Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 45:1,4-6; 1 Thess 1:1-5; Mt 22:15-21

Repaying to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God is the punch line that sums up the message of this Sunday. Taxation was controversial at the time of Jesus because the ruling government was a Roman colonial invader. Moreover, taxes had to be paid with an imperial denarius. That coin had an image of Tiberius Caesar on one side, and on the other side there was an image of the female goddess of Rome. Such images were considered idolatry according to Jewish Law. Even more sensitive were the words under Caesar’s image, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Any debate on taxation was therefore delicate as it could be even today. The readings of this Sunday touch on the delicate relationship between Church and state; between Christian commitment to God and loyalty to one’s country. A good example of this is what we hear in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah. The context is that the Jews are in exile in Babylon. The Lord then speaks through Isaiah to Cyrus, King of Persia (modern Iran), who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. The King then allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 537 B.C. He also gave state money from the royal treasury for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews quickly hailed King Cyrus II as the “anointed” in terms of being used by God to conquer the Babylonians. The first reading therefore reveals that at times, God may even use civil initiative to accomplish his own purpose. Isaiah uses the example of King Cyrus to illustrate this point. Isaiah shows that the king was ultimately subject to the hand of God in delivering Israel from the bondage of exile in Babylon, and restoring them to their homeland.

In the Gospel, Jesus is in the Temple. The Pharisees have plotted to trick him into saying something that would be treason against the Romans. So they send some spies, the Herodians, who had maintained loyalty to king Herod, and therefore supported the payment of taxes to the Roman Emperor. The question is carefully crafted to solicit a positive or negative answer. Jesus knows the malice and hypocrisy of his questioners. In fact they are carrying coins bearing Caesar’s name and image. Jesus’ reply leads his opponents to entrap themselves. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s”, they replied. Then comes Jesus’ punch line. “Then, repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” The response of Jesus has many implications for the Church today. Jesus does not commit himself to either side. Similarly the Church must never take sides, but has the stewardship role of guiding the faithful through formation, to know their rights, in order to fulfill their civic duties as informed loyal citizens, who are committed to God alone. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus does not commit himself to either side of the debate, for he is committed only to the Father. Similarly, we too his disciples and stewards are committed to God alone. 2) As Christians we must be truthful and honest in all matters of civil life. 3) The readings challenge us to be good stewards by giving to God what belongs to God because all our being and all we have is from God.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Is 25:6-10; Phil 4:12-14,19-20; Mt 22:1-14

Commitment to God’s invitation sums up best the message of this Sunday. The readings speak about the Kingdom of heaven, compared to an invitation to a wedding banquet. All three readings clearly highlight a stewardship theme of our God who cares and provides for his people. The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah offers one of the most beautiful images of this Kingdom. Isaiah uses very clear graphic description of the great banquet that the Lord will prepare for his people. There will be good food and fine wines; there will be neither mourning nor death for the Lord will destroy death forever. “The Lord will wipe away the tears from every face”. There will be exultation and rejoicing, because the lord “has saved us”. This is all placed in the future. Paul in the Second Reading speaks indirectly of the same feast provided by the Lord for his people. Paul had learned to be content with whatever God provided generously. He had learned the secret of being well fed, referring to spiritual food. As a faithful steward, Paul found strength in the Lord Jesus. The response to what God generously provides for his people, for Paul and for us of today is expressed in Psalm 23. The psalm is clearly song of thanksgiving to the Lord and a prelude to the Eucharist we celebrate.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the Parable of the Wedding Feast. The banquet is now ready and the king sends his servants twice to invite the guests, but those invited are too busy to accept the invitation because they are too selfishness with their free time. Their business is so important that they snob a royal invitation. The negative response to that invitation is tantamount to rebellion and disloyalty. We are told that the king dispatches troops to destroy those murderers and their city. But the king does not give up. He makes a final invitation to everyone his servants can find, an allusion to God's universal invitation to salvation. In the banquet hall, an image of the Church, everyone has a place - "the bad and the good". You and I have accepted God’s invitation to come to the wedding banquet, namely the Eucharistic celebration. However there is one main requirement. All must wear their best in order to share the meal in the royal banquet. The garments are provided freely through the Sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of reconciliation. God invites us out of a free act of generosity. The message may be summed up in three points. 1) The parable in the Gospel is a challenge to commit ourselves to God’s invitation to be the best version of ourselves. The question is, are we too busy doing stuff that do not matter instead of responding positively to God’s invitation? 2) The good news is that God never gives up even when we say no. God sends out his messengers with another invitation. All are welcome to God’s Banquet of the Lamb at which there is free lunch. The only condition is to wear the wedding garment of grace provided freely through the sacraments. 3) We are challenged to commit ourselves to God’s invitation or to reject it; to give time to God or to pretend we own time! We can also go to the banquet hall and decline to wear the garment provided freely through the sacrament of reconciliation. The choice is mine; the choice is yours!

