Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

The first reading from Isaiah, and Jesus’ parable in the Gospel, both employ the imagery of a vineyard to illustrate a common theme: our failure to respond generously to God’s nurturing attention.

Just as the landowner makes every effort on behalf of his vineyard, symbolic of Israel, so does God continually lavish His gifts and graces upon us.

“God loved His people first,” establishing His covenant, and revealing His Commandments to seal our relationship with Him.

As a result, our “moral existence is a response to the Lord’s loving initiative” (Catechism paragraphs 2060-62), an honoring of our “fundamental duties” toward God and neighbor (2072).

But the wayward tenants in the Gospel refuse to meet their just obligations, despite the repeated calls of the landowner’s servants – the prophets – and even His own Son, Jesus. Their violent reaction is a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Passion and Death, which Jesus addresses directly to His listeners.

As Benedict XVI notes:

The audience knows he is saying to them: Just as the Prophets were abused and killed, so now you want to kill me: I’m talking about you and about me.

…But the Lord always speaks in the present and with an eye to the future. He is also speaking with us and about us.

If we open our eyes, isn’t what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world? Isn’t this precisely the logic of the modern age, of our age?

Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God…At last we can do what we please. We get rid of God…

The “vineyard” belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it…

–Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 257.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when challenged by a truth I may not want to hear?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 21:28-32

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 21:28-32

Sunday’s Gospel, featuring the parable of the two sons, reveals that we all stand in need of continual conversion.

The first son, who initially rejects his father’s request, eventually changes his mind – a key phrase highlighting what it means to repent.

Conversion requires a “change of mentality,” as St. John Paul II observed in Ecclesia in America. “It is not simply a matter of thinking differently in an intellectual sense” (26), but rather of “striving to assimilate the values of the Gospel, which contradict the dominant tendencies of the world” (28).

The second son, who says the right things but doesn’t follow through, illustrates the disconnect between what we profess and how we act.

But “in order to speak of conversion, the gap between faith and life must be bridged. Where this gap exists, Christians are such only in name” (26).

We often fall short because our human nature continues to bear the side-effects of sin. We are encumbered by “weaknesses of character” and “an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, the tinder for sin,” which we must “manfully resist” by Christ’s grace (Catechism paragraph 1264).

Hence we are in a “struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us” (1426), and this is an “uninterrupted task for the whole Church” (1428).

Question for reflection: What area of my life is most in need of conversion?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16a

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 20:1-16a

The generous landowner in this parable symbolizes God, and the daily wage He gives to all the workers, regardless of their length of service, represents the gift of eternal life with Him.

“In the Kingdom of God, the pay or wages is God Himself,” as St. John Paul II explained:

When it comes to salvation in the Kingdom of God, it is not a question of just wages, but of the undeserved generosity of God, Who gives Himself as the supreme gift to each and every person who shares in divine life through sanctifying grace.

…When we receive a gift, we must respond with a gift. We can only respond to the gift of God in Jesus Christ — his Cross and Resurrection…with the gift of ourselves…one can never match or equal the value of God’s gift of Himself to us.

Homily of September 19, 1987.

Once we view our lives through the prism of God’s generosity, we cultivate a sense of gratitude for all of his gifts. On the other hand, if we fail to be grateful, and instead compare ourselves to others as the grumbling workers in the parable did, we open ourselves up to envy.

The sin of envy involves “sadness at the sight of another’s goods,” or conversely, “joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor.” Envy is fundamentally a “refusal of charity” because it seeks to deprive our neighbor, rather than to promote his good (Catechism paragraphs 2539-40).

Question for reflection: How do I deal with temptations to envy?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about the personal and communal dimensions of reconciliation.

The first has been described as fraternal correction – when we approach someone privately, in a spirit of charity, not with animus or resentment, in order to promote healing and for the spiritual good of the person who committed the fault.

