One thing we must first remind ourselves of today is that the gospel has nothing to do with our concept or idea of separation of church and state. The question involved was a question of authority and God as the ultimate power. The first reading is interesting because Cyrus was not a Jew but the Persian Ruler. Isaiah refers to him as “God’s anointed,” the same title given to Jewish Kings. In this case, Cyrus unknowingly to himself, was doing the work of God by letting the Israelites return home and even reconstruct their temple. So the ruler who is doing God’s will has legitimate authority, but God is the source. In the gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians were actually setting a trap in their friendly approach and seemingly simple question. It required either a yes or no with either answer having dire consequences of turning believers against Him or committing treason against the empire. But Jesus doesn’t answer the question really as it was put to Him. In fact he left two unanswered questions, that then and through the centuries remain for each generation to answer. What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar(or the state, the good of humanity). It has led to a whole history of rich versus poor, of demands for human rights, of demands for the end of slavery and all other movements even to our present time. Humanity’s fallen nature has not always made us a people with our best foot forward, but hopefully we are trying and learning what it means to be a Christian and a lover of God and all that it asks us to do. It is an ongoing task, learning and developing as a people, as a world responsible to our creator. We are all called to be open and discerning of the Holy Spirit who leads the way for all. Truly we will be complete only when we are one with God, in this life, and in the next.
Well it seems we are back into vineyards and the business of grapes for another week. Of course Israel was an agricultural nation and grapes were important if they were to have wine for their tables. Remember too Jesus said I am the Vine you are the Branches and my Father is the vine dresser. So these parables have a sense of importance, but we have to be careful to realize they have at times been heavily allegorized and possibly stretched beyond their original intent. Keep in mind that Jesus or the early church never accused or blamed the Jewish people for Christ’s death.
A farmer in Israel as elsewhere lived off the land. They would trade and barter for the necessities they needed for farming, livestock, food and taxes and tithes and other necessities of life. In essence, a landowning farmer would be left with about 20% of his crop to look out for his family. A tenant farmer as we see in the gospel, could really not expect much more, but was obligated to pay the landowner. Now, typically, the tenants were the leaders of the people. Their lifestyle, accountability, leadership all become questionable and a need for change is seen and brought about. It these writings it would mean at the time that the leadership was passed on from the chief priests, etc to the new Judaeo-Christian Church.
To move forward through the centuries, we see the message of Jesus has been constant, and his church remains. It has looked to be different in one time or another, but like old testament times, repentance, change and renewal was always something the Holy Spirit has maintained and has kept Christ alive to the world. Our message today, is that good leadership must listen and work together with the people of God. History has proven that in all areas of spirituality the Spirit breathes where he wills. It is for the rest of us to discern the Spirit and not disparage the messenger.
In the intellectual sphere, the remarkable achievements of learning and science has advanced the world and also challenged us to clean up the mistakes we have made. If God our ultimate landowner asked for an accounting today, What would we say?
Today’s gospel actually is located in Matthew’s gospel in Holy Week after Jesus’ entrance and his cleansing of the temple. It is in response to a challenge by the chief priests. His question was who did the father’s will between the two sons. They said the first and he said, that yes the son who said no actually did the work, while the son who said yes appeared to be doing the right thing but was only looking out for himself. In light of this, Jesus asked that when you had John the Baptist, the tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners believed and followed him but you did not. You stuck to keeping the appearance of following the law but were only concerned with your power.
There is a big lesson here for us today. God calls us to love and respect all who are around us. It means we must be ready to forgive and always ready to welcome even those we do not know. It means that we not put our self first, that as Jesus served and even offered his life so we to are called to serve. It means that in our life we have a position that in someway oversees others, we must humbly and in a just way manage and serve those we serve.
We know that Jesus encounter in today’s gospel was preliminary to his execution, yet Jesus was faithful to why he came and to what was to come. It certainly means for us that the right thing is not always the easiest thing.
26th Sunday Ordinary Time 10-1-17
Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm: 25:4-9; Philippians 2:1-11 (a must read before you continue); Matthew 21:28-32
We usually focus on the Gospel reading, but last Sunday we started a 4-week reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. This is one of his more straightforward letters, with fewer complex sentences and less dense theology. Indeed, this is a beautiful passage. In fact, this is one of his letters written from jail. It’s probably fair to say that when people are confined, contrary to their own wishes, without knowing what the future will bring, they become introspective, and begin the process of identifying their real priorities and deeply held beliefs. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Letters from Birmingham Jail”, and Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote letters and poems, both of which are good examples of this.
