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REFLECTIONS

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The grumbling of those who have worked all day is similar to the
grumbling of the elder Brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Like
the Prodigal Son we never know what they did in response to the owner's
answer.
 
Act I: Hirings.

At the outset there is a surprising note.  The householder (and not
his steward) goes out from "early in the morning" until the eleventh hour
to assemble the workers.  The hearers are given a hint that their normal
view of the world is to be challenged.  Different wage agreements: first
group: normal days's wage; hired in the third hour: whatever is right;
hired in the sixth and ninth hour: presumably "whatever is right";
eleventh hour: no mention of payment. 
 
Act II: Payments

Normally those who had worked l2 hours would be the first to be
paid.  If that had happened, they would have left happy.  But the
reversal,inversion, in the order of pay lets those who had worked all day
find out what the others have received.  As we stand with the workers
and watch the payment, when those who are hired last receive a denarius,
we begin to have the same feelings as those hired first they thought that they would receive more
 
Act III: Dialogue between the owner and the grumbling workers:


    1) I am not cheating you. 

    2) Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 
    3) I question your attitude. Are you envious because I am generous?'
 
The complaint of the dissatisfied workers is, strictly speaking, you
have made them equal to us.  They are defining their personal worth in
contrast to others;  they are not so much angered by what happened to
them as envious of the good fortune of the other workers.  They are so
enclosed in their understanding of justice that it becomes a norm by
which they become judges of others.  They want to order the world by
their norms which limit the master's freedom and exclude unexpected
generosity.

The line between following God's will and deciding what God wills is
always thin and fragile. 
 
The grumblers claim that making one hour equal to those who have
worked all day is unfair.  The first group of workers have at the end of
the story exactly what they had contracted for in the beginning.  They
would have been satisfied with that if it had not been for the treatment
given the group that only worked one hour.

Notice that they are never denied their reward, just their
complaint.  Whatever they lose, they lose in their own feelings of
hostility and resentment.
 
We human beings are curious.  When we look at someone who is the
beneficiary of some generosity we want a strict system of justice.  But
if we are the beneficiary of some generosity we wonder at those who have
complaints.  They are just jealous.
 
For who among us does not yearn to find a welcome, a helping hand,
an unexpected privilege, even when we do not deserve it.
 
Jesus showed us that God does not love us because we are wonderful,
but rather, we are wonderful (or can be) because God loves us.  DO I
LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE WONDERFUL OR ARE YOU WONDERFUL BECAUSE I LOVE YOU? 

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

We continue to hear this Sunday from Jesus' discourse on 
life in the community of his followers.  Last Sunday we heard about the
process of fraternal correction for a person not willing to stop sinning
and not willing to leave the community.  This Sunday we hear how to deal
with the person who sins often.
 
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 17: 3, 4 we find these words: "Be on
your guard!  If your brother sins, rebuke him;  and if he repents,
forgive him.  And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to
you seven times saying, 'I am sorry,' you should forgive him." We notice in
today's Gospel how Matthew has refashioned these ideas.  1) He makes the
saying a direct response to Peter's question: "Lord, how often shall my
brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?"
(Matt. 18: 21).  2) He changes the numbers from the offense and the
repentance to the forgiveness. (Luke 17:4, "If he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says 'I repent,' you must forgive him"
3) He magnifies the forgiveness:  "Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you
seven times, but seventy times seven'" (Matt. 18:22).  Also as we shall see,
the parable itself does not really answer the question of Peter "How often?" but
deals with the precondition (i.e. the quality) of forgiveness rather
than with the number of times (quantity) it must be extended.
 
