Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 17:22-27 - World English Bible

22 While they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is about to be delivered up into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and the third day he will be raised up."

They were exceedingly sorry. 24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who collected the didrachma coins came to Peter, and said, "Doesn't your teacher pay the didrachma?" 25 He said, "Yes."

When he came into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive toll or tribute? From their children, or from strangers?"

26 Peter said to him, "From strangers."

Jesus said to him, "Therefore the children are exempt. 27 But, lest we cause them to stumble, go to the sea, cast a hook, and take up the first fish that comes up. When you have opened its mouth, you will find a stater coin. Take that, and give it to them for me and you."

What's the old saying, "Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes?" In this passage, Jesus again predicted his death and resurrection; that saddened the disciples. When they returned to home base in Caperaum, collectors inquired about the Lord's payment of the Temple tax, as required by Exodus 30:13. Such a tax had two functions; payment was an act of worship for the faithful and monies collected supported the sanctuary. Notice Jesus instructed Peter to pay with a Greek coin (a stater, worth two drachmas, equivalent to the half shekel demanded by the Law) such coins had images embossed on them. In other words, they paid the tax with a idolatrous image. But, since these coins were in general circulation at the time, Jews used them as a matter of convenience.

Now, notice the question Jesus asked of Peter about tribute and his answer. Kings demand tribute (a loyalty tax), but children of the royal family were exempt. But, who were the children of the Kingdom? Weren't they free from such payment? Despite such stature, the Lord wanted Simon to pay the tax as to avoid scandal. (After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, emperor Vespasian ordered Jews to pay the Temple tax to Roman officials for the upkeep of temple to Jupiter in Rome.)

As children of God, we are free to act but with freedom comes responsibility. Our status obliges us to act in a way that will evangelize. Yes, inevitably we will pay taxes and we will die, but must we complain all the time? Is the goal of life to live forever in this plane of existence with as little government interference as possible? Or is it to look forward to life with God and to bring as many people to him as possible?

What are your goals in life?

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Tuesday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14 - World English Bible

2 Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in the middle of them, 3 and said, "Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 5 Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me.

10 See that you don't despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

12 "What do you think? If a man has one hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, doesn't he leave the ninety-nine, go to the mountains, and seek that which has gone astray? 13 If he finds it, most certainly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."

Jesus' fourth discourse in Matthew (called the Discourse on the Church) kicked off with a question about rank in the coming Kingdom. Who will be the greatest in God's reign? Who will have the most power, the greatest reputation or the most possessions? The Lord answered with a child, the one with the least standing in ancient society, for in the child, Jesus saw himself. He was the one who came to serve all, so the disciple should do the same, either by imitation or by hospitality.

But, who was the child? Like the figure of Jesus, the child was symbolic for many different people in the early Christian movement. The least could be the neophyte, the missionary, even the sinner who lost his way (in the parable of the Lost Sheep, 18:12-14). Needless to say, believers should not scandalize the child, the least among them, since they symbolize the Kingdom itself.

"Whoever receives a little child in my name receives me." 18:5

Who is the least in your parish? How have you received that person?

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Wednesday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 18:15-20 - World English Bible

Jesus said to his disciples:

15 "If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. 16 But if he doesn't listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven. 19 Again, assuredly I tell you, that if two of you will agree on earth concerning anything that they will ask, it will be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the middle of them."

How can a Christian address scandal? Jesus provided a practical, three step method to deal with the problem: one-on-one, privately with a committee, finally in public before the community. Each step increased in seriousness. Notice, however, the more obstinate the sinner was, the more the burden fell on the accuser to rally support for his cause. The first step occurred among friends, in private, to avoid shaming the sinner. The next step increased pressure on the sinner, since witnesses and supporters of the accuser confronted him, but, again, in private (see Deuteronomy 19:15). If and only if the sinner refused correction and the testimony of witnesses, then the full community would sit in judgment. But, what would be the punishment? Certainly, leadership would ask the sinner to leave, but would not ostracize the person. Indeed, Christians would treat the sinner like they addressed the target audience of the Lord: the Gentile and tax collector. They would reach out to the ex-member and attempt to evangelize him.

Notice the power of the community to bind and loosen in 18:18 reflected that given to Simon Peter in 16:19 and to the apostles in John 20:23. This was the power of evangelization, welcoming (and, in this case, "re-welcoming") people into the community, but his power had a cosmic dimension, admitting ( and readmitting) people into the Kingdom.

