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REFLECTIONS

THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

We should note the master’s approach to these servants.  He could dictate exactly
how each servant will use his money, but does not.  Instead, he exhibits great trust,
leaving them latitude to take advantage of opportunities as they might arise. 
Furthermore, he treats each of them as individuals, allocating resources in accord
with their abilities.  Finally he leaves.  As every supervisor or parent knows, walking
away is the hardest step—and the one that demonstrates the greatest trust.

Scholars estimate the value of a talent variously.  One person puts the talent as
worth 15-20 years of earnings for the common man.  Another says a talent is worth
a lifetime’s earnings.  It is clear that we are speaking of an immense sum of money.

Note the contrast between the verbs used for the five-and two-talent servants and
those used for the one-talent servant:

The five and two talent servants “went off at once,” whereas the one talent servant
“went away.”

The five and two talent servants “trade” or “worked with the money that had been
entrusted to them, while the one talent servant “dug a hole.”

The five and two talent servants “made” or “won” additional talents, but the one
talent man “hid his master’s money.

The verbs used for the five and two talent servants are progressive, whereas the
verbs used for the one-talent servant are regressive.  This verbal difference
reflects contrasting opinions of the master.  The master’s trust emboldens the five
and two talent servants.  Their trust in the master reflects the trust that the master
has shown in them.

The Master-Lord rewards the five and two talent servants in three ways:

1) He pronounces them “good and worthy.”  While this might seem a small thing, we
can expect these servants to remember these words fondly, probably for the rest of
their lives.  Very few things feel better than words of praise given by a highly
respected person and honestly won. We all need affirmation.

2) He gives them increased responsibility.  The ministry of love need not be a burden, but has the potential to be a great joy.

3) He says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (vv.21,23) This probably takes us beyond the parable setting into Christian expectation regarding the Messiah’s victory banquet.          

The master rewards these two servants equally, even though one has gained five talents while the other has gained only two.  The master’s words to both servants are exactly the same. The one talent servant characterizes the master as harsh.  Is he perhaps resentful within for having received a smaller quantity than the other two?  This characterization is unfair.  The master, encountering faithful service, goes beyond fairness to generosity.  The first two servants made the best of their opportunity, but that involved risk.  They could not have acted so boldly had they not trusted the master.  They acted with confidence, not just in themselves, but also in their master.  The one talent servant, however, acts in fear.  He has not affection for his master, is concerned only for his own security, and is not about to risk himself to enrich the master.  He allows fear to dictate his action.  He buries the money, thinking that will relieve him of responsibility. In the first reading from Proverbs the industrious and generous woman is praised precisely for her
“fear of the Lord."  What is the difference between this woman’s fear which is praised and the one talents servant’s fear?  In the context of Israel’s wisdom literature, fear of God is a profound awe of the Creator that frees one from the fear of anything or anyone else, and it energizes one to act justly and generously.  The first and second servants were acting obediently according to that healthy fear, whereas the third servant was hobbled by a lesser, craven fear.  How are we to interpret these words:  “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (v. 29) Matthew probably means to moralize to the effect that gifts unused atrophy, but gifts exercised increase. But we must not miss the high risk activity of the first two servants.  The major themes of the Christian faith
—caring, giving, witnessing, trusting, loving, and hoping—cannot be understood or lived without risks. We usually consider certain things as talents and overlook others.  Artistic or academic ability will get me recognized as talented.  But, there are so many other talents that we fail to recognize or take for granted, failing to assign them near-infinite value.  No one is without talents,  No matter how weak and fractured the image of God may seem in us, not matter how severe our disabilities, by the very fact that we have life, we know we have talents.  Affection is a talent.  Service is a talent.  Generosity is a talent.  The ability to evoke and facilitate the talents of others is a talent.  For some people, perhaps suffering is a share in Christ’s talent.  We should cultivate an ability to recognize talents, our own and others’.  When we do that, two things happen.  The first is that in recognizing talents, we can better put them to use for God’s kingdom.  Overlooked talents may become buried talents.  The second is that we begin to understand the generosity of God.

