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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Friday, March 6, 2015 - Will you give God his due by sharing with at least one person who does not have today? If God were to visit the vineyard of your life and ask for fruit what would your response be?

To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

This Parable is known variously as the parable of the wicked tenants or the Parable of the Vineyard. While the parable in Mark has been allegorised, it is not clear whether there was a non-allegorical parable going back to Jesus. Those who are of the opinion that there was a non-allegorical parable interpret it to mean that just as the tenants took radical action, so radical action is required in order to gain the kingdom. Others see the parable to mean that the kingdom will be taken away from Israel’s false leadership and given to gentiles and sinners. Still others see the parable to mean that God does not abandon and relentlessly seeks and searches for them and longs for a response from them.

In Matthew, this parable is the centre of Jesus’ threefold parabolic response to the chief priests and elders. The first of these is about the two sons (21:28-32) and the third is about the great supper (22:1-14). He also links it to the previous parable of the two sons by means of common words like vineyard, son and the common theme of both which is doing God’s will rather than paying lip service.
In Matthew, the one who gives the vineyard to tenants is a “landowner” and not simply a “man “as he is in Mark. This helps Matthew to use the term “Lord” towards the end of the parable. The vineyard is described much like the one in Isa 5:1-7 which indicates that Matthew intends the vineyard to be read as “Israel” which it is in Isaiah. If in Mark the man who hired out the vineyard wants only his share, here he wants all the fruit. This indicates that God’s claim on the human person and all possessions it total and not partial. There are no half measures with God. It is all or nothing. The two groups of servants which are sent before the Son probably represent in Matthew the former and latter prophets whom God sent to Israel to bring the nation back to him. It is only after the two groups of servants are abused and murdered that the landowner decides to send his Son. In Matthew the son is first taken out of the vineyard and then killed (unlike in Mark where he is first killed and then thrown out of the vineyard) to correspond with what actually happens at the passion and death of Jesus (27:32). In Mark the question about the response of the owner of the vineyard is asked and answered by Jesus, while in Matthew, Jesus asks the questions and the Jewish leaders answer and through the answer pronounce their own condemnation. The tenants had been unfaithful and will have to pay for this unfaithfulness. The quotation of Ps 118:22-23 here results in increasing and intensifying the condemnation of the tenants to whom what was given was given in trust. Since they have been proved untrustworthy and unfaithful, they will be denied further tenancy and others will be given the vineyard to tend.

The Jewish leaders realize that the parable is about them and this only hardens their stance against Jesus and strengthens their resolve to destroy him.


All that we possess is given to us in trust. This means that while we may use what we have, we have also to be concerned about those who do not have and be generous with them. Selfishness on our part leads to our thinking that we must use the things we have exclusively without even the thought of sharing them with others. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2014 - Can I be accused of sins of lack of concern, inability to assess the reality of situations, closing my eyes and ears to the injustices around me, being caught up in my own small world? Does my reflection on sin include “sins of omission”?

to read the texts click on the texts: Jer17:5-10; Lk 16:19-31

The parable of today has often been titled as the parable of “Dives and Lazarus”. It can be seen to be divided into three parts. If in the first part the focus is on rich man’s (who is not named. The term “dives” in Latin means “rich”) opulence and wealth, in the second part it is on his death and burial. In the third part which is the longest there is for the first time in the story, a dialogue. It is between the rich man and Abraham and is the climax of the story.  

The story begins by describing the rich man and his dress and food. The “purple and fine linen” may signify that he was a high ranking official, since the Romans had set standards regarding who could wear purple and how much purple they could wear. In contrast to the rich man there is a poor man who is named Lazarus. He is the only character in Jesus’ parables to be given a name. The name Lazarus means “God helps”. The fact that he is at the gate of the rich man’s house signifies that though the rich man could see Lazarus, he was not aware of his existence. He is so caught up in his world of material things that this results in his inability to see reality right before him. Lazarus would have been content with the bread which was used to wipe the grease from the hand of the one eating and then thrown under the table. However, even this he did not receive. Instead, dogs fed off his sores.

