Philippi was an important Roman colony and its inhabitants enjoyed favor under Roman law. Military veterans settled there and Caesar Augustus exempted the city from many taxes. Paul had had a vision that summoned him to preach in Philippi (Acts 16:9). It was the first European city evangelized by Paul and his companions Silas and Timothy. The Christian community in Philippi had supported Paul and he had warm relations with them, as evidenced in the letter. When Paul wrote to the Philippians he was in prison (1:7, 13, 14, 17), probably in Ephesus.
During his arduous travels it must have given Paul encouragement and good feelings whenever he thought of the Philippians and their high esteem of him. Those memories and feelings would have also been a consolation to him in his imprisonment. Still, Paul is not shy about encouraging the Philippians to be Christians not just in good feelings, or lofty words. He wanted them to put their words into action. They were not to act selfishly, or seek praise for their good works. With the Philippians, we are also challenged by Paul to act in daily life in ways that match our words and our ideals.
Paul’s praise of Jesus’ saying "Yes" to God reflects the parable Jesus tells today of the two sons. There is a lot of tension behind today’s gospel. Matthew sets the account in a context of controversy and conflict. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem and today’s story takes place just after he has driven out the buyers and sellers from the Temple precincts, infuriating the religious leaders, who should have recognized his prophetic action and seen the hand of God working through his words and works – even in his angry ousting of the merchants. Opposition to Jesus is getting intense and soon these religious leaders will agitate for his death.
Today’s passage continues in the atmosphere of confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests and elders. By the parable Jesus is suggesting they are like the son who says he will obey his father’s request, but does not. They will not commit themselves to Jesus. Weren’t they the ones who were supposed to recognize the Messiah and follow him when he came? The people who did respond to Jesus’ preaching and signs were sinners and outcasts. They were like the son who first said "No" to his father, but then obeyed.
The parable is a reminder that, despite our past and present misdeeds and our stubbornness, we are again offered a chance to change and find welcome in the kingdom of heaven. This is a good news parable for both big and small wayfarers who have chosen a path away from God and God’s ways.
The parable is also a challenge and invitation to change if we have pretended to be good and upright Christians – in name only. Our initial "Yes" to serving God has to be backed by action. It is not enough to say, "I am a Christian," or "I am a Catholic," unless our lives reflect the identity we claim. Yes, we come to church and even say our prayers at home, and then what follows? What’s the vineyard to which we are being sent to labor for God these days, even in the midst of a pandemic lockdown? We don’t have to leave our homes to be doers of the Word of God.
Haven’t we noticed the good works others, who claim not to be believers, are doing? They do the very things Jesus has called his disciples to do. During the pandemic we are hearing many stories of people feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, risking their lives serving in medical centers and emergency wards, etc. They may not claim to be Christian, but in their "Yes" to serve others we recognize the Spirit of Jesus present and inspiring them. We who know how to recognize the work of our bountiful and gracious God give praise in the words of Paul’s closing words, "And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Is it possible that Paul, in the light of this parable, imagined that Jesus is the third son who willingly, quickly and totally says "Yes" to the Father, goes and does the work he has been assigned to do?
If you notice in the story there is no mention of how things turned out? How hard of a worker was the second son? Did he meet the quotas, fulfill minimum hours? There are no measurements in the story: just someone who changes his mind and heart and, after all, responds to an invitation. Maybe that is what is pleasing to God, our desire and efforts to do what God wishes and, at the same time, leaving plenty of room for God to step in and fill the gaps, big and small ones.
The second son had a change of heart. Which encourages us to ask: where and how must my heart change? Towards whom must my heart soften and forgive? We may be in the middle of a pandemic and unable to go beyond the confines of home and work. But even in place we can do some important work, pray for a renewed heart and for the desire to act on it.
You can tell a lot about a person by the stories they tell. Stories from childhood, for example, reflect the earliest influences on us, and help explain our personalities and our outlook on life. The parables may not have been actual events from Jesus’ life, but since, for the most part, he created them, they do reveal a lot about the teller of these stories. You can tell in today’s parable where his heart lies. It is with those who were outsiders, those condemned because of their behavior or, as in other parables, because they were social outcasts by birth. The religiously smug, those who had lots to boast about, found nothing they needed in Christ. Those who had no basis for boast, or who had said various "No’s" in their past, could appreciate the offer Jesus was making them.
We are not gathered here today making a claim on God for our past performances. We may have much we would rather not show to God, others, or even revisit ourselves. But through this parable of "the second chance," grace is given to enable us "to change our minds." We can start anew. This parable is Good News indeed, for those who think it is too late to change, or can’t change. The one who tells this parable to us today assures us we have his help to redirect our lives – to say "Yes" to the God who calls and enables us to change.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.
I can honestly say that I have not heard much in public discourse in this election cycle about the common good. In Catholic social teaching, the common good, as a foundational principle, is closely intertwined with human dignity and leads to solidarity as described by John Paul II below: "When interdependence becomes recognized …, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a 'virtue,' is solidarity. This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all." (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)
Committing oneself to the common good makes sacrifices necessary so that those who are marginalized can also become active participants in the society. This includes, not only sharing material goods, but also moderation in lifestyles by reducing levels of consumption, willingness to give a hand up to the marginalized through relationships, and working to change unjust structures of power and inequities.
Pope Francis, in "Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home," links the common good of humanity and earth, "‘There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature, without a renewal of humanity itself’ (cf. LS, 118). To the extent that our societies experience divisions, whether ethnic, religious or economic, all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing. In the work of building a sound democratic order, strengthening cohesion and integration, tolerance and respect for others, the pursuit of the common good must be a primary goal" (11/25/15, speech in Kenya).
Envision God’s realm on a restored Earth, as a place where all are beloved children, where all can become the person they were created to be, where all share equally and equitably. We pray this every time we say the Our Father. Creating this realm based on the common good is the work we have been given to do humbly and out of love for and in solidarity with others.
For further information on the common good, go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1905-1912.
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, "Son go out and work in the vineyard today." He said in reply, "I will not," but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply,
"Yes, sir," but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?"
They answered, "The first."
Did you notice in today’s parable there is no mention of how things turned out when the first son changed his mind and went into the vineyard? How hard of a worker was he when he finally got to the vineyard to work?
Did he do what was expected of him? There are no standards or measurements of success laid out for us in this story. The emphasis is just on someone who changed his mind; who in the end, responded to an invitation.
Maybe that is what is pleasing to God: our desire to serve and our attempts, if at times feeble, to respond – while we leave plenty of room for God to step in and fill in the gaps. The big ones and the small ones.
So we ask ourselves:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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