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REFLECTIONS

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
This Sunday we continue to hear from the Parable
Discourse of Matthew's Chapter 13.  The structure of this Sunday's
reading is similar to last Sunday's: 1) parables to the crowds, 2)
comment on the reasons for parables, 3) private instruction to the
disciples giving an explanation of the parable of the wheat and darnel.
 
This Sunday we hear three parables of Jesus: wheat and weeds,
mustard seed, and leaven.  In the first of the three we notice that this
time the problem is not the ground on which it falls, but on the kind of
seed and on the distinction between the sowers.  In the second, the size
of the seed is stressed. In the third it is not about seeds used for
planting but about seeds used for food, namely meal.
 
1st parable:  Up until the parousia the church will always be a
mixed bag of good and evil. The advice is tolerance and patience until
God renders his definitive decision.  The householder does not retaliate
against his enemy.  He even uses the weeds as fuel to burn.  Drawing
good out of evil.  The parable concerns the proper attitude toward the
mixed reception accorded to Jesus.             * Confusion will clarify.
 
2nd parable: contrast between the small, unpromising beginnings of
the kingdom and its full, triumphant expansion.  Yet not the
triumphalness of a cedar but a mustard tree.   * Littleness grows.
 
3rd parable: uses a well known symbol in an unusual way.  Yeast or
leaven was for Jews and Christians a symbol of corruption.  Perhaps
because Jesus gathers round him the unclean sinners of the land, he
prefers to use yeast as a symbol of the kingdom which comes in small,
hidden, and perhaps despised beginnings.  The amount of flour is
ridiculously large, another example of hyperbole to stress the vast
success of the kingdom.                        * The hidden be seen.
 
_____________________________________
 
 v. 36 The return of Jesus to the house signals his break with the
crowds and symbolically his break with Israel.  It is a TURNING POINT IN
THE GOSPEL.  It is not an accident that this rupture occurs halfway
through the gospel.  Henceforth Israel will show greater and greater
hostility, and Jesus will turn more and more to his disciples, to devote
himself to their formation.
 
Explanation of the Parable:  While the parable was concerned with the
coexistence of good and evil persons in the Kingdom, the explanation
focuses on the harvesting at the end of time.  In vs. 40-43 the language
is highly apocalyptic, looks to the last judgement: images of end of the
world, harvesting, the fiery furnace, reaping angels and weeping and
gnashing of teeth (intense distress and rage).  It looks forward to the
parable of the separation of the sheep and goats at last judgement. 
This language has the effect of shifting the focus from patient
tolerance in the present to the spectacular events that will constitute
the end of the world.  It is God's business to decide who belongs to the
kingdom.  He will reward the just and cast evildoers into the fiery
furnace.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
Today we arrive at the section of Matthew's Gospel
which is known as the Parable Discourse, chapter 13.  Matthew structures
his gospel around five discourses: Sermon on the Mount, Discipleship,
Parables, Church, End.  For the next three Sundays we will be hearing
from this chapter, the parables (the kingdom in MYSTERY).  Today's
passage has three parts, the parable of the sower, an explanation of the
purpose of the parables, and an explanation of the parable of the sower.
 
As we heard the Gospel today we first heard the parable of
the sower, later we heard an explanation of the meaning of the parable. 
The parable is probably close to the words of Jesus, the explanation is
probably the words of Matthew.  We will look at these two parts of the
Gospel separately.  First the parable. Then Matthew's explanation of the
parable. Then we will try to apply the parable to our times and situations.
 
First the Parable.  Matthew takes the parable from Mark's Gospel
with very few changes.  Perhaps the most significant change is that at
the end of the parable Mark's order of fruitfulness is 30, 60, 100. 
Matthew reverses the order 100, 60, 30.