Paul is writing to encourage the Philippians. There are some growing divisions in their community. Some outside people have come to them in attempt to weaken the message of God’s love and move them toward harsh legalism and bondage to law instead. It is a time when they need to remain strong in their faith, and not be intimidated by opponents. Paul stresses the themes of Joy (in prayer, in work, in the Gospel, and in suffering). He also stresses fellowship with each other (unmarred by selfishness or pride), and in the Good News of Christ.
So he begins by a series of rhetorical questions, reminding the Philippians of the privileges and duties of a Christian, of the life they are to live as Christians, and the strength they have found in the life of Christ and in their own lives as a Christian community.
- Did you find encouragement in Christ himself?
- Have you found comfort in the blessings of love and given that love to others without reserve or discrimination?
- Have you come together in One Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and found a unity unlike any other?
- What has it been like to experience the tenderness and compassion of God and has it made you reach out to others with deep-seated and sincere affection and sympathy?
- Can you fill me with joy to hear of your harmony and loving cooperation?
Then he offers advice to keep them strong and on the right track.
- Selfishness, inflated egos, personal ambition, and pride destroy unity.
- Regard others as more important than yourself; look for those strengths and gifts that other people have and be aware of your own weaknesses, failures and limitations.
- Make a habit of thinking and speaking of the needs and interests of others as well as your own. Your thoughts and attitudes are the basis of your speech and action.
So where do these virtues come from? Who modeled them for us? Christ, of course! But it goes deeper than that. Christ established a pattern of humiliation – glorification. What I mean is, Christ’s humiliation began before his birth, as he chose to come to earth not as an all-powerful, all-knowing God, that people would fall on their knees in front of him, but as a vulnerable human child of poor parents, threatened by King Herod, forced to flee for his very life, and destined to grow and mature slowly, doing manual labor. Then he was a wandering preacher, outside of the centers of power and prestige, with no home, sometimes hungry and often misunderstood. He endured the press and demands of the crowds, the neediness of the sick, and abuse and a death sentence by religious and political leaders. Finally, he suffered the stigma of torture and death as a criminal. Yet he was raised from the dead and ascended into the Glory of eternal life. That is a pattern which is nearly too much for us to imagine, much less imitate. Yet as we become one with Christ and God in the unity of the Holy Spirit, it is the pattern with which Christians are brought into community and communion by their incorporation into Christ and their life in him. The in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit can enable us and give us strength to do what is right, if we desire to listen and be changed.
St. Paul is inescapably direct when he says: In the name of the encouragement you owe me in Christ, in the name of the solace that love can give, of fellowship in spirit, compassion, and pity, I beg you, make my joy complete by your unanimity, possessing the one love, united in spirit and ideals. Never act out of rivalries or conceit; rather, be humble – think of others as superior to yourselves, each of you looking to others’ interests rather than your own. Your attitude must be Christ’s attitude.
But that is the very attitude we resist. We live on rivalry, we cherish our conceit. Our rarest concern is the other’s good—unless it is hard won through demanding relationships of covenant and trust. Yet, I do not think Paul is talking against honest dialogue, where differences are discussed and reconciled to the good of all. Paul would not be one who would demand rigid allegiance to a human law or regulation or tradition. Remember, he was formerly a Pharisee and spend his early life studying the Jewish laws. That study would have included many debates and heartfelt differences of opinion. In fact, I think he would expect broad participation in community decision making, including prayer and thoughtful study of scripture and empathy with human needs and human errors. But he would be opposed to contentious and rowdy yelling matches, where parties demand their own way for the sake of pride.
So Paul offers us this hymn to give us a way to internalize this lesson. It is likely the most quoted and memorized portion of this letter, with short rhythmic lines in two parts. In the first three verses (6-8), Christ is the subject of every verb. In the last three verses (9-11), God is the subject of every verb. Paul has added “even death on a cross”, which breaks the rhythm to add emphasis for the completeness of Christ’s humiliation and also added “to the glory of God the Father” to add to the fullness of Christ’s glory. Notice that the name “Lord” reveals the true nature of Jesus, and the phrase “Jesus Christ is Lord” is an early Christian acclamation, identifying the divinity of Christ. Finally, every knee shall bend in homage to Christ and everyone shall recognize him as Divine on all levels, “those in heaven, and on earth and under the earth.”
Paul adds his own summary in the verses immediately following, which are not part of our missal reading. He says, “So then, my beloved,…work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work… hold onto to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not… labor in vain.” Let us, too, be in Christ, and so that we will not labor in vain.