The death of Lazarus is no surprise. However, the detail that is added is that Lazarus is carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. This detail brings to mind that God indeed comes to Lazarus’ help.  The death of the rich man is described in a short sentence which brings out strikingly the transient nature of all his opulence and wealth.

In the third part, there is dialogue between the rich man and Abraham. Lazarus does not speak at all. He is in the bosom of Abraham. Being “in the bosom” of Abraham may imply that Lazarus was the honoured guest at the eschatological banquet, feasting while the rich man was in torment.   In the request that the rich man makes of Abraham to let Lazarus dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue, he calls Lazarus by name which indicates that he knew who Lazarus was and yet refused to look at him on earth as a person. In his response, Abraham reminds the rich man of his and Lazarus’ past and of the chasm that separated them then, but which had been erected by the rich man, and which still separates them now. It is admirable that even in his torment the rich man can think of others (even if they be members of his own immediate family). He makes a second request of Abraham to send Lazarus as a messenger to warn his brothers. Abraham responds that the brothers have already received enough and more instruction and if they have not heeded that they will not heed another. The rich man tries one final time to convince Abraham to send Lazarus as one who has gone back from the dead. Abraham responds by telling the rich man that for those who believe no proof is necessary and for those who do not no proof is sufficient.


The rich man in the story is so caught with the things of the world and with his own self interests that these prevent him from even becoming aware of the needs of another. A number of questions to which there are no easy answers are raised by this parable and we must keep reflecting on them constantly if we are not to lose touch with reality. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - When you are being introduced by a friend to a stranger how would you want your friend to introduce you?

To read the texts click on the texts: Jer18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28

The text begins with what is known as the third and final Passion and Resurrection prediction in Matthew’s Gospel. This is the most detailed of the three and Matthew specifies crucifixion as the manner in which Jesus will be put to death. However, Jesus is not simply a passive victim, his death is in obedience to the will of God and he will let nothing and no one come in the way of this obedience. Even as he speaks of his death, Jesus also predicts his being raised on the third day.

If in Mark, it is the brothers James and John who make of Jesus the request for places of honour (Mk 10:35-37), in Matthew, it is the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew does not name the brothers since he wants to spare them this ignominy) who comes with the request on behalf of her sons. The right hand and left hand symbolize places of honour and authority. In his response, Jesus does not address the mother or even James and John, but all the disciples. In contrast to Mark who mentions both the cup and baptism, Matthew focuses exclusively on the cup of suffering, testing, rejection, judgement and violent death. The metaphor “cup” here seems to refer to the death ordained by God which is willingly accepted by the one who is to go to his death. The disciples’ bravado and willingness to drink the cup is only verbal and not one which they can show in their deeds. Though Jesus is aware of this, he looks beyond their failure and invites them to share his cup. However, even martyrdom does not gain one a special place in the kingdom because not even Jesus will be able to assign such places. These are the exclusive prerogative of God.

The request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee leads to anger on the part of the other ten. This anger indicates that they too like the mother (and the two brothers) had not really understood Jesus’ way of proceeding. Jesus thus has to teach them yet again the meaning of discipleship, authority and service in the kingdom. The king in the kingdom is not a ruler but one who serves, the Lord does not lord it over others but is their slave. By adding “Just as” before the final verse here, Matthew makes Jesus as the model whom the disciples are called to imitate.


The desire to be in charge and dominate others is a very real desire and most of us possess it. Some in large measure others in small, but it is there. We like others to follow our instructions and do what we tell them and feel upset or angry if they do not obey. Too easily we judge people by the titles they have or the positions they occupy in society and this leads to a desire in each of us to want to possess those titles or occupy those positions. We identify ourselves and others too much by these external titles and do not look at other more important areas of their lives and ours. The text of today calls us to review our need for titles and positions of honour and spend ourselves instead in service.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The poor cannot be ignored

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - Will you let people hear what you do rather than what you say? How?