In the parable there is a formal balance and contrast between 3
situations of waste and failure and three situations of gain and
success. There is a certain rhythm established: seed, situation the seed
encounters, outcome.  The seed remains the same throughout.  The
situation the seed encounters changes: path, rocky ground, thorns. In
the first three encounters the seed fails to mature.  There is a
progression in the growth of the seed: 1) the seed falls on the path, no
chance, devoured before it puts roots out; 2) the seed falls on rocky
ground, seems to be growing but withers under the heat of the sun; 3)
the seed falls among the thorns, grows higher, buds but when it is
almost ready. it is choked.  Finally the seed falls on good ground and
yields grain.  In Palestine a good yield was considered to be 10 fold,
7 ½ was average.  The 100, 60, 30 harvest then is not simply bountiful
but truly extraordinary.  The message to the disciples is one of
encouragement to not be faint-hearted or discouraged.  In spite of all
failures, the Kingdom of God comes at last.  And when it comes it comes bountifully. 

After the disappointments and rejections of the previous chapters in
Matthew, this was an important message for the disciples.  It is an
important message for us too.
__________________________________
 
In Matthew's Gospel we do not have the word parable until the 13th
chapter.  This is the third of Matthew's discourses: the Parable
discourse.  Matthew has 7 parables in this section.  He only shares the
parable of the sower and the mustard seed with Mark.
 
In verse 8 Matthew reverses Mark's order of fruitfulness, he starts with
100, 60, 30.  In verse 10 those near to Jesus ask him:  "Why do you
speak to them in parables?"  In Mark they ask for an explanation of the
parable.  In Mark Jesus speaks in parables, in order that the people may
not understand.  In Matthew Jesus speaks to the crowds in parables
because they refused to see and hear or understand his clear message. 
In Matthew, Jesus speaks in parables as a punishment for their non-acceptance.
_________________________________
 
Second, explanation of the parable.  Here the emphasis is on the
different kinds of hearing and what happens after. 
 
Dispositions of those who receive Jesus' preaching:

1) those who never accept the word of the kingdom, hear without understanding.
      Bad soil: lack of understanding, superficial hearing
      Obstacle to belief: evil one

2) those who believe for a while but fall away because of persecution.
      Bad soil: superficiality, initial rootless enthusiasm
      Obstacle to belief: tribulation (setback) or persecution

3) those who believe but in whom the word is choked by worldly anxiety
and the seduction of riches.
      Bad soil: division within oneself.
      Obstacle to belief: worldly cares (anxiety) and desire for wealth
(lure of money, seduction by wealth).

4) those who hear, understand and respond to the word and produce fruit
abundantly.
      Good soil: message of Jesus taken in and yields remarkable results.

 
TRUE DISCIPLE: hear, understand, do (bear fruit, yield).
 
WHAT KIND OF SOIL AM I?
 
Third, application to us.  We have the promise that the kingdom
 of God will prevail over difficulties, even our failures: path, rocky, thorns, good.
What kind of soil am I? do I hear but not understand, do I give up when
trials or difficulties come, do I suffer from anxiety or the attraction
of wealth and riches?  Do I really believe that God is able to change me
from one kind of bad soil to good soil?
   
If we look at a field we notice that the greater part of the field
is the good ground, not the path, the rocky ground or the thorns.  Are
we so focused on the negative in our life and the world that we can't
see the good ground?   The meaning of the parables is not immediately
clear.  Parables are told to engage us, to get us wrestling with what
they mean.  Am I willing to do this work in my life.  What kind of hearer am I?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Cardinal Bernardin in his book the Gift of Peace, pp. 123-6 gives a powerful meditation on the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
 
“On August 31, 1996, the day after I announced that the cancer had spread to my liver and was inoperable, I presided at a communal anointing of the sick at Saint Barbara Church in Brookfield, Illinois.  I told my fellow sick, that when we are faced with serious illness (or any serious difficulty), we should do several things--things that have given me peace of mind personally.


The first is to put ourselves completely in the hands of the Lord.  We must believe that the Lord loves us, embraces us, never abandons us (especially in our most difficult moments).  This is what gives us hope in the midst of life’s suffering and chaos.  It is the same Lord who invites us: “come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.  Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.  Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt. 12:28-30).

This is a favorite passage of mine, and possibly, one of yours also.  It is so comforting, so soothing.  Perhaps it also sounds too good to be true.  Indeed, further reflection shows that Jesus’ message is a bit more complex than it appears at first sight or hearing.