**************************************************************


If we read this parable in "economic terms," it looks quite different.  The one talent man refuses to be part of the economic system that the man going on the journey proposes. from:Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog" It’s about the world of investment and profit-taking without real work. It’s also about dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class.

The parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss--“a demanding person harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, like the system of capitalism itself, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of others. The conformists go along with that system which to them has no acceptable alternative.

Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable refuses to go along. And he suffers the predictable consequences for doing so. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system represents the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy." 

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
The coming weeks present us with three parables that conclude the public teaching of Jesus in Matthew.  These constitute his final testament to the disciples, a manual of discipleship for life “between the times” of Jesus’ earthly presence and his triumphant return.  They have a menacing tone, in jarring contrast to the voice of the one who was “meek and humble of heart.”  Five young women have the door of a feast slammed in their face.  A timid and fearful steward is cast into outer darkness, where people will weep and gnash their teeth.  And people who were clueless about the presence of Jesus are consigned to eternal punishment.
 
Today’s Gospel has words of consolation and warning.  First consolation.  Jesus has told us that happiness is the Reign of God, that place where men and women are able to encounter one another and live the fulness of life and intimacy and joy.  In today’s Gospel Jesus also points out that the Reign of God is like a wedding feast.  Weddings have been and are times of fulness, a time to celebrate life.  To celebrate marriage is to believe in hope, to believe in the future.  It is wondrous good news to know that the Bridegroom will come and gather in all those who are his.

Second
warning.  We are told to be wise and prepare for the long haul.  The narrative is a warning against both moral procrastination and presumption.
 
In this Gospel we have a grace  moment and a pathetic moment.  First the moment of grace.  Surprisingly, commentators rarely focus on the “wise” virgins.  Today’s first reading contains a beautiful image of Lady Wisdom, seeking those who would accept her, “for whoever for her sake keeps vigil will be free from care.”  John Donahue, S.J. reminds us: “Wisdom is transcendent knowledge revealed by God and also evokes thoughts of practical know-how, along with prudent judgment gained from experience.  Wisdom is personified as God’s partner in creation (Proverbs 8) . . . .  Five of the bridesmaids are called wise (or prudent) because they carefully assess the needs of the situation and prepare for the future.  The lamps are symbols that through their teaching and good deeds they will be lights shining in darkness, which cannot be hidden under a basket.  They are guides for the community as it awaits the return of Jesus.”

Second, pathetic moment.  John Donahue, S.J. again: “Some readers think that the ones who should have been condemned were the “wise,” the somewhat selfish and nasty bridesmaids (alpha girls), who would not share their oil.  More convincing is the view that the lamps lit and supplied with oil are symbols of the works of love and mercy that one must have at the final judgment.  These cannot really be shared with others, so the narrative is a warning against both moral procrastination and presumption.”
 
Barbara Reid approaches the parable from a different angle.  “Neither the preacher nor the Congregation are completely foolish, nor completely wise; the two extremes in the parable are for bringing the point into higher relief.  Each one has some aspect of the foolish virgins within . . . . Every disciple also has some aspect of the wise ones within.  All the myriad ways in which wise disciples have been illumining the world, lighting one small candle at a time, by the way they hear and live out the word, coalesce into brilliant torchlight for the banquet.  The arrival of the groom at last is no surprise, but a joyous relief.  The parable invites celebration of our wisdom, even as our foolishness is still being transformed.”  If we read the Gospel in juxtaposition with the first reading, it is reassuring that the effort to be wise does not depend on human striving alone.  In the first reading Wisdom is waiting to be found; she is readily perceived and found and known by those who love and seek her.  Those who keep vigil for her are actually being sought out by her as she makes her rounds.
 
The readings for today call our attention to the character of the fulfillment (I have illustrated this above)  and the manner of our waiting.  Jesus final command to stay awake cannot be taken literally.  All the girls slept.  But rather “be prepared by the good works for the coming whose time you do not know.”  Vigilance is not simply waiting for the future but active engagement in the present which will determine the shape of the future.  To be wise, then, is not to calculate the time of departure.  It is to spend the present moment, the waiting, well.  It is not the knowledge of when, but the wisdom of readiness.  At life’s end, no matter what the hour or day, we will only welcome the Presence to whom, in our rare wise times, we have learned to be attentive.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

This Sunday’s Gospel passage and the following verses enables us to mine some of the understanding that recent scripture scholarship has brought to us as enrichment.