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

Inclusion, exclusion, lust, betrayal and failure to produce fruit are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the Mystery of the Church as the vineyard of the Lord. In the Gospel, Jesus gives us yet another vineyard parable. In contrast to the past two Sundays the parable has a violent character. On one level we can say the parable has been fulfilled in the Passion and death of Jesus on the cross. On another level, the parable applies to every generation of Christians, including our own. Jesus prophesies the rise of servants who will rebel against the vineyard owner (God himself), and attempt to take it over by force for their own purposes. In the first reading we listen to Isaiah's song about a friend who had a vineyard. Isaiah uses poetic imagination to describe God’s disappointment with his vineyard – the People of Israel. Instead of yielding good grapes they yielded only sour grapes. Therefore God will no longer protect them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC about twenty years after Isaiah began his ministry. The southern kingdoms also fell after two centuries. The message of Isaiah is that the Lord looks for faithfulness to his Covenant, but only finds infidelity and betrayal. We can hardly listen to the prophesy of Isaiah without thinking about what is happening in many nations in the world today: rejection of Christian values, corruption in high places and the disregard for human rights.

The similarity between the Gospel and the first reading is striking. Jesus builds the parable of the vineyard around the vineyard song of Isaiah. The parable begins with inclusion and ends with exclusion and replacement of tenants because of infidelity, betrayal and failure to produce fruit. It is a powerful message from Jesus on the consequences of infidelity and betrayal. Just as in the case of the prophecy of Isaiah, one cannot read the Gospel of this Sunday without identifying ourselves as being the tenants who rebel and betray the owner of the vineyard. The parable underlines the root causes of such betrayal: greed, lust, ambition, betrayal of public trust and incredible mismanagement. Both the first reading and the gospel challenge us to examine our own lives as Christians on how we live out our stewardship entrusted to us by Christ.  By virtue of our Baptism we have been entrusted to work in his vineyard - the Church. We are expected to produce the fruit of holiness at the proper time. Yet we rebel against God. To help us produce fruit, the Lord sends us teachers and prophets, who lead us to God’s mercy and compassion, and so become the best version of ourselves. So what is the take away message? 1) Today as in the past, the prophecy of Jesus in relation to the Church is fulfilled. There is no shortage of rebellion, betrayal, corruption and disloyal workers in the vineyard. 2) The gospel parable calls our attention to the temptations of greed, lust and deception, which often lead to betraying God the owner of vineyard. 3) The good news is that God’s mercy is greater than our unfaithfulness. God has once again entrusted us to work in his vineyard - the Church. He gives us a second chance to produce fruit by becoming the best version of ourselves

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Ez 18:25-28; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21:28-32