To read the texts click on the texts: Isa1:10, 16-20; Mt 23:1-12

Jesus here addresses the people and his disciples and speaks of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Scribes were a professional class with formal training. They were schooled in the tradition and its application to current issues. Pharisees were a group within Judaism defined by strictly religious rules, composed mostly of laypersons without formal theological training. Some scribes were also Pharisees, but few Pharisees were scribes.  

Moses’ seat is a metaphorical expression representing the teaching and administrative authority of the synagogue leadership, scribes and Pharisees. Jesus condemns only the practice of the scribes and Pharisees and not their teaching. The Matthean Jesus makes three points about the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. The first is that “they say but do not do”, which means that there was no consonance between their words and actions. They did not act on their words.  The second is that “they burden while failing to act themselves” which means that they lay law upon law upon the people and make life so much more complicated than it really is, and the third is that “they act for the wrong reasons: to make an impression on others”. This they did by wearing broader phylacteries. “Phylacteries” is the term Matthew uses for the “tephillin”, which were small leather boxes containing portions of the Torah (Exod 13:1-16; Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-32) strapped to the forehead and arm during the recitation of prayers in literal obedience to Deut 6:8. The “tassels” were attached to the prayer shawls, and the most important seats in the synagogue refer to the place of honour at the front facing the congregation, occupied by teachers and respected leaders. The term “Rabbi” was a title of honour. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to be noticed, commended and honoured more than to pray.

In contrast the disciples of Jesus ought not to go for external titles and especially those which heighten distinction since they were brothers and sisters and there was to be no greater and smaller among them. They were to be one in God who alone is father. Authority and leadership were to be expressed in selfless service.


It is easy to say, but difficult to do, it is easy to preach but difficult to practice. There must be a correlation between our words and our actions. The way to ensure that there is a correlation between the two is to first do and then say, or better to let people hear not what we say but what we do. This doing, if it is to be regarded as a genuine work of love must be done not to earn titles or the approval or commendation but because one is a disciple of Jesus who has shown through his life and actions what true leadership means.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015 - How often has the expectation of some “reward” been your motivation for “doing good”? Will you “do good” without any expectation of reward today?

To read the texts click on the texts: Dan 9:4-10; Lk 6:36-38

The injunction to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” which begins the text of today adapts the Old Testament command to “be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19:2), which in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew has become “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Whereas this injunction stands at the conclusion of the six antitheses in Matthew 5, here it concludes the section on love for one’s enemy by placing the challenge to be merciful in a theological context. Just as God’s love for all is indiscriminate, so must the love of the true disciple be. If love is given only in return for love, it is not love at all. To be called love, it must be unconditional.

The next two verses move to the theme of not judging and not condemning. The reason for this is that the one who does not judge and condemn will not be judged or condemned him/herself. Instead, the disciple of Jesus is called to forgive and let go of hurts and resentments as these block the receipt of pardon and forgiveness that is freely available from God. The section ends with a call to a kind of giving which does not count the cost, but which gives generously and freely. The result of such giving will be God’s unbounded generosity.


Mercy, forgiveness and love are in short supply today. Most relationships between people are built on what one can gain from the other and how the relationship will help one. It is rare to see (even in relationships between members of one family) selflessness and generosity. Yet, this is what Jesus calls the disciple to and expects that the disciple will live such a generous life.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

God is....

Sunday, March 1, 2015 - Second Sunday in Lent - Look at the Son.

To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 22: 1-2, 9,10-13,15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
 

I still remember that night, eight years ago, when I received a call at 11.45 p.m. I knew immediately that it would be from someone with a very great need or someone in great despair. It was. The father of a young man was calling to tell me that his 23 year old son had just died. He was his only son. The boy was coming home from work when a drunk driver knocked him down and fled the scene. He was taken to hospital but declared dead on arrival. At the funeral Mass the next day, there was not one person in the church who was not moved by tears by the sight of that young man in his coffin. The questions on everyone’s lips were: “How could God…” and “Why”?