For example, is there not a tension between the “rest” that Jesus offers and the “yoke” he invites us to wear?  What did Jesus mean by his “yoke"?  The ancient rabbis used to refer to the Mosaic Law as a kind of yoke.  But Jesus’ metaphor is different because central to his “yoke” or wisdom or law is the Lord himself.  He practiced what he preached.  He was gentle toward the people he served and humbly obedient to the will of his Father.  He called us to love one another and laid down his own life for us.  The “rest” he offers us comes from adopting and living each day his attitudes, his values, his mission, his ministry, his willingness to lay down his very life--in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.


What makes Jesus’ yoke “easy”?  A good yoke is carefully shaped to reduce chafing to a minimum.  Jesus promises that his yoke will be kind and generous to our shoulders, enabling us to carry our load more easily.  That is what he means when he says his burden is “light. Actually, it might be quite heavy, but we will find it possible to carry out our responsibilities.  Why? Because Jesus will help us.  Usually a yoke joined a pair of oxen and made them a team.  It is as though Jesus tells us, “walk alongside me, learn to carry the burdens by
 observing how I do it.  If you let me help you, the heavy labor will seem lighter.

Perhaps the ultimate burden is death itself.  It is often preceded by pain and suffering, sometimes extreme hardships.  In my case it is primarily a question of a pervasive fatigue that seems to increase day by day, forcing me to spend much of the day and night lying down.  But notice that Jesus did not promise to take away our burdens.  He promised to help us carry them.  And if we let go of ourselves--and our own resources--and allow the Lord to help us, we will be able to see death not as an enemy or threat but as a friend."

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
Today's readings confront us with the question: 


What does it mean to be a disciple?  We get two broad answers to that
question.  In the first reading we hear of the woman who receives the
prophet and practices the virtue of hospitality.  In the Gospel we have
a collection of the sayings of Jesus which name four aspects of being a
disciple.
                                                                
In today's first reading we hear the story of the woman who
welcomed Elisha.  This reading accents her hospitality.  In the book of
Kings the story is further developed and we see different sides of this
woman.  When her son dies later she is very aggressive and determined in
pursuing the prophet.  But in this reading she is an example of
hospitality.  Hospitality is something that we know immediately when we
are recipients of it.  Priests who visit homes come as a representative
of the Church. They meet many people who are experts
in hospitality.  They make you feel at home.  The words mi casa es su
casa are not just a formality but a reality.  A couple of weeks ago I
heard Bernard Cooke, a theologian speaking about the early church
welcoming prophets.  He said that the prophet would be welcomed and
invited to eat with the people.  But if after a couple of days the
prophet did not pitch in with the dishes or other tasks he would be
informed:  There is another house down there who needs a prophet. 
Hospitality is not to encourage free loading or people taking advantage
of us.

In the Gospel, Jesus gives us four sayings to challenge our
discipleship:

First point.  If we love father or mother, son or daughter more than God

we are not worthy of Jesus.  In the ideal
situation, family helps us to live the Christian life.  They help us to
love God first and above all.  A problem arises when family is
leading us away from practicing the Christian life.  "Everybody is doing
it and so can we."  The reality is that many things that Everybody is
doing are wrong and sinful. 


Second point.  We must take up the cross and follow Jesus. 
Jesus was aware of the severity of the cross, a punishment
for the worst criminals, a Roman punishment. But he did not
 shy from telling us that the cross needs to be part of our life.
 He not only spoke of the cross but died on the cross.

Third point. If we want to gain our life we must lose it,
to gain the life in this world is to lose it in the next.  
This is a bit of a paradoxical statement.  But it points to the
 fact that the present material reality is not all there
is.  We believe in spiritual realities.  We must do nothing to lose
sight of our God.
 
Fourth point. The gift of a cold drink of water given
in Jesus name will not go without reward.  These words can be understood
literally.  But they can also be understood figuratively.  Is there
someone asking something of me, fairly insignificant, that I can give in
Jesus name.

We have certificates that we treasure in our lives, high school
diploma, further degrees.  Doctors, Dentists have their licenses up on
their walls.  As Christians we also have a certificate that we cherish our
baptismal certificate.  But that certificate is not the proof of our
being disciples of Jesus.  We must measure our life and actions against
the teachings of Jesus.  As the Gospel of Matthew continues we will
notice that the miracles of Jesus will decrease and more people will be making the choice to reject Jesus. This can also happen to us.