*************************************************************
 
The parable of the Unmerciful or Unforgiving servant can easily be
seen as a little drama in three acts:
 
    Act I. The King and the Servant with the Immense Debt. _
           Scene 1: narrative vs. 23-25
           Scene 2: dialogue vs. 26
           Scene 3: action vs. 27
_

    Act II. The forgiven Servant and the fellow Servant with Debt
           Scene 1: narrative vs. 28a.
           Scene 2: dialogue: vs. 28b-29
           Scene 3: action vs. 30
_
    Act III. Fellow Servants, King, First Servant and Second Servant_
           Scene 1: narrative vs. 3l-32a
           Scene 2: dialogue vs. 32b-33
           Scene 3: action vs. 34
 
MATTHEAN EPILOGUE, vs. 35
 
The power of the parable emerges from progressive engagement with
the characters.  When the parable begins, our sympathies are with the
first servant.  The desire of the king "to settle accounts" (cf. Matt. 25:l9)
strikes an ominous note, as
does the description of the servant s being "brought" before
the king.  The reason for this threatening situation is held in suspense
until the final words of v. 24, "who owed him ten thousand talents."
Since the annual income of Herod the Great
was about nine hundred talents and since the taxes for Galilee and Perea
were two hundred talents a year, such a debt would evoke an unbelieving
gasp.  The inability to pay is not surprising, and the king's order of
slavery for the debtor with his family suggests that he is a tyrannical
gentile despot, since by Jewish law only a debtor, and not the family,
could be enslaved for unpaid debts.  At this point the sympathy of the
hearers would be toward this servant, since an unpayable debt to a
heartless master is pitiable. 
   
In v. 26 the narrative shifts to dialogue and the sevant makes his
plea:  "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." 
The shock in the first part of the parable comes in the first words
of v. 27.  The king, who was
depicted as heartless, is rather a person who takes pity (lit. "has
compassion on him") and forgives the debt.  A reader does
not expect one who was ready to enslave a whole family to be so moved. 
The surprising turn of events continues when the king does not heed the
servant's request for time to pay but forgives the whole debt. The
parable could have ended at this point and it would have been a good
illustration of Matt. 7:7, "Ask, and it will be given you."
 
The parable, however moves forward to the second act., where the
major thrust is found.  In contrast to his passive earlier state when he
was dragged before the king, the first servant now "goes out" and
chances upon a fellow servant who owes him a hundred denarii.  Since one
denarius is the equivalent of a day's wage the debt is not
inconsequential.  Since a talent is the equivalent of fifteen years of
daily wages, the contrast between the debts of the first servant and the
second servant is immense.  This second servant now becomes a mirror
image of the first.  He too falls on his knees and makes a petition in
the very same words as the first servant.  "Have patience with me, and I
will pay you."  The difference is that the terms of his request could be
met, since in time the debt could be repaid. At this point the story
could conclude with the first servant remitting the debt or even
granting the request, and the parable would be a good illustration of
the "golden rule" Matt. 7:12  The opposite occurs, and with a brutality
even greater than he experienced--he seized him by the throat--the first
servant demands payment. The contrast is heightened by the fact that the
words of the pleas of the two servants are almost exactly alike.  But
how great the contrast between the different reactions to the pleas. At
this point the sympathy of the readers or hearers of the parable shifts. 
The first person with whom we rejoiced earlier now becomes repulsive. 
Like the fellow servants of vs. 31 we are shocked at the injustice
(they are greatly distressed.) 

   
The third act begins with the actions of these servants.  They do as
we would like to do and go to the king in the hope of redressing the
situation.  The king summons the first servant, calls him wicked, and
tells him what exactly happened in the first act.  He was forgiven
simply because the king had mercy on him and he should have expressed
this mercy to his fellow servant.  In v. 34 there is a tragic irony for
the first servant in that now he will have what he originally requested,
time to pay his debt, only the time will be spent in prison.
 
**********************************************************

But why did the first servant act as he did?  The first servant asks
for time to pay an unpayable debt.  Instead of asking for mercy he
thinks that the way out of this tragic situation is to restore the order
of justice, of debts to be paid and obligations met.  The surprise in
this part is that the king acts out of mercy, not justice.  The servant's
request is in the order of justice; the king operates in the order of
mercy out of compassion.
   