“Fraternal correction is a work of mercy,” Benedict XVI reminds us:

None of us sees himself or his shortcomings clearly. It is therefore an act of love to complement one another, to help one another see each other better, and correct each other…to know the shortcomings that we ourselves do not want to see…

Of course, this great work of mercy, helping one another so that each of us can truly rediscover his own integrity and functionality as an instrument of God, demands great humility and love.

Only if it comes from a humble heart that does not rank itself above others, that does not consider itself better than others but only a humble instrument to offer reciprocal help; only if we feel this true and deep humility, if we feel that these words come from common love…can we help one another in this regard with a great act of love.

October 3, 2005

At the same time, sin is not just a private matter, because it is “an offense against God” that also “damages communion with the Church” (Catechism paragraph 1440).

Hence Jesus has provided a way for us to be reconciled in a deeper sense. By giving His apostles the power to forgive sins, He established the sacrament of Reconciliation through the Church (1444-45). This healing sacrament reconciles us first and foremost with God (1468), restores fraternal communion, and has a “revitalizing effect on the life of the Church” (1469).

Question for reflection: When have I benefited from charitable correction?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 16:21-27

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 16:21-27

Peter takes issue with Jesus’ prophecy of the Passion

Like Peter, we too want God to fit our own preconceived notions, as Benedict XVI explains:

Peter had not yet understood the profound content of Jesus’ Messianic mission, the new meaning of this word: Messiah.

…He was shocked by the Lord’s announcement of the Passion and protested, prompting a lively reaction from Jesus.

Peter wanted as Messiah a “divine man” who would fulfill the expectations of the people by imposing his power upon them all: we would also like the Lord to impose His power and transform the world instantly. Jesus presented himself as a “human God,” the Servant of God, who turned the crowd’s expectations upside-down by taking a path of humility and suffering.

This is the great alternative that we must learn over and over again: to give priority to our own expectations, rejecting Jesus, or to accept Jesus in the truth of His mission and set aside all too human expectations.

…And it seems to me that these conversions of St. Peter on different occasions, and his whole figure, are a great consolation and a great lesson for us. We too have a desire for God, we too want to be generous, but we too expect God to be strong in the world and to transform the world on the spot, according to our ideas and the needs that we perceive.

God chooses a different way. God chooses the way of the transformation of hearts in suffering and in humility. And we, like Peter, must convert, over and over again. We must follow Jesus and not go before Him: it is He Who shows us the way.

General Audience of May 17, 2006.

Question for reflection: When have I wanted to turn away from the reality of the cross?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 16:13-20

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 16:13-20

Simon makes his profession of faith, and Jesus names him the “rock” upon whom He will build His Church

“After Simon said who Jesus is, Jesus said who Simon is, according to His own plan for building the Church.”

So St. John Paul II summarized Sunday’s Gospel, in which Simon professes his faith in Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus gives him a new name – Kephas, translated as Peter, the “rock” – to signify his “new mission” as the foundation of the Church.

The declaration is indeed solemn: ‘I say to you.’ It involves Jesus’ sovereign authority. It is a word of revelation, of effective revelation in that it accomplishes what it says.

…[B]y giving him a new name, Jesus made Simon Peter a sharer in His own capacity as foundation.

…Jesus in fact said “my Church.” This means that the Church will always be the Church of Christ, the Church which belongs to Christ. She does not become Peter’s Church. However, as the Church of Christ she is built on Peter, who is Kephas in the name and by the power of Christ.

General Audience of November 25, 1992.

“Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter,” as the Catechism teaches:

The ‘power of the keys’ designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church…The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom He specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.

–paragraph 553.

This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope [the successor of St. Peter].

–paragraph 881.

Benedict XVI emphasized that the heart of this “new commission…is the grace of forgiveness.”

The Church is founded upon forgiveness…Behind the talk of authority, God’s power appears as mercy and thus as the foundation stone of the Church.

–Called to Communion, p. 64.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I recognize Jesus as the Lord of my life?