Finally, notice the power of the second step in process, the presentation of two or three witnesses to testified against the sinner. Implicitly, they should gather with the sinner in prayer; the sinner should realize their prayer has power, for, indeed, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst."

Have you ever had to confront another to correct him? What happened?

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Thursday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 18:21-19:1 - World English Bible

21 Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?"

22 Jesus said to him, "I don't tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. 24 When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But because he couldn't pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!' 27 The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

28 "But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'

29 "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you!' 30 He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord called him in, and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. 33 Shouldn't you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?' 34 His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don't each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds."

1 When Jesus had finished these words, he departed from Galilee, and came into the borders of Judea beyond the Jordan.

This passage concluded the Discourse on the Church with a teaching on forgiveness, right on the heals of the instruction on correction. After all, once the assembly ejected a obstinate member from its midst, how were they to treat this "fallen-away" person? Does the local Church forgive completely (seven times) as Peter suggested? No, Jesus replied, not completely, but continuously (seven times seventy).

Jesus followed up his comment with the parable of the King and his Servant. He weaved an unimaginable premise where the trusted servant (a minister of finance?) squandered a sum of money greater than the gross national product of the kingdom, then had the audacity to beg the regent for forgiveness! But the minister, freed from debt by the beneficence of the king, revealed his petty arrogance by throttling a underling for repayment equivalent to three months wages. Jesus painted this gross disparity to make a point; the local community, even its individual members, must grant mercy in the same measure the Father forgave them. Forgiveness was a measure of Christian character; it also was a yardstick for the power of faith in the community.

Forgiveness is hard. Who needs forgiveness in your world this week?

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Friday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 19:3-12 - World English Bible

3 Pharisees came to Jesus, testing him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?"

4 He answered, "Haven't you read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall join to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?' 6 So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, don't let man tear apart."

7 They asked him, "Why then did Moses command us to give her a bill of divorce, and divorce her?"

8 He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so. 9 I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries her when she is divorced commits adultery."

10 His disciples said to him, "If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry."

11 But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He who is able to receive it, let him receive it."

Jesus taught not only about divorce, but about the urgency of evangelization. The question of divorce came from the Pharisees. Normally, Jesus would address the practical and his opponents would cling to the ideal through their rulings and minutia, but here the tables were turned. The Lord quoted two verses from the Torah (Genesis 1:27 and 2:24) to trump any ruling of the Pharisees. When they asked for clarification, he gave one exception (adultery) to save a man from shame; however, he considered remarriage tantamount to adultery. Why? Simply put, a man who divorced his wife, at best, shamed her family (since they would take her back into their home as "damaged goods") or, at worst, threw her out onto the streets to beg and made her homeless (when even her own family rejected her). For Jesus, the inequity of divorce outweighed any right (or convenience) the husband had.

Jesus continued his teaching even on marriage. With the immanence of the Kingdom, why would someone marry? He likened the single life to being a eunuch, an exaggeration not unlike many others in Matthew. Obviously, he didn't really mean for a man to castrate himself; he meant for someone to live a single life for the sake of evangelization.

No matter how we apply this teaching, whether to celibacy or to the married life, every Christian has the responsibility to spread the Good News.

What priority does evangelization have in your life?

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Saturday in the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 19:13-15 - World English Bible

13 Then little children were brought to Jesus, that he should lay his hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, "Allow the little children, and don't forbid them to come to me; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like these." 15 He laid his hands on them, and departed from there.

Twice in Matthew (18:1-6 and here), Jesus stated that the Kingdom of heaven belonged to children. As you may have remembered from Matthew 18, children occupied the bottom of the social scale, useful for gleaning gossip from others and manual labor. Because half the children born at the time of Jesus died before their sixteenth birthday, society encouraged large families as a means to increase a clan's wealth and support the elderly. In other words, children had a utility value beyond any emotional ties.

This judgment on children made the words of Jesus more jarring. If the Kingdom was for children who could only perform limited labor, what did that say about the adults? One could not earn his way into heaven and God was concerned about the least in stature. Who one was and what one was mattered little under divine providence.

If the Kingdom was for children, it was for everyone.

Who has limited value in your life? How are they candidates for the Kingdom?

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