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October 26, 2014
October 26, 2014
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year
The central theme of today’s readings is the greatest commandment in the Bible, namely to love God and express that love in action by loving Him living in our neighbor.
The first reading from Exodus explains the second greatest commandment, namely, loving one’s neighbors, especially the underprivileged. The chosen people of Israel should remember that once they were aliens in the land of Egypt. Just as God protected them and treated them kindly, so they are to protect others and treat them with kindness. Thus, they should become a humane society rooted in the basic religious concept of loving God living in their neighbor. In the second reading, St. Paul congratulates the Thessalonians on the positive effects of their example of loving one another as Jesus had commanded them to do. Their mutual love bolstered the faith of Christians elsewhere who heard about them. In the Gospel today, Jesus combines the commandment to love God with the commandment to love one’s neighbor and gives the result as one commandment of supreme importance in Christian life. Jesus underlines the principle that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because as God’s children both of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him. Love for our neighbor is a matter, not of feelings, but of deeds by which we share with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us.
1) We need to love God:
Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord's will in all things and make it paramount in our lives. There are several means by which we can express our love for God and our gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. We must keep God's commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition. We also need to read and meditate on His word in the Bible, and accept His invitation to join Him in the Mass and other liturgical functions.
2) We need to love our neighbor: God’s will is that we should love everyone, seeing Him in our neighbor. Since every human being is the child of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, we are actually giving expression to our love of God by loving our neighbor as Jesus loves him or her. This means we have to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone without discrimination based on color, race, gender, age wealth or social status. Forgiveness, too, is vital. We love others by refusing to hold a grudge for a wrong done to us. Even a rebuke can be an act of love, if it is done with the right heart. We also express love through encouragement and by helping others to grow. We express agápe love in meeting the needs of others by using the talents and blessings that God has given us, by comforting each other, by teaching each other and by sharing the Gospel, in deeds and in words.
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year
: Ex 22:20-26; I Thes 1:5c-10; Mt: 22:34-40
1: The inspiring five word sermon:
There is a legend handed down from the early Church about John, the beloved disciple of Jesus. Of the twelve original apostles, only John is said to have lived to a ripe old age. In his later years, not only his body but also his eyesight and his mind began to fail him. Eventually, according to the legend, John's mind had deteriorated to the point that he could only speak five words, one sentence which he would repeat over and over. You can imagine the high regard in which the early Church must have held the last surviving apostle of Jesus. The legend says that every Lord's Day, John would be carried into the midst of the congregation that had assembled for worship in the Church at Ephesus, where John spent the last years of his life. Total silence would fall over the congregation, even though they already knew what John was going to say. Then the old man would speak the words, "My children, love one another." Over and over, he would repeat them until he grew tired from talking, and no one yawned or looked at his watch or gazed off into space absentmindedly. They listened as John preached his five-word sermon over and over: "My children, love one another."
2: “Christians love one another.”
In the second century AD, a non-Christian named Aristides wrote to the Emperor Hadrian about the Christians. He said “Christians love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If one of them has something, he gives freely to those who have nothing. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are as happy as though he were a real brother. They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers through the Spirit, in God. And if they hear that one of them is in jail or persecuted for professing the name of their Redeemer, they give him all he needs. This is really a new kind of person. There is something Divine in them.” No wonder the non-Christians of the first century used tell one another, “See how those Christians love one another.”
3: Love them anyway:
In Calcutta, India, there is a children’s home named Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), founded by Mother Teresa. The home continues to be operated by her community, the Missionaries of Charity. On the wall of the home hangs a sign which reads:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY
Mother Teresa counsels her young charges that the challenges offered by this sign can be met only if human beings are motivated by a love and a respect for one another which looks beyond faults, differences, ulterior motives, success and failure. Mother Teresa once said of herself, “By blood and origin, I am all Albanian. My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the whole world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.” (A Simple Path, Ballantine Books, New York: 1995). It is this relationship of belonging and the loving service which grows out of that belonging which the Scriptural authors called Covenant. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez)
The central theme of today’s readings is the greatest commandment in the Bible, namely to love God and express it in action by loving Him in our neighbor. The first reading, taken from Exodus, explains the different expressions of the love of one’s neighbor, especially of the underprivileged. In the second reading, St. Paul praises the Thessalonian Christians for the heroic witness they bear to Christ by practicing mutual love. In the Gospel today, Jesus combines the commandment to love God with the commandment to love one’s neighbor and gives the result as one commandment of supreme importance in Christian life.
Since Jesus, in today's Gospel, sums up the Law of God in a formula of loving God and loving others, the passage chosen from Exodus prepares us for this message. This passage is part of a long narrative, Exodus, chapters 19-24, in which the Hebrews, liberated from Egypt, are in the desert of Sinai. God announces His desire to enter a Covenant with the people. Moses is the mediator. God manifests Himself in terrifying thunder, lightning and clouds. God gives the terms of the Covenant in various paragraphs, on several occasions. The people assent to the terms. These include the familiar Ten Commandments, and paragraphs that elaborate the commandments in great detail, ritual prescriptions and much more. This is the context of today's first reading which is taken from a section of Exodus dealing with the laws of social conduct, especially the social ethic based, not on justice, but on a compassion like God’s, resulting from the love they are to have for underprivileged fellow-human beings. The Law of Moses civilized the Jews, instilling in them the idea that it was wrong to oppress an alien or take advantage of the poor, things they themselves had suffered, because their God cared for widows and orphans and wanted them to do the same. The result was that the ancient Jews began to build an excellent, humane society rooted in the basic religious concept that loving God necessarily involves loving one’s neighbor.