In penetrating the meaning of the Gospel passage of this Sunday and the verses that follow it, we must be aware of the three stages of Gospel formation that were explained in the 1964 Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels by the Roman Pontifical Biblical Commission.  Raymond Brown in his Introduction to the New Testament  summarizes the three stages in this way: 1) The public ministry or activity of Jesus of Nazareth, 2) The (Apostolic) preaching about Jesus, and 3) The Written Gospels.
 
John Donahue, S.J. tells us: “Today’s Gospel launches a bitter polemic against the Pharisees that is almost a caricature of the historical Pharisees.  Its purpose is less to pillory them than to warn Matthew’s community leaders about certain ‘pharisaical” attitudes.”  Pharisee has come to mean in ordinary language, hypocrite.
 
We must also listen attentively to the caution of Donald Senior in his commentary on this passage: “ . . . the potential of these Matthean passages to be read and interpreted as an unqualified attack on Jews and Judaism remains, and Christian teachers bear the responsibility for preventing such a toxic reading of the gospel.”
 
Chapter 23:1-36 is a serious list of insults, and although insult was a fine and frequent art in antiquity, piling them up as Matthew does here suggests very serious conflict between Jesus and his opponents (or between Jesus’ followers in Matthew’s community and the opponents of that day). The challenge begins with a set of accusations as follows: 1) Pharisaic scribes do not practice what they preach. 2) They refuse to interpret the law in a way favorable to a wider range of options. 3) They act so as to be seen by others: in what they wear, where they sit, how they are greeted, the titles they wish.       
 
While verses 1-36 of chapter 23 are obviously intended as a critique of the scribes and Pharisees, it is primarily intended as instruction for the followers of Jesus. Matthew makes it the final expression of judgment on the leaders that has been building throughout the Gospel and stoked to white-hot intensity in the temple section we have been considering.
 

The leaders authority as legitimate teachers is duly noted (23:1-3).  This unusual text is in tension with the rest of Matthew’s Gospel.  It is one of the most difficult to understand in the context of Matthew’s own theology.  It has been speculated that Matthew kept these verses from the early, stringently Jewish-Christian stage of Matthew’s church,  perhaps when the church was still struggling to maintain its ties to the synagogue.   George Montague offers us this explanation: “Matthew incorporates an early saying of Jesus that legitimates those Jewish converts who wish to continue whatever in the Pharisaic tradition does not conflict with their new faith.”
 
 But the Jewish leaders  are condemned for the kind of failings the Matthean Jesus has denounced throughout the gospel: failure to act justly; a lack of compassion in laying heavy burdens on others; false piety and arrogant pride. Raymond Brown summarizes this section: “The scribes and Pharisee opponents are criticized for talk or pretense not accompanied by action and also for acting from base motives.”  We must apply this criticism not only to the scribes and Pharisees but examine ourselves on the same basis.
 
Matthew’s great concern with three titles indicates that the problem has already arisen in his own church.  Leaders are arrogating titles to themselves, thus turning the servants of the brotherhood of Christ into a hierarchy.  John Meier in his commentary on this passage issues the following challenge: “.The Catholic Church in particular must reflect on whether these inspired words call it to forsake the ecclesiastical titles which have proliferated in its midst, especially since one of its most common titles, ‘Father”, is specifically forbidden to religious leaders.”
 
Donald Senior offers this reflection from a different perspective:  “This extraordinary portrayal of an egalitarian community is an important ingredient in Matthew’s ecclesiology, one that echoes the spirit of the community discourse in chapter 18 where authority resided in the entire community and where leadership was to be characterized by humility, respect for others, attention to the weaker members, compassion for the stray and active forgiveness.”  We must ask how do these truths express themselves in our hierarchical Church.  Each of us is called to examine our own actions against the criteria for leadership which Matthew offers us.
 

Paul provides a counter vision to that of domination and distant leadership.  His care is that of a “nursing mother” for his children, who among them shared not only the “Gospel of God, but his very own self, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”  Earlier Paul wrote, “We treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you.”  A nursing woman’s love and a father’s encouragement are wed in Paul’s pastoral consciousness.  There is a deep lesson here for a church so characterized by patters of exclusive male control.
 