The second act plays out the servant's faulty understanding.  When
he goes out and hears the request of the second servant, he hears an
echo of his own disposition.  He enters again the familiar world of
strict justice.  The forgiveness and mercy that he received were
something that simply happened to him, not something that changed his
way of viewing the world.  His self understanding remains unaltered by
the gift he received.  The master says in effect: Even given your
predisposition to view the world through the eyes of strict justice, you
should have seen that the mercy which was "right" in your case was also
owed to your fellow servant. People are not necessarily changed by
experiences of forgiveness.  At the same time, the story makes it clear
that failure to change is not "all right." This is a warning that unless
the gospel transforms the innermost dispositions of its hearers, they
will act in much the same fashion as the first servant.  In this parable
we have spelled out in a story form the challenge of Jesus in Matt. 4:17 
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

 
Behind the image of the king stands the God of Jesus who

summons people to be forgiving because they have experienced
forgiveness. 
   
Jesus is clearly teaching something quite different than people's 
common understanding.  This teaching is challenging to the listeners 
of Matthew's Gospel and to us.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This Sunday we hear from the fourth of Jesus' discourses
in the Gospel of Matthew.  Matthew has five discourses. We have already
heard from the Sermon on the Mount in chapters. 5-7; The Mission discourse in
chapter 10; the Parable Discourse in chapter 13. Today we jump to the
18th chapter. This is the fourth discourse.  This chapter has been
titled in various ways: Ellis: Discourse to the Community;  Obach, Kirk:
Fourth Discourse:  On the Life of the Ecclesial Community with Emphasis
on the use of Authority; --Senior: Discourse on Life in the Community of
JesusHarrington:  Advice to a Divided Community;  Meyer: Church Life and
Order; RNAB: Church order but that title is a little misleading. 
 
Senior:  Elements of the discourse:


1) conversion (18:3) "Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

2) care for the little ones (18:6) "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better from him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
                                   
3) care for the marginal (18:12) actively seek out straying sheep
   
4) procedures for reconciliation within the community (18:15+)
   
5) the call for limitless (21-22) forgiveness (18:23-35).
 
This week and next we will be hearing from the fourth great
discourse of Jesus as found in Matthew's Gospel.  Our reading today
started with verse 15. It is important to hear these words in the
context of this entire chapter.  Prior to verse 1, vs 1-4 Jesus says
that conversion and becoming like a little child are important to be a
disciple. In vs. 5-9 Jesus teaches we must have care for those who are
called "the little ones" those weak in faith and take care not to be an
obstacle to them.  Immediately prior to our words that we heard today in
vs. 10-14 Jesus encourages the disciples to actively seek out the
straying sheep. Jesus will also follow these strict rules on how to deal
with a sinner with his words to Peter about forgiveness. 
   
Jesus does not mean that compassion should lead to permissiveness. 
He outlines the steps to be taken when a fellow Christian community
member sins.  When there is a person who has no intention either of 
stopping sinning or of leaving the community, we are to exercise fraternal correction.

The steps are:

1) personal discussion

2) discussion before witnesses
                                                    
3) discussion before the whole
community

The aim is to win the erring Christian back to the community. 
The drastic step of excommunication was probably intended to shock the
offender into reconciliation.  When we hear that the erring person is to
be considered as a "tax collector" or a "pagan,"as an outsider in need of
conversion,  we are reminded that Jesus had a particular compassion for
such as these.   Jesus also speaks "solemnly" of the power of united prayer.
Presumably the decision to excommunicate someone should not be done
without previous prayer.  Also, one of the objects of such prayer would
be to win back a brother where all other efforts seem futile. 
   
Jesus will follow these words (next Sunday) by responding to Peter's
question: "Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive
him? Seven times?" We know the answer.  Less familiar to us is the parable
that Jesus tells following this answer The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. 
   
Clearly Jesus is instructing about the newness of the Kingdom of God as
he understands and preaches it.  Challenge to us listeners!

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

In today's readings we hear of two men, Jeremiah and
Peter who are struggling with difficult parts of being a follower of God..
The Gospel reading is a contrasting balance with the Peter
of last Sunday's Gospel who professes Jesus as: You are the Christ the
Son of the living God.  Jesus then designated Peter as the Rock on
 whom he would build his church.
 