The second reading:
First Thessalonians is the earliest letter we have from Saint Paul. The first century AD Thessalonians lived and served in a mostly pagan city with an enthusiasm so contagious as to attract others to the Church. Hence, Paul congratulated his audience on the positive effects of their example of loving one another as Jesus had commanded them to do. They had received the Gospel with ready faith and had withstood persecution with joy. Those actions bolstered the faith of Christians elsewhere who heard about them. Paul and these earliest Christians believed that Jesus would come again very soon. Their conviction was that God was soon to bring history to its end with the return of Jesus in glory. [This expectation faded over the years during which the New Testament Scriptures were composed].
A Pharisee, who believed in both the written Law and the oral tradition, was pleased to see how Jesus defeated the Sadducee who had tried to humiliate Him with the hypothetical case of a woman who married seven husbands. Out of admiration, he asked Jesus to summarize the most important of the Mosaic Laws in one sentence. This was a challenge because, in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, there was a double tendency to expand the Mosaic Law into hundreds of rules and regulations and to condense the 613 precepts of the Torah into a single sentence or few sentences. Jesus’ answer teaches us that the most important commandment is to love God in loving others and to love others in loving God. In other words, we are to love God and express it by loving our neighbor because God lives in him or her.
Jesus gave a straightforward answer, quoting directly from the Law itself and startling his listeners with his profound simplicity and mastery of the Law of God and its purpose. He cited the first sentence of the Jewish Shema prayer: … “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). Then He added its complementary law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Finally, He declared that the “whole Law and the prophets” depended on the commands to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind” and “your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus actually combined the originally separate commandments and presented them as the essence of true religion. The uniqueness of Jesus’ response consisted in the fact that he understood the two laws as having equal value or importance. We are to love our neighbor and our self as a way to love God: God gives us our neighbors to love so that we may learn to love Him. Thus, Jesus proclaims that true religion loves God both directly and as living in our neighbor. Biblical love of God is responsive gratitude for, and remembrance of, what God has done for us, rather than an independent project we undertake for God.
Catechism on the greatest commandment (CCC #2083 & #2196):
Love of God means putting Him first, respecting His Name, and keeping His Day [the Sabbath; Sunday for us]. To love God means a dedication of the entire person to His will, placing Him first in the mind and the heart, speaking respectfully about Him, and keeping His Day as one of prayer and true recreation, a day to keep His Law. Love of God transforms lives every waking moment of every day.
Love of neighbor means respect for others, their relationships, their reputations, and their property. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 indicate love in action. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means looking at and treating others with the respect God gives them. This love begins at home with one's parents. It then extends to others. Love of neighbor extends beyond our family and friends to strangers, especially to the poor, the sick, and the sinner. Love of neighbor knows no national borders or class distinctions or barriers of any kind, because God knows no such impediments.
To love our neighbor:
Jesus underlines the principle that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because both of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him. Love for our neighbor is a matter, not of feelings, but of deeds by which we share with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us. This is the love for neighbor that God commands in His law. Since the Jews considered only their fellow-Jews as neighbors, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan, as reported in Luke’s Gospel, to show them what God means by “neighbor.”
1) We need to love God:
Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord's will in all things and make it paramount in our lives. There are several means by which we can express our love for God and our gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. We must keep God's commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition. We also need to read and meditate on His word in the Bible, and accept His invitation to join Him in the Mass and other liturgical functions when we can.
2) We need to love our neighbor:
God’s will is that we should love everyone, seeing Him in our neighbor. Since every human being is the child of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, we are actually giving expression to our love of God by loving our neighbor as Jesus loves him or her. This means we have to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone without discrimination based on color, race, gender, age, wealth or social status. Forgiveness too is vital. We love others by refusing to hold a grudge for a wrong done to us. Even a rebuke can be an act of love, if it is done with the right heart. We also express love through encouragement and by helping the other to grow. We express agápe love by meeting a need that God has given us the power to meet, by comforting each other, by teaching each other and by sharing the Gospel, in deeds and in words.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published in the CBCI website by the Office for Social Communications. You may contact email@example.com for weekday homilies, and a dozen more additional anecdotes.
October 19, 2014
October 19, 2014
Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year
The common theme of today’s readings is the nature of our obligations to God and to our country. The readings show us how, with God’s help, we can be ideal citizens of both earth and heaven.
