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Contents: Volume 2 - Twentieth Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A – September 24, 2017


 

The

25th

Sunday

2017

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Barbara Cooper, OP

3. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

4. -- Brian Gleeson CP

5. --

6. – (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Sun. 25 A

 

This Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 20 is one that might make some of us squirm or perhaps even roll our eyes. No matter how open-minded and generous we may be becoming, the perception of absolute equality and generosity of the landowner leaves most of us with a silent "hmmph". Why is it that most of us often can be randomly generous but rarely totally so as was this landowner?

 

I think part of the reason is that we are often caught up in the reality of life's busyness and perhaps hardships. Just getting going in the morning whether it is to a regular place of work, rushing to go on a trip, or getting kids off to school or even getting through the grocery store as part of a long list of things to do, we are rushed. Sometimes life also throws obstacles at us. Think about the people recovering from natural disasters, whew!

 

Facing small and large problems and indeed overcoming them might drain our energy. When we stop to take a breath, we may notice others having far less of a struggle. Our perspective might be that the "heat" of the day or the time spent in working through these problems do not seem to be distributed equally among us.

 

The fact of the matter is that this is certainly true! Why, I do not know. Unfortunately, some people get stuck right there, envious, jealous, and permanently downcast. Wallowing in sorrow or pity is not where the Lord wants us to be. The landowner in the parable, our Landlord if you will, generously bestows mercy on all.

 

I think it is important to focus on how astounding that is considering what we have done and not done in our life so far. Focusing on and truly appreciating the Lord's mercy to US personally changes that possible "hmmph" to an extraordinarily grateful sigh. In truth, our lives, our work, our intentions, our efforts, and our results are never perfect. We really don't "deserve" anything good.

 

Look what we are still offered though. Look what we have been promised. Reflect on the graces given, day by day.

 

It is true that the Lord's ways and thoughts are far above ours, as we are reminded in the first reading. For a God this good and so merciful, this, we should be abundantly grateful. For "higher" ways and thoughts, we should strive, albeit little by little.

 

At the end of our lives, let's hope we feel like the lead singer of Mercy Me when he sings "I Can Only Imagine!" Certainly, by then, there will be no "hmmphs". There might be some grateful sighs... but only our merciful God knows.

 

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A – September 24, 2017

 

I have my expectations. I imagine that we all do. I expect that there will be fairness and that people who work longer and harder will be paid more. That doesn't seem to be too much to ask.

 

But Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God turns our expectations upside down and inside out. That it is astonishing, and surprising, and outside our norms. Today's Gospel reading is an example, a story to arouse questions in us. Having worked in a "Union Shop", it is the story that I most want to argue with Jesus about.

 

Imagine the reactions of the peasants who heard this story from Jesus. Those who had worked hard all day for the "going rate". The day labourers who were hired later. There was probably something of an uproar from the crowd. People arguing with each other trying to make sense of it all. What was the meaning of this story for them? And in what way is it like the Kingdom of God?

 

These days especially I am keenly aware of the difference between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of the world is focused on money and profit, on climbing the "ladder of success", of "getting what I deserve and worked for", of judging a person's value by his or her possessions, by protecting what I own.

 

The kingdom of God draws us into the heart of the Divine Mystery, into compassion, community, sharing, life according to the Beatitudes and what we call the Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel is Good News for the poor, for those who are vulnerable.

 

Today, this story speaks to me of the abundance of Divine Love. It is so freely given to each of us – not according to our work, but as generous gift. If we do good works it is not to win a prize or avoid a penalty, but it is the Spirit's dynamic work within us.

 

A good story can have many interpretations and move our hearts in different ways. What meaning does this one have for you, and how will it change your life?