In Today's Gospel we heard the first of three predictions of the
Passion that are found in Matthew's Gospel. The idea that Jesus must go
up to Jerusalem to suffer much and be condemned to death was difficult
for them to accept.  After each prediction there is a 
response of Jesus’ followers, and a teaching of Jesus.
    
After the first prediction of the Passion, Peter as the
spokesperson gives words to their dissatisfaction with this idea.
“God forbid, Lord ! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
    
To the second prediction the apostles will respond by asking the
question "who is the most important in the kingdom of heaven?"
    
After the third prediction the mother of James and John will come
asking that her sons be given the places of honor at the right and left
of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom.


 ***********************************
 
The apostles idea of the Messiah did not include suffering and
death. They were happy to be commissioned to be followers of Jesus when
he shared with them his power to expel demons and to cure every kind of
infirmity and sickness. Now Jesus introduces the idea that he must
suffer much and be condemned to death. Peter objects to this future for
Jesus.
   
But Jesus reacts to Peter very strongly. “Get behind me Satan! 
You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does 
but as human beings do.” (Interesting enough if Peter stays behind
Jesus he will still be a follower.) From this point on in Matthew's Gospel
the number of miracles decrease and the teaching of Jesus increases. 


 ***********************************
 
But these words of Jesus are followed by an even greater challenge
to Peter and to us.  If we wish to follow Jesus we must be ready to
meet the same fate he is going to meet.  Following Jesus has its cost:
one must go up to Jerusalem. 
   
v. 24 “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his
 cross, and follow me.” As goes the master, so goes the disciple.
   
v. 25 Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses
his life for my sake will find it.  If we deny Jesus, selfishly seek
self fulfillment we will be condemned, no freedom, no happiness.
If we do surrender to God we will know everlasting life, freedom, happiness.

v. 26 all human conceptions of loss and gain have been turned
upside down.


 ************************************
 
v. 27 fidelity has its reward: The Son of Man... will repay,
reward, each one according to his conduct. 
   
Jesus prediction for himself included to suffer much, be condemned to
death but it also included rising on the third day. So Jesus
prediction for his followers is also deny self, carry the cross, lose
life but also with the promise to receive recompense according to one's
conduct.


 **************************************
 
After the first prediction of the passion we have Jesus teaching us what
we must do to be his followers: deny self, carry your cross and lose your
life.
 
After the second prediction of the passion we have Jesus teaching us
what we must do to be his followers: Mt. 18:3 if we don't change and come
like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God.
 
 
After the third prediction of the passion we have Jesus teaching us what
we must do to be his followers: Mt. 20: 26,27 “You know that the rulers
 of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority
 over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Rather, whoever 
wishes to be great among you, shall be your servant. ...the Son of Man did
 not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
 

Carry our cross, become like little children and serve.  How close am I to that model of discipleship?
 
Jeremiah felt duped by God.  He was an object of laughter and everyone mocked him.

“The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” 
We can identify with Jeremiah’s feelings, “I say to myself, I will not mention him.
  I will speak in his name no more.  But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart.
 Imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”  
Yet somehow he manages: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion;
 my persecutors will stumble they will not triumph.”  “O Lord of hosts, you who test the just.
 
Who probe mind and heart, Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, 
for to you I have entrusted my cause.”

We too at times wish vengeance.  Deception, sorrow and terror have brought
 the prophet close to the point of despair.  He makes it through.

Jeremiah clearly wrestles with God.  Have I at times wrestled with God?  Have I felt a “fire burning in my heart?”

What do I feel is imprisoned in my bones?  Has vengeance or forgiveness been more a part of my life?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Acknowledge with your Life (from FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JESUS by Jose A Pagola


Who do you say that I am?” All the synoptic writers reported on this question that Jesus asked his disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi.  It was very important for the early Christians to remember again and again whom they were following, how they were collaborating in his plan and for whom they were risking their lives.

When we hear this question today, we tend to mouth the formulas that Christianity has fondly repeated for centuries:  Jesus is the Son of God made man, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of the human race and so on.  But by just pronouncing these words is that enough to make us followers of Jesus? Unfortunately they are frequently formulas learned at an early age, routinely accepted, repeated meaninglessly, and affirmed but not lived.