In the first reading, Isaiah the prophet foretells how, indirectly, the policies of the great Persian Emperor Cyrus will help God's saving plan for His chosen people. Today’s responsorial Psalm reminds us that when people put God's Kingdom first, everyone benefits. In the second reading, Paul praises his converts in Thessalonica for their fidelity to God and to Christ His Son, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” and their practice of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity with the help of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” With this answer, Jesus reminds his questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord. We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State and working for the welfare of all citizens. We become Heavenly citizens by obeying God’s laws.
1) “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”: How? It is the duty of Christians to pay for the services and the privileges that government provides, like paved roads, police and fire departments, banks, schools and other necessities. If we refuse to pay taxes, how will these needs be fulfilled? Another way of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is to participate actively in the running of the government, electing the most suitable candidates and influencing them through frequent contacts. Third, we must submit to the civil authorities and respect the laws of our country in order to live in peace. As loyal citizens we must also see to it that our elected representatives are faithful in maintaining law and order in the country and in promoting the welfare of its citizens without violating God’s laws.
2) “Give to God what is God’s.” How? Since everything is God’s, we must give ourselves to Him 100%, not just 10% on Sundays. We should be generous in fulfilling our Sunday obligations and find time every day for prayer and worship in the family, for the reading of the Bible and the proper training of our children in Faith and morals. We will soon be invited to make the stewardship pledge of our financial offering to the local Church for the coming year. Our contribution to the parish church should be an expression of our gratitude to God, giving back to God all that He has given us. Active participation in the various ministries of the parish is an offering to God of our time and talents, yet another way of giving to God His due, our whole self.
Twenty Ninth Sunday of the Year :
Is 45:1, 4-6; I Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22: 15-21
“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Perhaps we can illustrate all this with one case, that of St. Thomas More, the English martyr, Robert Bolt dramatized More’s conflict – regarding what is Caesar’s and what is God’s – in the drama A Man for All Seasons. Recall the story. King Henry VIII of England is validly married. He appeals to Rome to annual the marriage. But there is no honest basis for annulment. Rome refuses. Henry takes matters into his own hands, declares himself Head of the Church in England and remarries. He then orders his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agree he acted rightly in the matter. Many of More’s friends sign, but More refuses. Henry demands that he sign or face arrest, trial for treason, and execution by the state. More refuses. He had two obligations, one to God and one to his country. When they conflicted, More had no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God. On his way to public execution in 1534, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Today’s Gospel reminds us of our dual citizenship. We are citizens of the world and citizens of Heaven. We have an allegiance and an obligation to each. We hope the obligations will never clash. But if they ever do, we must resolve them as Thomas More did, without compromise to our God or to our conscience. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
Caesar and God:
In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy, the newly-elected President of the United States, made the famous statement: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking God’s blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” If we personalized Kennedy’s statement it would read, “Don’t ask, ‘What can my country do for me?’ Instead ask, ‘What can I do for my country?’” And add, “Don’t ask, ‘What can God do for me?’ Instead ask, ‘What can I do for God?’” Today’s Gospel lesson gives the correct answer.
3) Honesty and Trigonometry:
Dr. Madison Sarratt taught Mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years. Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class, “Today I am giving two examinations—one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both, fulfilling your obligations to your teacher and to your God. If you fail, fail for trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are not many people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty the debt we owe to God.” This piece if advice sounds like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and to God what belongs to God."
The common theme of today’s readings is the nature of our obligations to God and to our country. The readings show us how, with God’s help, we can be ideal citizens of both earth and Heaven. In the first reading and in the Gospel, a world superpower is matched up against the Kingdom of God. Isaiah the prophet foretells how, indirectly, the policies of the great Persian Emperor Cyrus will help God's saving plan for His chosen people. The words of the responsorial Psalm, “Say among the nations: The Lord is King,” summons all Israel, all the nations and all creation to acknowledge and praise God as King of the universe. The Psalm reminds us that when people put God's Kingdom first, everyone benefits. In the second reading, referring to Jesus as “our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul acknowledges him as one who shares Divine power with God the Father. Paul reminds his Thessalonians that it was God Who chose them to live in Him, and gave them the Faith to trust Him and believe and the love to pour out in service as they have faithfully been doing. Paul praises his converts in Thessalonica for their fidelity to God and to Christ His Son, assuring them of his prayers. In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” By this answer Jesus reminds His questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord.
The first reading (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6):
The Cyrus mentioned here is Cyrus II, the Great, who founded the Persian Empire. In 539 B.C., he conquered the Babylonians who had defeated the Jews 50 years earlier and had taken many of them into captivity. He decided to liberate the Jews from their exile and allow them to go back to their home country, Judea. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah declares that Cyrus, even though a pagan, was God's instrument. The amazing fact is that God actually used Cyrus to restore His people to their homeland. God is able and willing to use ungodly powers to achieve His ends because He is the God not only of the Jews, but of history and of the whole world. Hence, He anointed Cyrus as a savior of His people. Cyrus carried out God's plan by setting the Jewish exiles free and giving them permission to go back to Judah to rebuild their Temple and city. He also returned to them the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. So a pagan emperor became, in God’s hand, the instrument by means of whom the people of Israel might return to their Promised Land. This passage also contains a new theological idea. To call this pagan king, “Messiah” or “Christos” meaning "the Lord's anointed" (a title given exclusively to the kings, prophets and priests of the Chosen People), was quite revolutionary. Like other passages from Isaiah, it was meant to challenge the Jews' parochialism and give them a more universal view of God's concern and plan.
The Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5:
Bible scholars believe that this letter, addressed to the new Jewish and the Gentile Christians of northern Greece (Thessalonica), is the earliest document of the whole New Testament, written in Corinth in A.D. 50. There was more Faith, Hope and Charity among the Thessalonians than Paul could credit to his own preaching; the Holy Spirit was clearly at work. Along with 1 Thes 5:8, this is the earliest mention in Christian literature of the three "theological virtues" (see 1 Cor 13:13). From today's text it is clear that these people worked hard at being Christians and that Saint Paul thought that praiseworthy. Hence, he praised his converts for their fidelity to God and to Christ and assured them of his prayers. He hoped that they would continue to be faithful to the call God had given them, a call proved by the many gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed on them.
The Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians were the three prominent Jewish sects of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were rabid nationalists and totally anti-Roman while the Herodians were willing to collaborate with the Romans, hoping to benefit from them. Together with the chief priests, these three groups accused Jesus of “associating” with sinners and challenged his authority to teach in the Temple. The three “parables of judgment” were Jesus’ calculated reply to their accusations. After the first two parables, "the chief priests and the Pharisees ... realized that he was speaking about them" (21:45-46). Hence, they resumed their counter-attack in an attempt to destroy Jesus' influence with the people, either by discrediting him in the presence of the crowds or by causing him to make statements that would get him into trouble with the Romans. The question put to Jesus in verse 17 is actually the first in a series of four "test questions" recorded in Matthew 22:15-46. Besides today's question on the legality of paying taxes, there are other questions: Jesus' opinion on the details of the resurrection (vv. 23-28), what the greatest commandment is (vv. 34-39), and the relationship between the Messiah and David (vv. 41-45).
The tax issue:
The Jews were forced to pay three types of tax to the Roman Emperor: the ground tax, the income tax and the census tax. Here, the question concerned the census tax. A census tax implied that, if one were a citizen, one owed the money to the Emperor. The Jews believed that they had only one Lord and Ruler and that was their God. Taxes, or any form of submission, should be made to Yahweh alone. Hence, the question which the Pharisees asked Jesus was intended to create a very real dilemma for him. If he said that it was unlawful to pay the tax, the Herodians and their allies would report him to the Roman officials, who would then arrest him as a revolutionary. If he said that it was lawful to pay the tax, the insurgents and their supporters would turn against him and he would be discredited in the eyes of the people who were against paying taxes to a pagan emperor.
Defense as Challenge:
Jesus defeated their scheme by asking his challengers to show him “the coin of tribute” – the coin they would give to the tax-gatherer. In those days, all secular money was thought to belong to the Emperor. [The Temple had its own coinage, not used in paying secular debts.] Thus, the Emperor’s image was on each secular coin. The money belonged to him and he simply permitted people to use it. By actually having a Roman coin in their possession, complete with Caesar's image and Caesar's inscription, the challengers had already shown where their loyalties lay. They had, in effect, answered their own question. Jesus, rather than answering their question directly, asked them a question, thus turning their trap inside out and upside down: “Whose image (eikon in Greek) and inscription are these?” (The census tax was paid with a denarius coin, which contained the image of the Emperor on one side with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus”—and on the other his title “Pontifex Maximus” (high priest). Thus, Caesar claimed not only political sovereignty but also divine attributes. Therefore, the Jews considered the image idolatrous and the inscription blasphemous). “Caesar’s,” they said. Jesus then said, "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and to God what belongs to God." In other words, we give to the Emperor the coin because his image is on it, and we give to God our own selves because we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Jesus’ answer acknowledges our obligation as citizens to the state, but affirms our larger obligation to God. Both the state and God require certain loyalties from us, but we owe God our very lives. The question Jesus was asked could have been phrased, “Whose side are you on? Israel’s or Rome’s?” Jesus’ answer was “On God’s side!”
Dual citizenship and dual obligations:
By birth we become the citizens of the country of our birth, and by Baptism we become the citizens of Heaven. In every age, Christians are faced with balancing the demands of Caesar with the commands of God. Jesus’ answer forms the guiding principle in solving the problems that arise from our dual citizenship, belonging to God and to our country. As Christians, we are to obey the government, even when it is pagan and non-Christian. A loyal Christian is always a loyal citizen. Failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty. We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State, by paying all lawful taxes, and by contributing our share, whenever called on, toward the common good. Both St. Peter (1 Pet. 2: 13-14), and St. Paul (Rom. 13: 1-7), stressed the obligation of the early Christians to be an example to all in their loyalty as citizens of the state. Similarly, we fulfill our duties to God by being faithful, loyal, active members of the spiritual Kingdom of God, the Church, which Christ established on earth. Thus, a real Christian is at one and the same time a good citizen of his country and a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, but his priority is his allegiance to God. As the famous martyr St Thomas More said of himself: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first." Cooperation with secular authority cannot interfere with our primary duty of "giving back to God" our whole selves, in whose image - like the stamp on the coin - we are made. Consequently, we give taxes to the government but we give ourselves to God.
