Saturday, September 17, 2011

XXV- Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55: 6-9; Philippians 1: 20-24; Matthew 20: 1-16
Imagine there are four houses on your street. Yours is valued at $400,000. The house next to you, at $300,000, The third, at $200,000. The last at $100,000. One day a realtor offers you $500,000 in cash for your house. You are delighted and you sell it. The next day you learn that the other three homeowners on your street got the same price by the same buyer that you did. How would you feel about their getting the same price even though their homes were not nearly a good as yours ?. The parable of the vineyard workers offends our sense of fairness. Why should everyone get equal pay for unequal work?

When the apples ripened, Tina, would sit all her seven children down, with pans and paring knives until the mountain of fruit is reduced to neat rows of filled canning jars. She never bothered keeping track of how many each one did, though the younger ones undoubtedly proved more of a nuisance than a help: cut fingers, squabbles over who got which pan etc. But when the job was done, the reward for everyone may be the same: sweet apple pie. A family understands it operates under a different set of norms than a courtroom. God’s grace does not come to us depending on the amount of good works we do, but according to our need. If your six-year-old child misbehaved, you would not call the police, you would not subject her to the rigor of the law; your correction of her would be gentle and proportioned to her age - in other words it would be merciful. So is God’s mercy too.

In today's gospel we hear of a harvest in which some workers put in more work than others. When pay time comes, they are all treated equally and the early birds among them begin to complain and grumble. Why do the workers in the vineyard complain and grumble whereas the workers in the family do not? The answer is simple. One group of workers is made up of family members and the other of unrelated individuals drawn from the wider society. The norms of behavior, of contribution and reward, in a family are different from those in the wider society. The big question that the parable poses to us in the church today is, "Do we see ourselves as family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a bunch of individuals, each with their own agenda? We call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?
For the early-bird workers who ended up being reprimanded by the landowner it was all a business affair. Their working in the vineyard was preceded by a well spelt-out contract regarding their wages: a full day's work for a full day's pay. The latecomers were less legalistic in their approach. They took the job trusting in the landowner's word of honor. "He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went" (Matt 20:4). In fact, those employed in the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours were told nothing whatsoever about payment. There is no employer-employee contract here. Everything is based on trust.

This parable is also a warning to us. We, cradle Catholics, belong to the kingdom of God. We feel we are entitled to more privileges and rewards than others, who have entered the Church recently. This wage-oriented attitude towards God is seen in our lives. We claim we have heard more masses, attended more novenas, visited more shrines and said more prayers, so God must be more generous to us. The result is that wage-oriented persons quit God and leave the Church, because God did not give them the wages and rewards they thought they deserved. God is love, and a lasting friendship with Him has to be based on love. God is like the compassionate landowner, who gave a day’s wage even to the man who worked for an hour. It was no fault of the worker that he was not employed till 5 in the evening. God also welcomes and rewards with a denarius, His heaven; the one who dies full of years and another who dies in the prime of life, and even those who turn to God at the hour of their death.

We need to follow God’s example and show grace to our neighbor. When someone else is more successful than we are, let us assume he needs it. When someone who does wrong fails to get caught, let us remember the many times we have done wrong and gotten off free. We must not wish pain on people for the sake of fairness. We become envious of others because of our lack of generosity of heart. Envy should have no place in our lives. We cannot control the way God blesses others.
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways," says the Lord. If my ways of thinking and judging are truly far from the Lord's way, then I must have some adjusting to do! Perhaps I need to work harder in the areas of forgiveness, mercy, and generosity, to mention a few. St. Paul urges the Philippians today to conduct themselves in a way that is "worthy of the gospel of Christ."

Let us allow this parable to break open the narrowness of our own imagination and expectations. The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature (Ps 145:9). God is more than just to us; God is generous. If God were strictly just to us we would all be in a bad shape. Our hope lies in the fact that God is also merciful. In His sight the first may be last and the last, first. A repentant thief may enter heaven first than a righteous man. The repentant prodigal may be more close the heart of the Father than an obedient home staying older son.

Our call to God’s vineyard is a free gift from God for which we can never be sufficiently thankful. All our talents and blessings are freely given by God.
Jesus is the volcano of generosity. There is no better example and proof of this extraordinary generosity than the Eucharist, where he allows himself to be handled by him. During this Eucharist let’s pour out our hearts in gratitude for God’s generosity.