We believe in Jesus out of custom, a pious disposition, or upbring, but we live without understanding the originality of his life, or having heard the newness of his call, or being drawn by his mysterious love and inspired by his freedom, without any effort to follow the path he traced.

We adore him as God, but he is not the center of our lives.  We acknowledge him as “Teacher” but we are not motivated by what motivated his life.  We live as followers of a religion, but we are not disciples of Jesus.

In spite of their intended purpose, the “orthodoxy” of our doctrinal formulas can provide a security which at the same time dispenses with a living encounter with Jesus. There are very ”orthodox” Christians who live an instinctive religiosity, but have no experience of what it is to be nourished by Jesus.  They feel they are guardians of the faith, even boast of their orthodoxy, but do not know personally the dynamism of the Spirit of Jesus.

Let’s not fool ourselves.  Each of us has to stand before Jesus, look into our hearts, and listen in the depths of our being to his words “Who am I truly for you all? The answer to this question must be seen in the quality of our lives, more than heard in sublime words.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The story of the Canaanite woman has been characterized in different ways.  Kenneth Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes states: “This story is often viewed as a troubling embarrassment.  A sincere foreign woman seeks help from Jesus.  At first he ignores her.  He then appears to exhibit racism and insensitivity to her suffering as he insults her in public.”

p. 217  Donald Senior in The Gospel of Matthew states, “The story of the Canaanite woman is a remarkable text . . . ”

p. 130   Catholic Worker, Jeff Dietrich,  titles his reflection in the Agitator, “Exorcising the Demons from Jesus.” 

In my opinion Dietrich gives the story an exaggerated interpretation.  “She (Canaanite woman) has exorcised Jesus and transformed the entire kingdom project.  If it had not been for the Canaanite woman, there would have been no second wilderness feeding to the Gentiles.  Because of her, the liberating message of the Kingdom would include not just the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but all of the lost sheep, all of the expendable victims of empire . . . Henceforth there would be no more unclean people, no expendables, no dogs, no excuse for treating anyone as less than human.  The legacy of the Canaanite woman continues to this day.”   But Dietrich also  makes some insightful interpretations.
           
Bailey’s exploration of the Canaanite woman stresses that a critical component in both the parables of Jesus and the dramatic stories about him is the ever-present community.  He states that Jesus pretends indifference.  By ignoring the woman’s desperate cries he appears to endorse views toward women with which the disciples were comfortable.  “The text can be understood as follows: Jesus is irritated by the disciples’ attitudes regarding women and Gentiles.”  This view is in conflict with that of Don Senior and Dietrich.  Senior sees Jesus himself emphatically resisting the extension of his mission to the Gentiles.  Dietrich sees Jesus as downright rude to the woman and rejecting her plea in a most uncompassionate manner.   His interpretation is: Jesus “here shows himself to be filled with the same demons of nationalism and patriarchy that he had just criticized in the religious authorities.”  In the quick retort of the woman Dietrich sees Jesus stopped in his tracks, knocked over so to speak.  “In a single instant she has exorcised from Jesus, the demons of nationalism, religious righteousness, segregation, and patriarchy.  Just as he restored the Gerasene demoniac to his right mind, she has restored Jesus to his right mind.”

In the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel vs. 21 we read, “When his (JESUS’)relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” So to me it is not an exaggerated interpretation to have the Canaanite woman restoring Jesus to his right mind.  This story is clearly dealing with sexism (not talking to a woman), nationalism and racism  (dealing with a Gentile  outsider) and patriarchy (superiority of males).  In this story Jesus overcomes the ethnic, cultural, political, gender, and religious barriers humans have created.  It is clearly a powerful story of the compassion of the  boundary breaking Jesus for the woman, her daughter and the disciples.

It seems to me our challenge is to find ourselves in this story.  Is the Canaanite woman or some other woman working to exorcise some demon in me?   What are my prejudices that are blocking me from seeing all people as children of God?
       
Source of reflection: Dave Jackson