I do believe that the answer to our every “How could God…” and “Why” is provided for us in God sending his only son.

The first reading also speaks to us about a father and his only son. Abraham was asked to give up his only son, and this, after being promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. How could God, who had made such a promise, expect it to be fulfilled, if Isaac was to be sacrificed? This kind of sacrifice would result in cutting Abraham off from his future. Abraham did not know that God was actually testing him. He heard the command from God as something that he was being called to do. However, he did know that God would provide and find a way. He believed that God could do even what was impossible. This is why his constant response to God was “Here I am”. This willingness and faith of Abraham resulted in God being able to work in and through him. It resulted in the promises of God being fulfilled in the life of Abraham. He did, indeed, become a great nation and his descendants were as numerous s grains of sand on the seashore.

The willingness and faith that Abraham showed was exemplary. However, it pales in comparison with the willingness and faith that Jesus showed when he took up his cross. This is what God commanded Jesus to do and this is what he did. While in Abraham’s case, he was stopped before he could complete the act of offering his son, in the case of Jesus, he had to go the full way to show his obedience to God’s will and fulfil God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world.

We are given a foretaste of this obedience in the scene of the Transfiguration. The figures that appear with Jesus on the mountain are Elijah and Moses. These were prophets who were considered (along with Enoch) as alive in the presence of God. The voice from heaven, after addressing Jesus as beloved son, asks the three disciples who were with Jesus on the mountain to listen to him.  Despite being God’s beloved son, Jesus would have to go to his suffering and death and, only then, enter his glory. There was no other way. Jesus did not simply obey God; he obeyed God because he trusted. He knew that God was in charge and, even in what seemed like defeat and death, there would be victory and new life.

We sometimes tend to think that Jesus is most clearly Son of God only in glory, not in suffering. The transfiguration challenges us to revise our understanding of how God’s presence comes to the world. Even as he stands transfigured, Jesus is aware that the cross is a certainty in his life. He is aware that, though he is beloved son, he will have to suffer and die.  The command to silence, given by Jesus to the disciples, reminds us that glory and suffering cannot be separated.

Yes, Jesus was able to go to the cross in the full knowledge that God would always do what was best for him. He was aware that the God who delivered Elijah and Moses would also deliver him. He was able to go through the cross because he knew that, in and through the cross, he would save the world. That Jesus continues to live today is proof that his faith and confidence in the goodness of God was affirmed and confirmed. It was a proof that Paul experienced when he told the community in Rome that “neither death nor life…. nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.


The message then, on this second Sunday of Lent, to every one of us, is that God continues to be in charge. He continues to want what is best for each of us at every moment of our life. Even at those times when we cannot see his hand as clearly as we would like, or cannot feel his presence as tangibly as we would want, he is still working for our good. This was confirmed in the life of Abraham, but fulfilled in the most perfect way in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every time we are tempted to ask “Why” or “How could God….” we have only to look at his Son.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Focus on weightier issues not insignificant ones

Saturday, February 28, 2015 - How often has the expectation of some “reward” been your motivation for “doing good”? Will you “do good” without any expectation of reward today?

To read the texts click on the texts: Dt 26:16-19; Mt 5:43-48

In the last of the six antitheses, Matthew focuses on the love command. . While there is no command to hate the enemy in the Old Testament, yet, there are statements that God hates all evildoers and statements that imply that others do or should do the same. Jesus, makes explicit here the command to love enemies. This is the behaviour expected of a true disciple of Jesus. They cannot merely love those who love them, since one does not require to be a disciple to do this. Everyone, even the vilest of people can do this. The conduct of the disciples of Jesus must reveal who they are really are, namely “sons and daughters of God”.

The command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” does not mean to be without faults, but means to be undivided in love as God is undivided in love.


The love we have for others is more often than not a conditional love. We indulge in barter exchange and term it love. We are willing to do something for someone and expect that they do the same or something else in return. It is a matter of “give”, but also a matter of “take”. When Jesus asks us to be like the heavenly Father, he is calling us to unconditional love.