Friday, September 9, 2011

XXIV-Sunday .Cycle A.

Sirach 27: 30 – 28: 7; Romans 14: 7-9;Gospel Mathew 18: 21-35

There is a story about a judge in a middle-eastern country who was trying to resolve a difficult case. The wife of a deceased man was asking for the death sentence to be imposed upon the man who had killed her husband. It seems that while he was on a tree gathering dates, the man had fallen upon the woman’s husband and fatally injured him.
“Was the fall intentional?” the judge inquired. “Were these men enemies?”
“No,” the woman replied. “Even so,” she said, “I want my revenge.”
Despite the judge’s repeated attempts to dissuade her, the widow demanded the blood price to which the law entitled her. The judge even suggested that a sum of money would serve her better than vengeance. No dice. “It is your right to seek compensation,” the judge finally declared, “and it is your right to ask for this man’s life. And it is my right,” he continued, “to decree how he shall die. And so,” the judge declared, “you shall take this man with you immediately. He shall be tied to the foot of a palm tree; and you shall climb to the top of the tree and throw yourself down upon him from a great height. In this way you will take his life as he took your husband’s.” Only silence met the judge’s decree. Then the judge spoke: “Perhaps you would prefer after all to take the money?” She did.

Very often we feel like returning hurt with the same coin. But it is disastrous for us. Today is September 11, a date that Americans consider one of the most significant in the nation’s history. It has become one of the epic historic events equivalent to the founding of the United States, the ending of the conflict between the North and the South, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the ending of World War II and the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. September 11, 2001 is a date that challenged both the freedom of a free people and the grace of forgiveness that Americans are told by our Lord Jesus Christ to offer, even to their enemies. But forgiveness is not an easy gift to give.
All three readings today remind us and challenge us to continue on the path to forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation and peace. The Book of Sirach says. "The vengeful will suffer Yahweh's vengeance; for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven." Sirach reminds his listeners that if they don’t heal and forgive and show mercy to others, they can’t expect to receive much of that in return. This is what we pray in our “Our Father” not forgive our sins if we fail to forgive others’ sins too.
Peter knew Christ’s mind about the forgiveness of injuries. He had heard the Master say to them to turn the other cheek. But Christ had not said how many times to offer the other cheek; so for future action in exercising authority he wants a clear answer to the question. How many times must he forgive the transgressor? Peter was conversant with the teaching of his times on forgiveness. Rabbinic teaching, based on Amos, prescribed that God’s forgiveness extends to three offences and that He visits the sinner at the fourth offence. Now if God will not pardon at the fourth offence; what about us, mortals? Peter knowing that Jesus was a forgiving person expected him to be kinder than God. So Peter doubled God’s triple forgiveness and added an extra one for good measure.

Simon Peter was expecting Jesus to say: “Excellent Peter. You go to the head of the class. You get A+.” But Christ tells Peter to forgive: “Seventy times seven,” which means infinite times. Forgiveness is love’s might. Married love would be a sham without forgiveness. Lack of forgiveness destroys the best of friends. Parents, spouses and children who keep within their hearts petty injuries, will soon find their love destroyed.

A certain married couple had many sharp disagreements. Yet somehow the wife always stayed calm and collected. One day her husband commented on his wife’s restraint. “When I get mad at you,” he said, “you never fight back. How do you control your anger?” The wife said: “I work it off by cleaning the toilet.” The husband asked: “How does that help?”
She said: “I use your toothbrush!”

In the light of eternity and the shortness of our span of life, harboring old grudges is pointless. Neighbors who remained hostile and unforgiving till their death are buried a short distance from one another in the same cemetery. Our ability to forgive is the measure of the depth of our Christianity. Let us remember St. Francis Assisi’s prayer: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” Our failure to offer pardon means that we have forgotten God’s goodness or have not fully appreciated the unconditional forgiveness we have received from Him.

Forgiveness finally changes us from prisoners of our past to being liberated and at peace with our memories. Grudge-holders are grave-diggers and the only graves that they dig are their own. "The world's most miserable person is one who won't forgive. Real forgiveness keeps on leaving the sins of others and our hurts in the past. To keep on forgiving is a God-like characteristic. It is contrary to human nature. But we need to keep trying with God’s grace.