The modern approach:
As citizens in a multicultural, multi-religious country we respect other religious traditions. We take care not to mix religion and politics. Americans tend to see in Jesus’ answer an argument for the separation of church and state. But such an idea made no sense in first-century Mediterranean culture. It is true that there are times when the demand for the separation of church and state appears to leave our civil life without moral direction. But the experience of two thousand years of political history since the time of Jesus makes it clear that mixing the two jeopardizes civil liberty as well as religious freedom. In a democracy, the citizens do not serve the state -- the state serves the people. The elected government officials are public servants. Hence Christians, like other citizens, are free to criticize their government, to seek to change its policies, to remove office-holders whose representation is invalid, and to seek new benefits and protections for the welfare of the people. Our political liberty also secures our freedom from religious tyranny and unwonted political interference in religious matters.
There is no reason why the state and the Church cannot work together to improve the lives of their citizens. There is usually no conflict -- unless the government forces people to act in a way contrary to God’s law. Then we must act in accordance with God’s law and not man’s because, while the state only exists in this world, God’s law exists in this world and the next. This means that sometimes we have to refuse to obey our government. In South Africa's apartheid system, many Christians were forced to violate the immoral laws of their government. In the United States, both the black and the white people violated the segregation laws of many states. Wherever there is immoral or unjust behavior, there has to be conflict which paves the ground for society’s progress.
1) “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”:
How? Like it or not, it’s a reality that our ancestors created the kind of government that relies on a portion of its citizens’ income to function. Hence, it is the duty of Christians to pay for the services and the privileges that government provides –- like paved roads, police and fire departments, banks, schools and other necessities. If we refuse to pay taxes, how will these needs be fulfilled? Another way of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is to participate actively in the running of the government, electing the most suitable candidates and influencing them through frequent contacts. Third, we must submit to the civil authorities and respect the laws of our country in order to live in peace. As loyal citizens, we must also see to it that our elected representatives are faithful in maintaining law and order in the country and in promoting the welfare of its citizens. When the state oversteps the mark and puts itself in the place of God, Christians are, as a last resort, absolved from obedience. We must give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and not the things that are God's. We must “obey God rather than human beings.”
2) “Give to God what is God’s.”
How? Since everything is God’s, we must give ourselves to Him 100%, not just 10% on Sundays. We should be generous in fulfilling our Sunday obligations and find time every day for prayer and worship in the family, for the reading of the Bible and the proper training of our children in Faith and morals. St. Augustine teaches that when we truly succeed in "giving to God what is God's," we are "doing justice to God." This requires that we return to God, with dividends, that which God has entrusted to us, remembering that we are mere managers or stewards of God’s gifts. We will soon be invited to make the stewardship pledge of our financial offering to the local Church for the coming year. Our contribution to the parish Church should be an expression of our gratitude to God, giving back to God all that he has given us. This will help us to combat the powerful influence of materialism in our lives and enable the Church to do God’s work. Our cash offerings signify our commitment to the ministries of the Gospel, the activities of the Risen Lord. Every pledge enables and empowers ministry. Every pledge, every dollar, touches a human life and brings it closer to God. Every pledge, every dollar given, is transformed into love for someone else and for ourselves. Active participation in the various ministries of the parish is the offering to God of our time and talents, yet another way of giving to God his due, our whole self.
Check your heart’s investments:
When he says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's," Jesus is asking us whether we have invested our heart in the right place, in something worthy of our life's blood, something that will yield a return that's worthy of a whole human life. There is only one way to find out where our hearts are. Let us check our daily choices, the little ones as well the big ones, and look for the patterns: What do we usually do when decision time comes for where we will spend our prime time and our best energies? These are the infallible indicators of what we truly value, and what we don't. Whose image do others see when they look at our life? When people see us, do they see Jesus engraved upon us? To the extent that they do, that's the extent to which we belong to the Kingdom of God.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published in the CBCI website by the Office for Social Communications. You may contact email@example.com for weekday homilies, and a dozen more additional anecdotes.
Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year
: Today’s Scripture readings offer us a standing invitation to the everlasting joy of the Heavenly banquet and a loving warning to be ever ready for it by constantly wearing the wedding garment – remaining in a state of grace. All three readings describe how a loving and providing God sees to it that there is abundant food for His people
In the first reading, Isaiah describes the Messianic banquet on the Lord’s mountain in the Holy City of Jerusalem which Yahweh is preparing for His people. The good news is that it is a great feast of “rich food and choice wines.” But for the children of Israel the bad news is that Yahweh invites all people, including Gentiles, to the banquet. Today’s responsorial psalm is the famous 23rd psalm presenting God as the Good Shepherd Who nourishes leads and protects His flock. In the second reading, St. Paul advises the Philippians to put their trust in the power and goodness of a providing God, Who, in Jesus, has given His Church everything needed to enable His followers to participate in the Heavenly banquet. In today’s Gospel, by telling an allegoric parable of judgment in the Temple of Jerusalem two days before his arrest, Jesus accuses the Jewish religious and civil leaders of rejecting God’s invitation to the Heavenly banquet given through His son Jesus. They have rejected the invitation by not listening to the Good News preached by Jesus and by not reforming their lives. This invitation was repeatedly extended to Israel through the prophets, including John the Baptist. But the leadership contemporary with Jesus rejected the reality that Jesus was the fulfillment of all prophecy, refused to accept God’s invitation to righteous living given through John the Baptist and through Jesus, and are now planning to kill God’s own Son, Jesus. Hence, God is inviting the sinners and Gentiles for His banquet, and that is why Jesus is keeping the company of sinners.
1) We need to keep wearing the wedding garment of holiness and righteousness, the state of grace, all the time and appreciate and make use of the provision for God’s graces in the Church: a) We received the “wedding garment” of sanctifying grace in Baptism and we receive additional graces to retain it through the other Sacraments. b) Our participation in the Eucharistic celebration and personal and family prayers helps us to recharge our spiritual batteries and enables us to lead Spirit-filled lives. c) Jesus nourishes us in the Church through the proclamation of word of God and through his own body and blood in the Holy Communion.
2) We need to participate in the Eucharistic banquet with proper preparation by repenting of our sins and by actively participating in the prayers and singing during the Holy Mass. Participating in Holy Mass is the best preparation and source of power for our future participation in the Heavenly banquet.
Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year : Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14
1) Post-World War II Banquet:
At the end of World War II, the Russian head-of-state gave an elaborate banquet to honor the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Russians arrived in their best formal wear -- military dress uniforms -- but their honored guest did not. Churchill arrived wearing his famous zipper coveralls that he had worn during the German bomb attack in London. He thought it would provide a nostalgic touch the Russians would appreciate. They didn’t. They were humiliated and insulted that their prominent guest-of-honor had not considered their banquet worthy of his best clothes. Wearing the right clothing to a formal dinner honors the host and the occasion; neglecting to wear the right clothing is an insult. Weddings were such an important occasion in Palestine in Christ’s days that people were expected to wear the proper clothing to show appreciation and respect for the invitation. In today’s Gospel, Jesus demands the wedding garment of righteousness from his followers.
2) Sunday Mass with helium balloons?:
At a church conference in Omaha, people were given helium-filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt joy in their hearts. All through the service worshippers kept releasing balloons. At the end of the service it was discovered that most of them still had their balloons unreleased. If this experiment were repeated in our church today, how many of us would still have our balloons unreleased at the end of the Mass? Many of us think of God's House as a place for seriousness, a place to close one's eyes and pray, but not a place of celebration, a place of joye. The parable of the Great Supper in today's Gospel paints a different picture. The Christian assembly is a gathering of those who are called to the Lord's party. In the Eucharist we say of ourselves, "Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb." The Lord invites us to a supper, a banquet, a feast. Can you imagine a wedding feast in which everyone sits stone-faced, cold and quiet? (Fr. Essou M.)
Food is used in all three readings today as an image of God’s favor and presence with His people. In the first reading Isaiah describes the Messianic banquet on the Lord’s mountain. The prophet sees the mountain of the Holy City transformed into a grand banquet hall full of life and good things. He paints the picture of “a feast of rich food and choice wines.” The 23rd Psalm describes how, like a totally committed shepherd, God spares nothing in order to provide nourishment for His flock. In the second reading Paul says that he lives like a guest invited to the Kingdom of God, enjoying vast spiritual benefits as a man of faith. So will God provide for us, he assures us, and we can do all things in God who strengthens us. In the Gospel, Jesus describes the eschatological banquet of Heaven in the parable. He characterizes the reign of God as a wedding feast, a banquet of “calves and fatted cattle.” When the banquet is rejected by the chosen guests, it is offered to all and sundry. Thus, all the readings suggest that God loves His people and provides for their eternal salvation. Today’s Scripture gives us the strong warning that if we do not accept God’s love, if we reject His gift, we can have no place with Him. We have to get prepared for the freely-offered Heavenly banquet by wearing the freely-given wedding garment of grace as we cooperate with God’s grace in doing good and avoiding evil. We have to respond to God’s love by lovingly sharing our blessings with others. The parable warns us that membership in a church does not guarantee our eternal salvation.
The first reading (Isaiah 25:6-10):
The prophet Isaiah (742-700 B.C.) describes, under the image of a great banquet, the blessings and happiness that the Messianic kingdom will bring. Isaiah is referring to Heaven, the second and final stage of the Messianic kingdom. He gives a graphic description of the great banquet that the Lord will prepare for his people, expressing a grand prophetic vision of the universality of Salvation. The imagery Isaiah uses is that of a great banquet on the Lord’s mountain, Mt. Zion: a feast for all people, doing away with death, wiping away tears from every face, and removing their reproach from the earth. Isaiah announces "good news and bad news." The banquet is certainly going to take place, but Yahweh is planning to invite not only His “Chosen People" but “all peoples." “Let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us.” It took a courageous prophet to speak of a God Whose loving care extended beyond the Jews, who prided themselves on their status as the only Chosen People. In some ways, Isaiah's ideal state parallels Jesus' parable about the King's wedding banquet (Mt 22:1-14). Let us remember that Heaven with its great banquet is ours for the receiving. God the Father intends it for us, God the Son has earned it for us, and God the Holy Spirit is ready at every moment of our lives to assist us to obtain it.
