Weekday Gospel Reflection

Monday for the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Matthew 19:16-22 - World English Bible

16 Behold, one came to Jesus and said, "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"

17 He said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

18 He said to him, "Which ones?"

Jesus said, "'You shall not murder.' 'You shall not commit adultery.' 'You shall not steal.' 'You shall not offer false testimony.' 19 'Honor your father and your mother.' And, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

20 The young man said to him, "All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?"

21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he was one who had great possessions.

In this passage from Matthew 19, a young man approached Jesus with a question that burned in the minds of many contemporaries: what can I do to have eternal life? Many people at the time felt faithful adherence to the Law was not enough; what more could they do? The Lord returned the man to the core of the Torah, the commandments. The young man claimed fidelity, both to the Ten Commandments (at least commandments four through eight, Exodus 20:12-16 and Deuteronomy 5:16-20) and Leviticus 19:18 ("Love your neighbor as yourself"). So, what more could he do? Jesus invited him to become a disciple. Notice, the Lord didn't ask the young man to bankrupt himself, in the mode of St. Francis of Assisi; in a sense, he asked the man to do more, to end his business relationships, to liquidate his assets, to follow him on the road in a mobile ministry and use his wealth to support evangelization. Those efforts represented a radical shift in lifestyle, something the young man could not abide, for he could not see life without his relationships and his comfortable lifestyle.

How is God calling you today? How does his call challenge you?

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Tuesday in the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Matthew 19:23-30 - World English Bible

23 Jesus said to his disciples, "Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into God's Kingdom."

25 When the disciples heard it, they were exceedingly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"

26 Looking at them, Jesus said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

27 Then Peter answered, "Behold, we have left everything, and followed you. What then will we have?"

28 Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many will be last who are first; and first who are last."

In Matthew 19:16-22, the young rich man approached Jesus with a question about eternal life, an inquiry that led to his disappointment. After the Lord questioned the ability of the rich to enter the Kingdom, the disciples followed up with a similar question: what about us? To the followers of Jesus and the majority of the population, the young rich man represented the blessed, the righteous man who enjoy God's favor in life with wealth and possessions and personal contacts. This man performed good deeds and had his priorities straight when he asked about his everlasting goal. If that man couldn't "thread the needle," who could? Jesus answered in a way that reset the disciples' priorities. It was not what the followers of the Lord did for God (the impossible), it was what God did for them (everything possible).

Peter didn't understand; he had to ask a follow-up question: what about us? Jesus assured his followers they would receive their reward, both in this life and in the next, but to achieve that inheritance would require sacrifice. To live in God's blessing demanded one give up all to God.

How have you given up your life to God? How has he blessed you for your sacrifice?

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Wednesday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 20:1-16a - World English Bible

Jesus told his disciples:

1 "For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who was the master of a household, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 He went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. 4 He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went their way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 About the eleventh hour, he went out, and found others standing idle. He said to them, 'Why do you stand here all day idle?'

7 "They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.'

"He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is right.' 8 When evening had come, the lord of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning from the last to the first.'

9 "When those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius. 10 When the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise each received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they murmured against the master of the household, 12 saying, 'These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!'

13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn't you agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take that which is yours, and go your way. It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you. 15 Isn't it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? Or do you give me the 'evil eye' because I am good?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first last."

In Matthew 19:28-29, Jesus promised his followers that they would receive much for their self-sacrifice. Those who lost all for the Good News would gain an eternal reward. He followed that statement up with the parable of the the Workers in the Vineyard. This story worked on two levels: the urgency of the harvest and the complaints from the workers' point-of-view. First, the grapes in the vineyard (representing Israel; Psalm 80:8, Isaiah 3:14-15, 5:5-7, 27:2) ripened (representing the end time), so businessman (representing the Father) approached day laborers in the marketplace to harvest the fruit. He offered the laborers (representing missionaries) a denarius, the Roman coin paid for a day's labor. He hired men a day break, at nine AM, at noon, at three PM and, finally, at 5 PM, all for the same wage. So, 20:1-7 described the businessman's urgency to harvest; symbolically, it revealed the immanence of the Kingdom.

Now, Jesus shifted the story to the reaction of the workers. Despite the time of their calling, they all received the same reward. So, the men who labored all day long grumbled against those who worked only an hour. Some expected to receive more for their efforts but were disappointed when they were paid. Was this fair? Or, were the workers selfish when they lost site of the job they were called to? The importance of the calling and the task outweighed that of the effort. Realizing that moral to the story required humility. The last shall be first and the first, last.

Have you been jealous of new Christians, with their energy and passion? Or, have they inspired you?

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Thursday in the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:1-14 - World English Bible

1 Jesus answered and spoke again in parables to them, saying, 2 "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner. My cattle and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!"' 5 But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, 6 and the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 When the king heard that, he was angry, and sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

8 "Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited weren't worthy. 9 Go therefore to the intersections of the highways, and as many as you may find, invite to the marriage feast.' 10 Those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. The wedding was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who didn't have on wedding clothing, 12 and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here not wearing wedding clothing?' He was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and throw him into the outer darkness; there is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.' 14 For many are called, but few chosen."