A story is told of two friends who were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand, “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”

They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from nearly drowning, he wrote on a stone, “Today my best friend saved my life.”
His friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?” The other friend replied “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”
Where have I engraved the hurts I have taken, in stone or in sand ?
On this anniversary of 9/11 we are called to forgive. But it doesn't mean that we close our eyes to real threats and fail to defend ourselves, but that we remember that even those who conspire to hurt us, are like us, children of God and in need of redemption.

During this anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, let us pray for a change of heart for all who are contemplating acts of terror or hatred and for ourselves too, that in each and every action of our lives we may imitate Christ who knew both righteous anger, but infinite mercy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

XXIII Sunday -Cycle A


Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10;Mathew 18: 15-20

In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is a "watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked. In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner. Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs by material help and by prayer, but also to correct an erring brother if his sins are public.

When one Christian has a case against another, the first step will be an attempt at private reconciliation. This protects both parties from humiliation, and from forming a public position they cannot back away from. Only when this fails are witnesses brought forward, and after that it is brought before the Church publicly. This is perhaps a mirror image of our world, where we rush to public conflict, and only resort to personal reconciliation when all else has failed.
It is difficult not to be overcome by the bitterness and feelings of revenge.
A pastor preached a wonderful sermon, saying we should love our enemies. And, when he got through he asked, “Is there anybody in the audience who can truthfully say that he or she has no enemies?” An old gentleman got up right underneath the pulpit, and he said, “Father, I ain’t got no enemies.” So the Pastor tells the congregation, “Let’s listen. This man has the secret. He can teach us something. Go ahead, sir, now tell us how we do that.” “Oh,” he said, “it ain’t hard. You see, I’ve outlived all those rascals.”

One New Year’s Eve a mother asked her two quarrelling daughters to reconcile one another and wish happy new year. The older daughter went over the younger one and said “I wish you a happy New Year,” and she added, “but only one.”

Nelson Mandela was freed from jail after 27 years and as he came out of the jail he was full of bitterness against those who put him in there. But then he thought to himself : "They've taken everything from you that matters. Your cause is dead. Your family is gone. Your friends have been killed. Now they're releasing you, but there's nothing left for you out there.' And I hated them for what they had taken from me. Then, I sensed an inner voice saying to me, "˜Nelson! For twenty-seven years you were their prisoner, but you were always a free man! Don't allow them to make you into a free man, only to turn you into their prisoner!'". You can never be free to be a whole person if you are unable to forgive. There are many people who are imprisoned by their own anger, their own hurt, their own inability to let go of the past and move on.

One woman who was bitten by a rabid dog, and it looked as if she was going to die from rabies. The doctor told her to put her final affairs in order. So the woman took pen and paper, and began writing furiously. In fact she wrote and wrote and wrote. Finally the doctor said, "That sure is a long will you’re making." She snorted, "Will, nothing! I’m making a list of all the people I’m going to bite!"

One of the wise folk sayings of the Russian people is this: Make peace with men, and make war with your sins." Unfortunately, we usually do the opposite!" It is said: The only people you should try to get even with should be the ones who have done some favors to you.

Let me conclude with this story: In one of the popular Chicken Soup volumes, Dennis E. Mannering tells about an assignment he once gave to a class he teaches for adults. He gave them the assignment, "Go to someone you love, and tell them that you love them." At the beginning of the next class, one of the students began by saying, "I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I didn't feel I had anyone to say those words to. But as I began driving home my conscience started talking. Then I knew exactly who I needed to say ‘I love you’ to. Five years ago, my father and I had a vicious disagreement and never really resolved it. We avoided seeing each other unless we absolutely had to at family gatherings. We hardly spoke. So by the time I got home, I had convinced myself I was going to tell my father I loved him. Just making that decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. At 5:30, I was at my parents' house ringing the doorbell, praying that Dad would answer the door. I was afraid if Mom answered, I would chicken out and tell her instead.

But as luck would have it, Dad did answer the door. I didn't waste any time. I took one step in the door and said, ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ It was as if a transformation came over my dad. Before my eyes his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he began to cry. He reached out But that's not even my point. Two days after that visit, my dad had a heart attack So my message to all of you is this: Don't wait to do the things you know need to be done. What if I had waited to tell my dad? Take the time to do what you need to do and do it now!"
That's the advice that Jesus would give us. People hurt us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes without meaning to. But sometimes who is in the right and who is in the wrong is not as important as finding a common ground where the relationship can be maintained. Sometimes that means that we have to take the first step, even though we know that the other person is in the wrong. And the best time to take that step is today!