Matthew closes his consideration of false and true leadership by pointing to the final judgment: God’s judgment will reverse earthly positions: the humble servant will be rewarded while the self-seeking ruler will be condemned.  Does my way of acting characterize me as a humble servant or a self seeking person?

This Sunday’s Gospel passage and the following verses enables us to mine some of the understanding that recent scripture scholarship has brought to us as enrichment..

In penetrating the meaning of the Gospel passage of this Sunday and the verses that follow it, we must be aware of the three stages of Gospel formation that were explained in the 1964 Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels by the Roman Pontifical Biblical Commission.  Raymond Brown in his Introduction to the New Testament  summarizes the three stages in this way: 1) The public ministry or activity of Jesus of Nazareth, 2) The (Apostolic) preaching about Jesus, and 3) The Written Gospels.
 
John Donahue, S.J. tells us: “Today’s Gospel launches a bitter polemic against the Pharisees that is almost a caricature of the historical Pharisees.  Its purpose is less to pillory them than to warn Matthew’s community leaders about certain ‘pharisaical” attitudes.”  Pharisee has come to mean in ordinary language, hypocrite.
 
We must also listen attentively to the caution of Donald Senior in his commentary on this passage: “...the potential of these Matthean passages to be read and interpreted as an unqualified attack on Jews and Judaism remains, and Christian teachers bear the responsibility for preventing such a toxic reading of the gospel.”
 
Chapter 23:1-36 is a serious list of insults, and although insult was a fine and frequent art in antiquity, piling them up as Matthew does here suggests very serious conflict between Jesus and his opponents (or between Jesus’ followers in Matthew’s community and the opponents of that day). The challenge begins with a set of accusations as follows: 1) Pharisaic scribes do not practice what they preach. 2) They refuse to interpret the law in a way favorable to a wider range of options. 3) They act so as to be seen by others: in what they wear, where they sit, how they are greeted, the titles they wish.       
 
While verses 1-36 of chapter 23 are obviously intended as a critique of the scribes and Pharisees, it is primarily intended as instruction for the followers of Jesus. Matthew makes it the final expression of judgment on the leaders that has been building throughout the Gospel and stoked to white-hot intensity in the temple section we have been considering.
 

The leaders authority as legitimate teachers is duly noted (23:1-3).  This unusual text is in tension with the rest of Matthew’s Gospel.  It is one of the most difficult to understand in the context of Matthew’s own theology.  It has been speculated that Matthew kept these verses from the early, stringently Jewish-Christian stage of Matthew’s church,  perhaps when the church was still struggling to maintain its ties to the synagogue.   George Montague offers us this explanation: “Matthew incorporates an early saying of Jesus that legitimates those Jewish converts who wish to continue whatever in the Pharisaic tradition does not conflict with their new faith.”
 
But the Jewish leaders  are condemned for the kind of failings the Matthean Jesus has denounced throughout the gospel: failure to act justly; a lack of compassion in laying heavy burdens on others; false piety and arrogant pride. Raymond Brown summarizes this section: “The scribes and Pharisee opponents are criticized for talk or pretense not accompanied by action and also for acting from base motives.”  We must apply this criticism not only to the scribes and Pharisees but examine ourselves on the same basis.
 
 
Matthew’s great concern with three titles indicates that the problem has already arisen in his own church.  Leaders are arrogating titles to themselves, thus turning the servants of the brotherhood of Christ into a hierarchy.  John Meier in his commentary on this passage issues the following challenge: “.The Catholic Church in particular must reflect on whether these inspired words call it to forsake the ecclesiastical titles which have proliferated in its midst, especially since one of its most common titles, ‘Father”, is specifically forbidden to religious leaders.”
 
Donald Senior offers this reflection from a different perspective:  “This extraordinary portrayal of an egalitarian community is an important ingredient in Matthew’s ecclesiology, one that echoes the spirit of the community discourse in chapter 18 where authority resided in the entire community and where leadership was to be characterized by humility, respect for others, attention to the weaker members, compassion for the stray and active forgiveness.”  We must ask how do these truths express themselves in our hierarchical Church.  Each of us is called to examine our own actions against the criteria for leadership which Matthew offers us.
 