The second reading (Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20):
On several occasions, Paul has received generous financial support from the Christians at Philippi. So his words are a “thank you" note to them from prison. In today’s lesson, Paul emphatically proclaims, "In Him who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything.” When the Apostle thanks his friends for their kindness toward him, he does so in these words: "My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of His magnificent riches in Christ Jesus." Paul claims that his strength comes from Jesus and his future hope revolves around Jesus. Referring to the vast spiritual benefits he enjoys as a man of faith, Paul tells his friends in Philippi about the contrasts in his life: He knows the experience "of living in abundance and of being in need." Because of his faith, it makes no difference to Paul whether he lives "in humble circumstances or in abundance." His whole existence has been transformed by his being joined to Jesus in His death and Resurrection. "I have learned," he writes, "the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry." Paul reminds us of our need for a complete and unquestioning trust in God, and for the firm conviction that He is regulating the affairs of our lives.
The parable of the royal banquet is a parable about the Kingdom of God and about the people who will eventually belong to it. It is also the first of three parables that challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish leadership. The parables all contrast the true Israel with the attitudes and lives of the Pharisees, demonstrating the claims of the Pharisees as false. In addition, the Parable of the Royal Banquet and the Wedding Garment is Jesus’ interpretation of the History of Salvation. It is also one of the three parables of judgment or “rejection parables” Jesus told in the Temple of Jerusalem during the last week of his public life, addressing the "chief priests and elders of the people", i.e., the religious and civic leaders. This parable was delivered by Jesus on his last visit to the Temple on the Tuesday of Holy Week and was part of his last confrontation with his enemies before his arrest. The actual parable is the disturbing story of a King Who celebrated the wedding feast of His Son. When the VIP guests who had been invited refused to come, He brought street people in to take their places. Here, Jesus combines the parable of the marriage feast with another rabbinic parable, the parable of the wedding garment.
Along with the parable of the landlord and the wicked tenants, this, too, is an allegory unfolding the whole of salvation history. The parable was intended to be a fitting reply to the accusation that Jesus was unfit to teach because He was mingling with the publicans and sinners. It also answers the question of Jesus’ authority to teach in the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus hints in the parable that he is befriending the sinners and preaching the Good News of God’s salvation to them because the scribes and Pharisees have rejected him and his message, while the sinners have accepted him wholeheartedly. That is why he compares God to a King who gives orders to invite the ordinary folk from the waysides as guests for his son’s royal banquet. Jesus also declares that the source of his authority is God his Father Who has sent His Son to preach the Good News of Salvation. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells this parable in reply to the statement made by one of his listeners: “Blessed are those who are invited to take part in the Messianic Banquet in Heaven.” This parable is based on the Jewish marriage customs of Jesus’ day and contains both a local and a universal lesson.
The Jewish wedding customs and political overtones:
Since accurate timepieces were unavailable and preparation for a banquet was time-consuming, invitations to such events were sent and accepted well in advance. Once the banquet was ready, the host would send notice -- rather like our custom of making medical appointments in advance and receiving a reminder call a day ahead. Attendance at the royal prince’s wedding by prominent citizens was a necessary expression of the honor they owed the king and an expression of their loyalty to the legitimate successor to his throne. Even at ordinary weddings, it was insulting to the host if someone refused to participate in the wedding feast after agreeing to do so at the first invitation. Hence, “refusal of a king's invitation by the VIPs, without any valid reason suggested rebellion and insurrection” (The Interpreter’s Bible). That is why the king sent soldiers to suppress the rebellion. Thus, the parable of the wedding feast has major political overtones. Another approach to the parable is that it is a prophetic allusion to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., which is interpreted to be a sign of God's judgment against the unbelieving Jews. In royal banquets, special wedding dress would be provided by the host and given, outside the banquet hall to those who could not afford proper dress.
The code words and their direct meaning in the parable:
The King in the parable is God and the King's Son is Jesus. The marriage is symbolic of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the union of Christ's Divine and human natures in one Person (St. Gregory). During the 2000 years between Abraham and Christ, God sent Moses and the Prophets to call His Covenant people to the great wedding feast of the Gospel. The invited guests were the Jewish people. At first, Christ invites the people of the Old Covenant, the Jews, to join this great marriage feast which is now ready -- but they fail to respond. The messengers the King sent to invite the people are the Hebrew prophets. The second and third sets of messengers are the Christian missionaries. The burned city (v. 7) is Jerusalem. A few VIP invitees offer flimsy and insulting excuses, implying that tending to their business is much more important than the wedding of the crown prince. The other invited guests challenge the king's honor directly by seizing his slaves who bring the invitation, beating, and killing them. Clearly this action demands reprisal, and the King obliges. Matthew 22:7 tells how the King sent His armies against those who refused the invitation, and burned their city. Later, Christians tended to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a similar judgment of God upon the people who had rejected the invitation by Christ to the eschatological banquet.