 

Barbara Cooper, OP

Vancouver Island, BC Canada

bcoop60@yahoo.com

 

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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordered Time September 24 2017

 

Isaiah: 55:6-9; Responsorial Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20-24 & 27; Gospel Acclamation Acts 16:14; Matthew 20:1-16

 

Anyone who works with children has heard the complaint, "It ain’t fair!" As adults we don’t often say this because this sounds like whining. It just isn’t fair: how we have to struggle when the wealthy of the world, the better educated, the privileged; children of aristocracy and powerful have all the breaks. The cynical critic will reprimand us with, "Get over it. Life isn’t fair." Then the strong will tell us to "Pick yourself up and get going."

 

That is how the parable in this Sunday’s gospel may strike us. If God is in charge and directs all history then life should fair. We should be entitled to what we earn. We should be entitled to what we deserve. Well, maybe not what we deserve. That could be disastrous. But we must remember, this is a teaching parable and as such will present us with many possible meanings and applications.

 

Let’s start looking for understanding with the reading from Isaiah. We should begin thinking about Isaiah with the first verse of chapter 55. It begins with "Bend your ears and come to me. Listen." God invites us to turn to him with humility to hear what he tells us about ourselves, about what we are, about what we can be, about how we discover fulfillment and happiness. We must seek God while he can be found. It sounds as though God plays hide-and-go-seek with us. But it’s not God who does the hiding. Isaiah goes on to quote God. We’ve got to let go of our sense of knowing it all. We shouldn’t think we have the capacity to understand his plans, his thoughts, his vision of his created universe. We fail to seek God when we hide behind what we think: when we think we know how God behaves with wrath or its opposite, his Loving Kindness. Isaiah’s message tells us we must constantly seek the Lord. When we attempt to hide ourselves in our pursuits and activities, we do not find God. We create for ourselves little gods with clay feet when we believe in the way of the world, that the world is correct in its understanding about how we get ahead. When we think personal success is measured by the amount of land we possess, the number of buildings we’ve constructed and rent out, the size of our bank accounts, our proficiency in sports, our intellectual achievements – when we use these measures, we hide from the truth of God’s message to us. This may sound very pious, sort of over-the –top-religious. We find it very difficult to let go of the ways the world measures success. As we relate to other people, we frequently judge the value and worth of others using the measures of the world.

 

There is a frightening poem by Francis Thompson titled "The Hound of Heaven". In it Thompson describes his experience of God like being pursued by a great hound. No matter where he turns, no matter where he runs, no matter where he hides, no matter how successful or failure driven his life experiences, this Hound of Heaven pursues him down the highways and the byways: always, steadily, always in pursuit. Until at long last, as Thompson is exhausted with his efforts to escape this pursuit, the Hound catches him. Thompson writes a line that we may be able to apply to ourselves. "For though I knew his love who followed, Yet was I sore a-dread, lest having him I should have naught besides"

 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus begins with the intonation: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like." The parable that follows is loaded with many possible meanings. The master of a vineyard goes out into the marketplace where day laborers are waiting to be noticed and hired. These day laborers are without skills, without education, without capital sufficient to start their own businesses. They have no career: only the strength of their backs and arms and legs. They are dependent for their living and the livelihood of their families on being selected to work for a day at a time. A denarius is a coin sufficient for supporting a family for one day. Perhaps these day laborers should have made use of a financial planner, so when weather didn’t allow for work in the fields they’d have enough for their families and themselves to eat for the day.

 

So the Master of the vineyard goes out to hire workers for his property. He tells them he will pay them what is just. What is in fact just? If we define this as human justice we’d say it depended on the terms of the contract enforceable in a court of law. If we consider justice from the perspective of God, justice means access to sufficient resources for each person to thrive. This is not mere survival: it is more. God’s justice is the experience of the Hebrew people freed from Egypt where justice was only what the Pharaoh decided was in his personal best interest. Understanding God’s justice is the first step needed to understand our Church’s teaching about social justice. God’s justice is different. It is as high as the heavens are above the earth. It is not interested in punishment. It is about access to the resources of God’s creation to each and every person.