Paul provides a counter vision to that of domination and distant leadership.  His care is that of a “nursing mother” for his children, who among them shared not only the “Gospel of God, but his very own self, so dearly beloved had you become to us.”  Earlier Paul wrote, “We treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you.”  A nursing woman’s love and a father’s encouragement are wed in Paul’s pastoral consciousness.  There is a deep lesson here for a church so characterized by patters of exclusive male control.
 
Matthew closes his consideration of false and true leadership by pointing to the final judgment: God’s judgment will reverse earthly positions: the humble servant will be rewarded while the self-seeking ruler will be condemned.  Does my way of acting characterize me as a humble servant or a self seeking person?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson



THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

During Jesus life time people were aware of 613 prohibitions and prescriptions of the law. Seems it was common to discuss these 613. But Matthew tells us that one of the pharisees, a scholar of the law, poses his question to "test" Jesus. The question is asked not for information but out of hostility. Last Sunday we heard that they wanted to "entrap" him.


Perhaps for me the first lesson is to learn how Jesus responds to hostility. He seems to ignore the hostility and simply respond to the question. This is no easy success. Can I do the same?


Secondly we must look at Jesus response. The first part is: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."


Love God, what does it mean? The first letter of John gives a basic premise. 1 Jn. 4:10 "This is what love is, it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven." Nine verses later John’s letter adds, "We love because God first loved us."


The noted biblical scholar, John Donahue, S.J., says clearly: "Biblical love of God is gratitude and remembrance for what God has done, rather than a project of what we do for God." John P. Meier in his commentary on this passage states: "Love of God entails one’s whole being; heart (center of knowing and willing as well as feeling), mind and soul (one’s whole life and energies). Love is not so much a matter of feeling as a matter of doing."



The second part of Jesus response is: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Dianne Bergant tells us: "That he knew the Law was not remarkable. What was astounding was the way he linked these two prescriptions. He placed love of neighbor alongside love of God. In fact, he insisted that ‘the whole Law and the prophets (the entire religious tradition) depend on these two commandments." She also reminds us: "Jesus will ultimately expand the meaning of the term (neighbor) to include those outside the community as well." Luke’s Gospel follows the scene of this test of Jesus by the story of the Good Samaritan. In Matthew’s sermon on the mount Jesus includes even our enemies among the neighbors we must love.


"AS YOURSELF." I believe it was Eckhardt Tolle who quipped something to this effect: "For some people that’s no great gift." His words alert us to the fact that people have difficulty loving themselves.

It is clear that many people lack self esteem. One analysis of this fact attributes it to the following: 1) early life experience of non-affirmation (parents overly permissive, exaggerated punitive attitude, overly critical, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, divorce); 2) being taught that emotions are bad, anger and sadness; 3) the conflict between the ideal self (formed by musts and shoulds) and the real self.

Rather than good self love we have many people who have self hate. They constantly engage in self defeating behaviors, avoidance, repression, denial, bargaining, passing the buck, blaming the past behaviors. We can become self serving, selfish (reflected in attitudes such as: "I must fulfill all my desires", "the world owes me", "anyone who gets in my way, I will run over".)

We can end up with two extreme views of self. I am worthless or I am God's gift to the universe.


The first letter of John presents us with these sobering thoughts (stated in non inclusive language): 1 Jn 4:19 "If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. For he cannot love God, whom he has not seen, if he does not love his brother, whom he has seen. This is the command that Christ gave us: he who loves God must love his brother also." We too easily can live with this contradiction, seeing ourselves as loving God but mistreating our brothers and sisters and neighbors and outsiders.



Whatever problems we have with self esteem we must overcome them. I must reach a point when I stop blaming the past and others, stop passing the buck and take responsibility for my actions. I must love my neighbor (outsiders and enemies included) and thus fulfill the commands of Jesus to love God and neighbor as self.