The universal call and rejection of the Jews:
The "good and bad" (v. 10), in the parable constitute the mixed memberships of the Church: the sinners and the righteous. The people in the highways and the byways stand for the sinners and the Gentiles, who never expected an invitation into the Kingdom. God’s invitation includes an offer of the correct dress for the feast, namely, the robe of Christ's righteousness of which Paul speaks in Philippians 3:7-11. Since this parable was directed to the chief priests and elders, Jesus contrasts their rigid observance of the law with the open-hearted generosity expressed by the king: "Invite everyone you find." This is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet. It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News. The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted. In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh's call. This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.
The extended meaning or universal lesson of the parable:
Christians are invited to the endless joy of the Heavenly banquet. If, in our preoccupation with temporary pleasures and duties, we refuse this invitation, our greatest pain after our death will be the realization of the precious things we have forfeited. The invitation to the ordinary people from the byways tells us that God’s invitation to each one of us is purely an act of grace and not something that we deserve by our good works. The parable also warns us that God will judge those who refuse His invitation.
The Parable of the Wedding Garment:
This parable is a modification of two rabbinic stories well-known to Jesus’ audience. In those days, participants in a banquet were expected to dress in clothes that were superior to those worn on ordinary days. Guests who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear garments as close to white as possible. It was customary for the rich hosts to provide their guests with suitable apparel. For royal weddings, special outfits were given to any guests who could not afford to buy their own. Hence, to appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the King's rejoicing.
The parable means that when one freely accepts Christ as the Lord and Savior, one must dedicate his life to Jesus. In other words, the Christian must be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus. Grace is a gift and a grave responsibility. Hence, a Christian must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness. In other words, while the Church opens wide its arms to the sinner, it expects him to respond with some effort to repent. It is not enough for one simply to continue unabated in one’s sinful ways. Although Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes, he demanded that they abandon their evil ways. The permanent and universal lesson taught by the parable has nothing to do with the clothes in which we go to Church. But it has everything to do with the spirit in which we enter God’s House. It is true that church-going must never be a fashion parade or an occasion of scandal for others, but the garments of the mind and of the heart we wear when we go to worship God are more important. They are the garments of penitence, faith, and reverence. The parable ends on a slightly pessimistic note: "For many are called, but few are chosen." It is a sad fact that, although everyone is called to experience the love of God, relatively few will really try to follow His teachings.
1) We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet:
Ever since we received Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace. These great privileges and blessings are freely given to us by a loving God. But the same obstacles which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom –-pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures –- can impede us too. Hence, we must be prepared to do violence to our ordinary inclinations and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people. That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day. Receiving these gifts of God also demands that, instead of remaining marginal members of our parish community, we bear visible witness to our beliefs. Let us have the consoling conviction that, while as Church members we are expected to contribute actively to its life and witnessing, the forgiveness of God and of the community is always available whenever we betray its ideals in our weak moments. Therefore, let us pray that we may keep our wedding garments pure and spotless and that we may become disciples who really practice the teachings of Jesus, rather than remaining mere Sunday Catholics. Let us pray for a deeper faith and love and a better spirit of responsibility to our community.
2) Are our “banquet halls” full and vibrant?
What do we do to make sure that the "banquet halls" of our churches are filled with people on Sunday mornings? Are we concerned enough to do something about it if they are not full or lively? The first part of the parable has some strong connections with our worship services. Does not God invite us there? Aren't we also called to be the Lord's messengers who are instructed to go and tell the invitees (the whole world) that everything is ready? Or do we absent ourselves because we have other "pressing" business that we think is more important? Do we remain mired in oppressive attitudes and discriminatory relationships even if our bodies are in Church? Do we ever prefer revenge to forgiveness? Do we see victimization of others and blame the victim? We must all work with God to rid ourselves of such attitudes.
3) We need to wear our wedding garment for the Eucharistic banquet:
God Incarnate waits for us in His House of worship, offering Himself for us on our altars and inviting us for the sumptuous banquet of His own body and blood for the nourishment of our souls in the Holy Eucharist. According to St. Gregory, men and women who come to the wedding feast with hatred in their hearts do not wear the acceptable garment spoken of in the parable. Men and women whose faith and love are cold, who attend Church for social reasons, to show off their clothes and jewelry, or to visit with acquaintances are not dressed in a wedding garment pleasing to the King, Christ Jesus. Our wedding garment is made of our grace-assisted works of justice, charity and holiness. Let us examine whether we have fully accepted God’s invitation to the Messianic banquet and remember that banqueting implies friendship and intimacy, trust and reconciliation.
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published in the CBCI website by the Office for Social Communications. You may contact email@example.com for weekday homilies, and a dozen more additional anecdotes.
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