that same spirit that Jesus had we would have nothing to fear. And what wonderful places our Christian communities would be: places of harmony and unity, of love and caring, of compassion and mutual support, of looking after each other’s needs. And, let us remember, it is never too late to start. Let’s begin today.

 

 

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.