Transformation from wrong doing to faithfulness; from saying “no” to saying “yes”; from complacency to doing God’s will. Those phrases sum up best the message of this Sunday. The readings this Sunday underline the true meaning of doing God's will. It means taking full responsibility when we are wrong, complacent or lazy, by asking for God's mercy and working for the Kingdom. In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel tells the Jews in exile that a virtuous person remains obedient and always faithful. Likewise a wicked person always has the opportunity to turn back and receive forgiveness. If the righteous person sins he or she will be punished and if the wicked person repents will be rewarded. In today’s Second Reading, we have one of the most beautiful passages about the mystery of God’s love through Christ in the entire Bible. St. Paul begins by telling the people to be kind, loving, and merciful to each other.  The Philippians and us of today are to put the interests of others first as Christ did.  That is why Paul exhorts us to have the same attitude Jesus had.  Jesus was God, but he did not regard his divinity as something to cling to.  Instead He emptied Himself of his divinity. He became a human being.  More than this, he became a slave for all of us.  Jesus obeyed His Father for our sakes, even when this obedience led to His death on the Cross. Thus obedience to God means becoming like Christ who was divine, but did not consider himself to be equal to God. Rather out of obedience He humbled himself to the point of dying on the cross.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Chief priests and Elders. In his address to them, Jesus tells the parable of the two sons. The central point of the story is that we tend to share the attitude of the second son, who says "yes" and then does nothing. Jesus calls our attention to the danger of living a double life of disobedience, while giving the impression of being the best. In the gospel, Jesus challenges us to be transformed like the second son who says “no” and then undergoes conversion that leads him to say “yes.” Faithfulness to Christ can only be expressed through a change of heart that leads to being the best version of ourselves. The chief priests and the elders spoke much about God and the observance of the Law, but only paid lip service. Tax collectors and prostitutes on the other hand, were not keeping God’s Law. They had said “no” to God’s commandments, yet some were touched by Christ’s message and transformed. We are called to be the best version of ourselves by embracing the message of Jesus so He may transform us. We are challenged to avoid cursing the darkness of injustice around us. We are invited rather to light candles of hope for so many voiceless poor people, who see no solution to their desperate economic situation. In other words, we must not simply lament about the economy, unemployment, broken government systems or electoral mechanisms. We must say no at the ballot box this November to change the situation. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are called as disciples and stewards to be the best version of ourselves by saying yes to Jesus Christ; by listening to his word and doing God’s will. 2) Doing God's will might mean giving Christian witness in the ethical, social and civil field, in our proper roles as Christian citizens called by Christ to make a difference in civil society. 3) We must never pay lip service to our Constitutional right to vote; not to exercise that right is like cursing the darkness, instead of lighting a candle.

©2014 John S.Mbinda

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16 

All welcome to God’s Kingdom; when God is King there is a reversal of fortunes: when God is King new comers belong; when God is King the last are first and the first last; because God’s thoughts not our thoughts. The Gospel reading of this Sunday invites us to reflect on God’s generous love, mercy and justice for all people without exception. As human beings, we find it extremely difficult to understand the mystery of such generous love. Our God is a God of surprises, at times contradicting our human wisdom and expectations. Throughout the Old and New Testaments justice is a very central theme. But what do we understand by justice and what do the Scriptures tells us about it? In the First Reading from Isaiah we discover a surprising difference between our human understanding of justice and God’s justice. We hear that God offers salvation and forgiveness entirely out of generosity.  Indeed the prophet Isaiah calls us to make some adjustment in our ways of thinking, because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts nor are God’s ways our ways. Psalm 145 highlights God’s justice. “The Lord is just in all his ways.” By human standards, it appears strange and foolish that God loves all human beings equally, no matter what their social status may be.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a generous landowner who hires workers at different hours of the day for his vineyard.  At the end of the day the landowner pays them all a day’s wage as agreed. Jesus cleverly puts this twist in the parable in order to show a sharp contrast between God’s justice and human justice; between God’s ways and our ways. The parable is not about fair compensation. What matters at the end of the day is whether one gets into the vineyard or not. When God is King, God rewards all equally in the end. We are the workers who arrive at God’s vineyard (the Church) at different times. Thus before God faithful disciples, stewards and the repentant sinner who confesses and receives the Last Rites before death are rewarded equally with God’s compassion, love and mercy. Yes, this is quite unusual, but that is the way it works when God is King. Therefore we should not resent anyone who turns to God and repents at the last moment of life like the Good Thief on the Cross. The parable also contains an urgent question about the unemployed outside the vineyard, asking them the question: “why do you stand here idle all day?” That question applies to many of our alienated Catholics and particularly many youth and young adults whom the Lord is inviting back to his vineyard at 5 P.M. The Church is ready to embrace them with unconditional mercy and forgiveness. The bottom line is that the parable underlines God’s generous love in welcoming all to his kingdom. No matter how many times we may have failed; no matter how late in life we come to find Jesus, we are always assured of God’s warm welcome. So what good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) God rewards equally all who respond to his call because God is profoundly generous. 2) The Gospel parable cautions those who might feel superior because they have been Catholic all their life and so have spent more time with Jesus! 3) When God is King new comers (the last to arrive) are rewarded equally with the first in the kingdom. Hence, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Think about it.

©2014 John S. Mbinda