Reflection by: Dave Jackson

 

TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 
In today's Gospel we hear from the 10th chapter of
Matthew, his mission discourse.  In the course of this discourse he has
been sending the apostles to continue his mission, but also telling them
they will experience rejection as he did. 
 
In the first reading we hear from Jeremiah on his living of the
mission he received from God.
 
The book of the prophet Jeremiah is a long one and a bit
difficult to follow.  It is comprised of some biographical material
about Jeremiah but also puts together his preaching and oracles.  When
Jeremiah was called he was a reluctant prophet.  He protested that he
was too young.  But he did accept this mission.  When he preached he
called for the people to turn from the false gods and return to Yahweh. 
He didn't experience a pleasant reception.  People threw him down a
well, put him in prison, in stocks, mocked and derided him.  He told God
that he wished he had never been born.  He wanted to give up his
preaching mission but said that once he decided this he felt a burning
in his bones that he could not resist.  He did arrive at a point of
today's gospel when he retained confidence in God despite opposition.
Jeremiah is a man of powerful emotions and poetic expressions.

In the Gospel Jesus tells us not to be afraid.  He states that the
Gospel will triumph.  He tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill
the body but not the soul.  He has concern for the sparrows who are sold 
very cheaply.  Not even one of them falls to the ground without God
knowing of it.  We are worth more than a whole flock of sparrows.  He
also tells us that our hairs are numbered.  We should not be afraid but
then he tells us words that can make us afraid.  If we acknowledge him
he will acknowledge us before the Father, if we deny him, he will deny
us before the Father.  He is a God of love and mercy but also of
justice.

During this month of the Sacred Heart we can understand Jesus under
the title of the Sacred Heart.  The founder of the Priests of the 
Sacred Heart (SCJs) Fatheer Dehon invites us to
not just look at the pierced heart of Jesus, but to enter into it.

Have we ever suffered for living out the gospel or Jesus values?  I
remember turning down an offer of a membership in a country club in
Mississippi .  This country club  would not admit black people.  I remember
taking a special interest in a group of people that were considered
thieves and gypsies. Some people did  not like that.  I remember
preaching what I thought was the Gospel and people leaving that church
for another.  There is a cost of discipleship.  There is also the danger
of preaching our own selfishness and not the teaching of Jesus. 

Source of Reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

(I have been following the meditations of Fr. Jose A. Pagola.  His meditation on this feast says so many of the things I experience and have tried to say.  Pardon my reproducing his meditation for this Sunday.)

Sociological studies point out with hard facts that Christians in Western countries are giving up Sunday Mass.  The structure that the celebration of Mass has acquired over the centuries is no longer capable of nourishing the faith of people or bringing them to bond with the community of Jesus.


The surprising thing is that we are allowing the Mass to be lost to us without this fact causing hardly any reaction among us.  Isn’t the Eucharist the center of Christian life?  How can we remain passive without being able to take any action?  Why does the hierarchy remain silent and stuck?  Why don’t we believers express our concern and pain more forcefully?


The dislike for the Mass keeps growing even among those who unconditionally take part in it in a responsible manner.  It is the exemplary fidelity of these minorities that sustains communities, but can the Mass continue to survive based on preventive measures to assure compliance with the present rite?


Inevitably these questions must be asked:


Does not the church at the center need an experience of a livelier and culturally adapted supper of the Lord than the present liturgy provides?

Are we so sure that we are doing today what Jesus wished us to do in memory of him?



Is the liturgy we have been repeating for hundreds of years the best way to help believers live what Jesus lived in that unforgettable supper in which is concentrated, recapitulated and manifested what he lived and died for?


Is it what can most draw us to live as his disciples at the service of his project of the kingdom of God?

Today everything seems to be working against the reform of the Mass.  Yet reform seems more necessary than ever if the church wishes to live in vital contact with Jesus.  It will be a long journey.  The change will come about when the church feels an urgent need to remember Jesus and live by his Spirit.  For that, even now, it will be most responsible not to absent ourselves from Mass, but to contribute to the conversion to Jesus Christ.