 

This landowner in our parable spent a lot of time wandering the marketplace. On a second and third visit he found other day-laborers standing around. They said it was because no one had hired them. So the landowner put them to work. Let’s not forget Jesus began this parable with the phrase, "The Kingdom of heaven is like." When we forget that, we fall into interpreting this parable according to the way of the world. We turn to thinking about the justice of the world, fairness. It about treating everyone by judging their accomplishments.

 

Didn’t the landowner beg for trouble when he chose to pay first those who hired at the last hour? Those who worked from the beginning of the day were delighted. Clearly they hoped for an uncontracted bonus since they worked longest and contributed more to the success of the landowner. This is how the world thinks. It is how the world applies justice. Isn’t this how we feel about this parable? Jesus must have gotten this all wrong. Perhaps a scribe in some unnamed scriptorium rewrote this passage in Matthew after imbibing too much Cabernet? After all there is no way to check this parable against the other evangelists. Matthew is the only one who uses this parable as an revelation of the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Many interpret this parable as a message to the early Jewish-Christians. By the time of Matthew’s gospel, gentile-Christians were accepted as equals to Jewish heritage Christians. Such equality was perceived as a denial of the history and efforts of the Hebrew experience that prepared the way for the coming of the Christ. The Jews struggled through persecutions and troubles for centuries in the practice of their faith. We can be sympathetic to their feelings. Well, at least until we remember what Isaiah tells us this Sunday. "… my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord."

 

Another valid interpretation is that Jesus is telling his apostles and first disciples they should claim no privilege in the Community. Even if we tend to think of the early Christian Community as people walking around with haloes and having an exalted place because of a personal contact with the recent presence of the Son of God/Son of Man. The moral of the story is that God loves all his people. We are not in competition with each other for God’s love. If God loves us it doesn’t mean he loves someone less. If the Spirit dispenses its grace to one it doesn’t follow that others receive less. We should claim no influence or stature because of wealth, power, influence. God loves us each individually and uniquely.

 

Part of our difficulty is that we are programmed by culture and world history to think that the value of our lives is determined by the amount of things we accumulate. We fail to realize, in our competitive frame of mind, that when our accumulations are no longer needed to satisfy our personal and family needs for food, shelter, and support of our families we accumulate at the expense of others. The expense to others is that we claim as our own the resources others need to survive and thrive. Remember, God’s justice means is present when every person has access to what is needed to thrive. We often compare ourselves to others by the possessions we control and hold fast. In our rugged individualism, competition for limited resources is what drives us forward.

 

When we get to the second part of our life – well, let me rephrase that: if we get to the second half of life, we come to realize that things don’t satisfy. There is something more. Our spiritual side kicks in during the second half of our lives and we try to find something more, something that is real and lasting. Our lives are truly a process of growth or decay. If and when we come to realize that things and the power accumulated things provide does not make us any happier or more fulfilled. We then come to realize we are not gods. What’s even more important is that we have no need to make ourselves gods. We can allow God to be God and we can bask in the wonder of his love for us. But that requires that we let go of being the center of all that is. At that time we find that we are indeed marked with the fingerprints of God’s creative hand and that our happiness lies in being what we are as unique individuals. We are formed and created as individuals, unique, one of a kind forever. In that sense we reveal the image and likeness of God the Creator. This is God who treats us a an adoring Father; he thrills in our growth, lending a Word, or a movement in our Hearts that is his very breath. If we get to this stage of life, we no longer can act and believe we are in competition with anyone. Everyone is unique and carries the beauty of a unique and specific creation of God. The fingerprints of God are all over every bit of reality, especially humanity.

 

How then, can we be jealous of others? How can we expend our energies competing with others for resources?

 

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who goes out and seeks workers for his vineyard. Their work in the fields of the Creator will produce rich wine that gladdens the hearts and minds of everyone -- indiscriminately.

 

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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WINNERS AND LOSERS: 25TH SUNDAY A

 

Fairytales bring special joy to children because they are full of surprises. Losers become winners. Cinderella gets her prince. Goldilocks escapes from the three bears. Hansel and Gretel get rid of the wicked witch. Princess Fiona recognises something beautiful in Shrek, the green ogre. Nemo, the clown-fish boy, comes up with great plans to swim out of the dentist’s fish-tank and thwart the dentist’s fish-killing niece.