In this passage, Jesus told the parable of the Wedding Feast for the King's Son. In ancient culture, if the son of a king wed, tradition dictated a feast for the general populace given by the king. Like pagan feasts sponsored by the wealthy in a city, the wedding of a heir to the throne involved sacrifices to the deity (or deities) of the city-state and a communion feast with said god(s) as a blessing on the royal couple and the kingdom. If tradition demanded a feast, so it also required attendance by all. If the notice went out that all was ready, people made plans to attend.

In the honor-shame society of the ancient world, non-attendance was an insult to the ruler. Hazing, mugging and killing his messengers were acts of rebellion; honor (and the good of order in the realm) demanded retribution.

In the parable, with the revolt suppressed, the king sent his messengers outside the city to invite any traveler as a guest. The request went to any and all the messengers could find. This revealed the magnanimous character of the king.

Once the feast began, hospitality extended to dress; the king would provide appropriate clothing for the guests to wear. Again, the person who did not wear the clothes provided clearly insulted the honor of the host and would be ejected not only outside the hall, but outside the area controlled by the king.

As an allegory for the Kingdom, the King, the Father, prepared a wedding feast for his Son, where the feast represented the heavenly banquet. The many among the people of God, Israel, rejected the invitation, even killing his messengers, the prophets and the Baptist (later, Christian missionaries). In response, YHWH would condemn those responsible at the Final Judgment. The invitation became universal; the in-gathering of the end times included Jew and Gentile alike. All who joined would wear the white garment of baptism (the clothes of the Kingdom). If one, however, did not "put on the white tunic" (i.e., backslid), he would find himself ejected outside the realm of the Father, into the pit of suffering and darkness.

In the Kingdom, God calls many to join, but few trust to fully accept the invitation.

Christian life is a continual call by God. Have you said "yes" today to his invitation?

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Friday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 22:34-40 - World English Bible

34 The Pharisees, when they heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"

37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

Sometimes I ask my students, "What is the most important rule at school?" Out of the many answers they give me, the one everyone eventually settles on is "Respect."

The Pharisees tested Jesus with the same question but, not only did they want to see what he would say, they wanted to grasp his logic. How did he prioritize the commandments. How did he envision the Law. With these tools, they could find the weaknesses in Jesus' view and attack him.

So, how did Jesus see the Torah? He reduced the "Law and the prophets" (the Hebrew scriptures) down to two verses: Deuteronomy 6:5 (know as the "Shema") and Leviticus 19:18. "Shema" meant "Hear;" it was the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, " Hear, Israel: YHWH is our God. YHWH is one. You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." This verse demanded not just faith or even fidelity, but devotion to God. In other words, put God first in life. He deserved ultimate respect.

Jesus also spoke to one's relationships with others. Here, he quoted Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself." This verse stood at the height of the chapter that invoked the name of YHWH more times that any other chapter in the Law (hence, it was called the "Holiness Codes.") In fact, according to an old rabbinic story, if someone took the Torah scroll, rolled it out and folded it in half, one could see Leviticus 19:18 on the fold crease; it was the center of the Law. At its core, then, the Law addressed relationships with others with the word "respect."

Jesus molded these two verses with the common thread of love. But what did this word mean? Love was more than a feeling, it was a way of treating God and others, a behavior of heartfelt respect.

What is the most important commandment then? Love, but in a way that gives God and others their due. In other words, "Respect."

How have you kept the "Great Commandment" this week?

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Saturday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 23:1-12 - World English Bible

1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, 2 saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses' seat. 3 All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don't do their works; for they say, and don't do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens that are grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad, enlarge the fringes of their garments, 6 and love the place of honor at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called 'Rabbi, Rabbi' by men. 8 But don't you be called 'Rabbi,' for one is your teacher, the Christ, and all of you are brothers. 9 Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

In the last two chapters of Matthew, Jesus and his critics exchanged barbs in a series of controversies (21:23-44 with the chief priests, 22:15-22 with the Pharisees and Herodians, 22:23-33 with the Sadducees, 22:41-46 with the Pharisees). Now, Jesus warned his audience about his critics, specifically the Pharisees and the scribes. Since Matthew wrote to a Jewish Christian audience, he quoted Jesus addressing them. Yes, these experts ruled on matters of the Law and their rulings bound Matthew's audience, but their spirituality did not. The Lord cautioned his followers against following the example of the Pharisees and scribes for two reasons. First, their judgments advanced their vision of correct behavior, but did not allow for compassion. Rigidity trumped mercy. Second, Jesus questioned their motives as being self-serving. While the people did need to an example to follow, some Pharisees and scribes used their position to enhance their reputation and social standing. They enjoyed the perks of leadership too much. Jesus warned against the importance of titles, for example, and used extreme language to make his point. People even in the early Church addressed their leaders as teacher ("rabbi"), father (a title of honor for an elder, whether biological or social) and "sir" ("master" in the text, but it functioned simply as a title of respect). Jesus employed such absurd descriptions, not to to away with the titles, but to put them into context. Leadership roles were relative; those guiding the community aways needed to remember that they were responsible to a higher source; they reported to Christ himself. Humility, not rigidity or pride, was to be the hallmark of Christian spirituality.

Are you a leader within your parish? Do you pray for humility?

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