The GOOD NEWS. The obstacles to loving self, thus to loving neighbor, thus to loving God can be overcome with the Love of God for us. God first loved us. God also can heal us through the love of others. The person who looks at and loves you is able to see the gifts that you have in a way that you don't even know. Place ourselves and our obstacles and our self defeating behaviors before God.
 
From Roger Karban:


I remember a workshop exercise in which we were asked to list 10 things we considered priorities in our lives. Then, on the other side of the paper, we were to write the date of the last time we actually did one of those things. It was a revelation. Thinking about something isn't close to doing something about it. Rarely do we live our priorities.
    
Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
Listening to this Gospel we realize that the tension level between Jesus and the religious leaders is rising.  The opening verse of today’s Gospel tells us that the Pharisees are plotting “how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”  They send their disciples to him, with the Herodians.  Notice that the Pharisees do not go themselves.  They send their disciples.  Here they are trying to protect themselves, putting a distance between themselves and the outcome.  Isn’t this one tactic of deceivers?  The two groups that come to Jesus are on completely different sides of the tax question.  The Pharisees reject or oppose it on religious grounds.  The Herodians favor the tax on political grounds.  Plotting makes strange bed fellows not just in the Gospel passage but also in our political seasons.

The schemers think they have the perfect trap.  Jesus will be damned if he says “yes pay the tax” or “no don’t pay the tax.”  His ‘yes’ will discredit him with the Pharisees and also the Zealots who are in favor of armed rebellion against the occupying Romans.  His ‘no’ will discredit him with the dominant occupiers the Romans and their supporters the Herodians.  It’s the classical, damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.

The words that the people say when they come to Jesus are very flattering.  But they are insincere.  This is the worst kind of truth, used for a bad purpose.  Truth can be used to wound, scandalize or embarrass another.

Jesus recognizes their bad faith.  “Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?”  Jesus names them for what they are, hypocrites.  He possibly uses some tactics of his own by asking them to produce the coin of the census tax. They produce the coin which has the image of Caesar and the inscription Divus which would attribute divinity to him.  Some Jews thought that even possessing a denarius was an act of idolatry.  That the disciples of the Pharisees could produce a denarius when asked, only added to their hypocrisy and bad faith.

Jesusfinal words are, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Rabbi Arthur Waskow has this comment on God and Caesar:

In the first chapter of Genesis, the Torah teaches that God made Adam, and the human race, in the image of God.  What does this mean?  The ancient rabbis taught: “Adam the first human being, was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of the Ruler who is beyond all rulers, the Blessed Holy One.  For if a human ruler [like Caesar, the Roman Emperor who was the ruler in their time and place] mints many coins from one mold, they all carry the same image, they all look the same.  But the Blessed Holy One shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, as Adam was...And yet not one of them resembles another.”

The rabbis drew an analogy between the image a human ruler, Caesar, puts upon the coins of the realm, and the image of the Infinite Ruler put upon the many “coins” of humankind.  The very diversity of human faces shows the unity and infinity of God, whereas the uniformity of imperial coins makes clear the limitations on the power of an emperor.
 
The rabbi links this story of the Gospel with the above teaching.  He goes on to say: But for two thousand years, Christians have argued over what this answer  meant.  What is Caesar’s and what is God’s?  Does the answer suggest two different spheres of life, one ruled by Caesar and one by God?  Does it mean to submit to Caesar’s authority in the material world, while adhering to God in the spiritual world?  How do we discern the boundary? 

The rabbi then invites us to reread the story with a single line and gesture added: “Whose image is on this coin?asks Jesus.  His questioner answers, “Caesar’s”.  Then Jesus puts his arm on the troublemaker’s shoulder and asks, “And whose image is on this coin?”...Now there is deeper meaning to his response, and to the troublemaker’s exit.  Jesus has not just avoided the question and evaded the dilemma: He has answered, in a way that is much more radical than if he had said their “pay the tax” or “Don’t pay the tax–a way that is profoundly radical, but gives no obvious reason for arrest. Jesus has not proposed dividing up the turf between the material and the spiritual.  He has redefined the issue: “Give your whole self to the One who has imprinted divinity upon you!  You a fellow rabbi, know that is the point of this story.  All I have done is remind you.”
 