 

Things are more complex for adults. We go through life with fixed ideas about justice. This comes out in such sayings as ‘if you want something you must earn it’; ‘you get what you work for’; ‘you get what you pay for’; ‘if you fall down, you’ve only got yourself to blame’; ‘never expect a hand-out’; ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’; ‘you’ll get yours’, i.e. your just desserts.

 

Yet we know, on the other hand, that the most important thing in life, which is being loved by another, is not something that we earn, or something that we deserve. It’s something which is given to us, something which depends simply on the choice and goodness of the one who loves us with no strings attached, the one who loves us out of sheer generosity.

 

In the pages of the gospels we meet many people who start out as losers but end up as winners. They are the physically crippled, the emotionally crippled, the spiritually crippled, and the economically crippled. They are the prodigal sons, the outcasts, the overlooked, and the ones whom the powerful and respectable simply ignore or shun. The losers end up winners because Jesus makes a clear choice in their favour. Why does he do so? Simply because Jesus knows and teaches that God’s ways are not our ways, that God does not work from the mathematics of a calculator but from the fullness of God’s loving heart.

 

Jesus illustrates this in his parable today about a landowner and his employees. The employer’s generosity to the latecomers in paying them a full day’s wage, the same amount he paid the first workers, makes the first group as mad as hell. So they complain bitterly to their employer. The landowner defends himself with three questions to the grumblers: - 1. ‘Did we not agree on one denarius?’ he asks; 2. ‘Have I no right to do what I like with my own [money]?’; and 3. ‘Why be envious because I am generous?’

 

The landowner, of course, is God - our gracious, loving, merciful God, who gives us far more than we could ever earn, deserve or hope for. The story Jesus told illustrates the difference between God’s generosity and our sense of strict justice.

 

Every year, round about the start of Advent, our church draws our attention to the four last things – death; judgment, heaven, hell. To speak for myself, the prospect of the judgment, both at the end of my life and at the end of time, fills me at times with fear. I ask myself: ‘What will God say to me?’ ‘What will God do to me?’ ‘What will become of me?’ But when thoughts like that start to trouble me, I turn my thoughts to Jesus Christ, our Saviour. I remember how he was known as ‘the friend of sinners’, and that it was said of him: ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ I remember the prayer of the repentant tax collector just inside the temple doors: ‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I remember too the words of St Paul to the Romans (4:25): ‘he died for our sins and rose for our justification [our transformation)’. Thinking of all that Jesus our loving and forgiving Saviour has done for us, I keep placing my trust in him, and keep saying to him with St Peter as he starts to sink beneath the waves: ‘Lord, save me!’

 

Thinking also of all that Jesus has taught about God and God’s ways, I take heart and hope from the words in our first Reading today: ‘Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near’, and from those in our Psalm: ‘The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures.’

 

There is something else that comes out of God’s message to us today. This is it! Since God is so kind to all, and since God has a special preference for the strugglers, the battlers, the broken, the lost, the lonely, and the losers of this world, and does everything possible to make the last came first, so should we. So the children in our parish community should not be judging other kids by their looks, or whether they get to play sport for the school, or whether they wear the latest jeans or sports shoes. None of us should feel smug or superior or contemptuous towards someone who lives in a fibro house, or works in a factory, or earns less than we do, or who cannot afford full school fees. Or towards someone who makes their great come-back to God only on their death-bed, or towards somebody who has only recently joined our church, or towards people who arrived just the other day as migrants, asylum-seekers or refugees.

 

In fact, there is only one standard to follow in all our dealings with others. This is the standard of the acceptance, the welcome, the goodness, the graciousness, the kindness, the mercy, and the generosity of God. Surely our approach all boils down to that WWJD question, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

 

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

 

-- Fr. John

 


 

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