It is quite easy to see our own present situation of conflicting loyalties in the incident related in today’s Gospel.   In our democracy a “Caesar” is not imposed on us, we elect our president.  The U.S. Catholic bishops have told us that Catholic values must inform how we vote.  Our problem it seems to me is we have very many “one issue” voters.  This has contributed to giving us Donald Trump as our president. The U.S. bishops have highlighted seven themes to summarize Catholic Social Teaching: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God's creation.  (These are contained in their publication Sharing Catholic Social Teaching)
 

In the midst of a political season which witnessed rampant  “gotcha” attitudes and attempts; in the midst of a political reality with more deception than can be quantified; in the midst of a political reality of “strange bedfellows”; in the midst of hypocrisy and economic turmoil; in the midst of flattering words and insincerity that abound we pray for wisdom and guidance as we exam our our consciences and decide how to move forward.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Today’s image offered to us is that of a banquet or wedding feast.  Last Sunday we were offered the image of the vineyard.  We can think of ourselves as the vineyard that the Lord is cultivating and ask what fruits we are bringing forth and how much we produce sour grapes.  But this Sunday the first reading offers us a picture of a banquet too good to be true.  The Gospel offers us a wedding banquet that seems almost too bad to be true.  These readings had meaning in the time of Isaiah and the time of Jesus but we must seek their meaning for our time.
 
The image of the banquet in the first reading is an image of life in Heaven.  The best of everything in abundance, God wiping away tears. God providing for all peoples a feast.  That’s the promise of what is awaiting us after this life in this valley of darkness or valley of tears.  The banquet in the Gospel clearly has a dark side to it.
 
Daniel Berrigan writes about today’s Gospel parable:  “’The realm of heaven may be compared to a king’Compared in two ways:  the way of likeness and of contrast.”  He cautions us to not miss the storyteller for the story.  We have the Christ of “love your enemies” telling about a king who takes revenge on his enemies.  This king, in fact, recalls the most savage of Hebrew and Gentile rulers.

We have the king seeing the man without the wedding garment and ordering the attendants to bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.  It is difficult to see this as a description of Jesus.  From Jesus life and teaching we have to amend the story.  Our Host enters the banquet hall to approve, rejoice, include, welcome.  All—and sundry are included.  Ourselves.  Nothing of the truculent, blind striking out of the king against a poor, speechless, anonymous guest.  Just as gently but firmly, we amend the story’s conclusion.  In its original form, the words that sum up the parable belong to the king who judged so harshly, who confused his status of host with his black mood of condemnation and retaliation.  It is the king who says to himself in dour satisfaction, invulnerable and vengeful:  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  These are not the words of Jesus; they are the words of the worldly host and warrior, the one given to eviction and slaughter.  There is a far different summing up, according to the heart of Jesus:  To the banquet, to life, to love.  And all are called, all are chosen.

Other aspects of the parable offer us further reflection.  Invitations are offered and refused.  We notice a progression in the response of those rejecting the invitation:  first indifference, then anger, then violence, which finally leads to their destruction.  This progression can also be part of our lives.

Good and bad are invited. The evil and the virtuous are intermingled, juxtaposed; lift glasses together, banter, ponder, and feast.  And more:  good and evil coexist within each of us.

How do we receive invitations from God?  We don’t hear a voice speaking to us saying to do this or that.  No, invitations from God come to us in a variety of forms in our daily life.  Sometimes it is the voice of a family member or friend.  Don’t do that.  Think about what you are doing.  Do this.  Sometimes it is our own conscience that is the voice of God.  Sometimes it is God speaking through our body.  Do I have a pain in the neck?  Is my back sore?  Do I constantly have indigestion?  Am I living with head aches?  What is my pain in the neck?  What tension am I holding?  What am I not dealing with, denying or ignoring?  Our body can be the voice of God talking to us as well.
 
The last part of the parable about the man without the wedding garment is a little curious.  Some explain that wedding garments were provided and offered to people as they entered.  If so it could be interpreted that this man came and seemed to be saying, take me as I am.  When confronted he couldn’t say anything.  For this he was cast out.  He then can be seen as a figure of those who want to live life in their own way.  These people would say to God, This is what I want to do.  I want what I want when I want it.  That attitude risks our being cast out.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson