29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2017
Matthew 22:15-21

Background:

In last week’s gospel Matthew recounts Jesus telling the parable of a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. As the parable unfolds, the king invites the good and the bad from the streets. When the guests are finally assembled, one is found without proper attire. The parable sets up the closing verse, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt 22:14) The text for this Sunday’s gospel follows directly after last week’s text.

This Sunday, Matthew tells his readers that the Pharisees joined with the Herodians in an attempt to shame Jesus. The Pharisees did not approve of the Roman rule. Under normal circumstances they would not join with the Herodians, who were loyal to Rome. Among the common people there were some who longed for a rebellion that would overthrow the power of Rome. There were also those who had made peace with the situation, and there were even those who learned how to profit from Roman occupation.

The question before Jesus is based in the struggle between living what the Pharisees would understand as being faithful to God’s ways, or setting aside God’s ways in order to not cause a disturbance with the Roman authority. Because Jesus is a threat to both the Pharisees and the Herodians, they have come together to trap him. They begin by complimenting Jesus, but their goal is to protect their positions of power and authority.

Jesus’ response to them is to first ask to see the coin that is used to pay the tax. By producing the coin, they demonstrate that they are in possession of a coin that has the image of the roman emperor Tiberius, with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” The Pharisees would have been offended by hearing Augustus described as divine, and they considered such an image as a form of idolatry. Yet they have joined forces with the Herodians. When Jesus asks them whose image is on the coin and what is the title given, he is making them publicly acknowledge their breach of faithful adherence to the ways of God that they have been preaching. This is not the Jesus who quietly let those slip away who had accused the woman caught in adultery.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Can you recall a recent situation when you were being asked to take sides?
  2. Has there been a time when you felt you needed to take a stand against something that was not right?
  3. In the gospel, those who approach Jesus compliment him as a person who is not concerned with anyone’s opinion. Where in the gospels do you see examples of Jesus not being concerned with the opinions of others? Where is he a person who is very much concerned with the opinions of others?
  4. They also say of him that he is not concerned with a person’s status. Where in the gospels do you find examples of Jesus’ disregard of a person’s status? Are there also places where he seems to be very concerned about the status of others?
  5. Jesus says, in verse 21, to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. What is it that does not belong to God?
  6. When you are describing things like the place where you live, the automobile that you use, the shirt that you are wearing, do you use expressions like: my car, my house, my shirt?
  7. Are there places where you are struggling with how to live in a right relationship to the material possessions that have been entrusted to you?
  8. Can you take some time to talk with God about how you use possessions, how the opinions or the status of others affects you, or some other aspect of your living as a child of God in the real world in which you live?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

The Eucharist – Do Catholics Worship a Symbol?

The Catholic Church believes infallibly (without the possibility of error) that Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. This dogma is clearly revealed in scripture. Take a look at the “Bread of Life” discourse found in John chapter 6 where Jesus says:

  • I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
  • Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

During the last supper, Jesus declared that He was going to remain with his disciples under the form of bread and wine. In the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus consecrates the bread and wine with the words “this is my body” (Luke 22:19) and “this is my blood” (Luke 22:20). Jesus states this as an absolute, and is in no way left up to interpretation. In the next lines, Jesus institutes the priesthood with the words to His apostles “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is interesting to note, that the word remembrance in the Hebrew sense is not a word meaning “to recall a time in the past,” as it is generally used. Rather, the word remembrance means, “to call forth the past into the present.” In other words, Jesus was instructing His apostles to bring this event into the present, which is what the priest does at each Mass.

When the priest who is acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) recites the words of consecration during Mass, the bread and wine become, through the occurrence of transubstantiation (change of substance), fully and completely, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. With the consecration of the bread and wine at each Mass, Jesus’ sacrifice is re-presented to us.

It is in this way that Jesus chose to stay with His Church. There is not a more intimate way that we could experience the love of Christ, than with His very life inside of us. Jesus states in John 6:53 “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” The Eucharist is our strength in life, which gives us courage and conviction in our journey with Christ.

From the website “Why Do Catholics Do That: The Truth of the Catholic Church One Post at a Time.”

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rachel Joyce Photography

October 15, 2017
Matthew 22:1-14

 

Background:

This is the third consecutive Sunday gospel where Jesus is addressing the Jewish religious leaders. Two weeks ago, the gospel contained the parable of the two sons who were told by their father to go to work in the vineyard. Jesus concluded the parable by telling the leaders that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering God’s realm before them. (Matthew 21:28-32) The gospel for last week was the parable of the tenants who refused to share the harvest with the landowner. (Matthew 21:23-43) Today’s gospel focuses on the consequences of refusing the invitation to the reign of God. The common theme running through all three is that those who appear to enjoy the favor of God reject their responsibilities/relationship, and others assume the responsibility/relationship in their stead.

Scripture scholars believe that the parable, as told here by Matthew, went through stages of development. The parable that Jesus told was the simple story about being invited to a great banquet and the need to be ready to respond to the invitation whenever it came. The second stage was when the Christian community added elements to the story. The celebration became a wedding feast prepared for his son by a great king. God is the king and the son is Jesus. Some who refused to accept the invitation are those who reject Jesus and his teaching. The last development of the parable happened when the part about the person without a proper garment for the wedding was added. At this stage it reflects a Christian community that now includes Jews and Gentiles, and members who are struggling to remain faithful and others who have become apathetic.

The parable itself reflects a common scenario of the day. Typically, banquets were for the elite of society. People associated at banquets with others of a similar status in the community. When a banquet was being planned, a preliminary invitation was sent to those on the guest list. They checked among their peers to see who was going to attend, and more importantly, who was going to decline the invitation. When the banquet was ready, a second announcement was made for guests to assemble. In the parable, those who are refusing offer flimsy excuses, and others’ refusals are confrontational in the way they treat the agents of the host. The host’s retaliation would be expected. But going to the crossroads or city squares to invite others would not have been unexpected. These squares were the gathering place of the community; people from the elite as well as the lowest parts of society would be there. In today’s parable, they are all invited, and everyone knows that they are all invited. The social distinctions that regulate honor and acceptable relationships are being torn down by this King. A new social order is being established—but it is not without expectations. One must still have a wedding garment.

In the first reading (Is 25:6-10) for this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of a great banquet as the culmination of God’s saving activity. It is an image designed to bring hope to those whose lives were filled with great suffering. That reading offers a focus for reflection on the gospel. One suggestion would be to see the kingdom of God as an attitude we are invited to participate in and live in our lives. God’s invitation is for us to live God’s radical generosity, compassion, and forgiveness each day of our lives, with those in our families, in our neighborhoods, and elsewhere in the world. There are those who clearly refuse that invitation, and those who would like to accept it but struggle on all kind of levels. As a church, we are also blessed with those who seem to engage the kingdom in a full and remarkable way. The saints in history and in our communities mentor the rest of us in living the kingdom of God today.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you received invitations that surprised you?
  2. Have you received invitations that you wanted to decline?
  3. Have you ever been involved in arranging the guest seating so that everyone would be seated with people they would enjoy being with?
  4. What is it about a wedding banquet that makes it a good comparison to the reign of God?
  5. Do you know people who seem to be gifted at inviting and including those who might be considered “odd” or “outsiders”?
  6. Where in your community are the places that people are welcome no matter their social standing, background, or political opinions?
  7. In the parable, with whom do you find it easiest to identify: the king, the king’s son, the invited guests, the king’s servants, the king’s soldiers, those invited later, or the guest without a proper garment?
  8. What elements of a wedding banquet speak to you of the Kingdom of God?
  9. How does this parable speak to you of God’s invitation to you?
  10. Can you take some time to talk with God about God’s invitation to you, how you have been responding to that invitation, or perhaps your desire to carry God’s invitation to others?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 8, 2017
Matthew 21:33-43

Background:

In last week’s gospel, Jesus told the parable of two sons who were asked to work in their father’s vineyard. This week Jesus addresses a second parable to the leaders of the people. This parable gives the impression that the landowner has personally done the difficult work of setting up the vineyard. The vineyard is the result of the personal toil and care of the landowner, in contrast to a large land baron who would have had laborers do the work of establishing the vineyard. As it appears in the gospel text, it is easy to associate the creator of the vineyard with God, the tenant farmers with the religious and civil leaders of their day, those sent to collect the portion of the harvest due the owner as the prophets, and the Son as Jesus. In this form, the Christian community can see the hand of God working in their being rejected by Jewish civil and religious leaders and the enthusiastic response of the Gentiles. There is much here for prayerful reflection for the contemporary reader of the text.

Scripture scholars give us another source for prayerful reflection here. They believe that as the parable was told by Jesus, it ended with the rejection of the first messengers sent to collect the landowner’s share of the harvest, and it did not contain the personal involvement of the owner in establishing the vineyard. In this form, the parable reflected the lived experience of most of the peasants that Jesus addressed in his daily preaching to the crowds. Scholars believe that small groups of farmers would have been fortunate enough to work land that they actually owned. These would still have to barter for necessities of life and for seed for the next year’s crop. They also paid a variety of taxes, religious tithes, and social responsibilities. A farmer who worked his own land would be left with about 20 percent of the yearly crop to feed his livestock and family. The typical peasant who worked someone else’s land had far less to live on. In the original parable, Jesus identified with the plight of these poor peasants whose everyday life was extremely difficult and who sometimes made foolish decisions in hopes that they could change their life for the better. At this level, the parable also contains a great deal for our reflection.

This rather simple parable as told by Jesus has been reworked by subtracting some elements and adding others.  The early Christians who told the parable as they remembered Jesus’ telling of the story did so in order to find meaning for their lives, their struggles, and their relationship with God. In that effort to find meaning, the story itself changed into the form we find in the gospel text. There is fruit for reflection here too. The parable changed from the original story as told by Jesus to the parable as we find it today in Matthew’s gospel, in an effort to find God speaking to people in the present. This too is part of the revelation of God, and how God worked and is working to speak to us in our day as we pray and reflect on this text.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of telling and retelling stories of importance to you in your life? Do you ever find new meaning or new details of the story that were not apparent earlier?
  2. Do you find the inconsistence in family stories as a source of inspiration or frustration?
  3. Have you ever been so frustrated by your life situation that you spoke or acted without good judgment?
  4. Have you ever gone away and asked someone to care for your house, garden, or pet? Did they fulfill your expectations?
  5. The landowner in the parable seems to have done the difficult work of planting the vineyard and erecting the structures to protect it, as well as building the wine press. The work of the tenants is to water, prune, and protect the vines from those who might harm them or steal the fruit and, finally, to tend to the harvest. Does the nature of the metaphor itself give you any insight into your role and God’s role in the world?
  6. How does your life reflect that God is the creator and you have been entrusted with care of creation?
  7. Have there ever been times when you acted as if that which has been entrusted to your care belongs to you? Are there also times when your actions express your belief that God is the creator and you are God’s steward?
  8. In the parable, the landowner keeps sending his messengers, and, finally, his own son, to the tenant farmers, even though they are treated cruelly each time. What does it say to you about God’s relationship to you?
  9. Can you talk to God as the Creator and your role as steward, the gift of creation with which God has blessed you, or some other aspect of this parable that is meaningful for you?

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Is missing Sunday Mass a mortal Sin?

France, Val d’Oise, Sarcelles. Easter vigil in St Thomas Chaldean church France.

We should first call to mind the importance of the Mass. Each Sunday, and Holy days of obligation, we gather together as a Church with hearts filled with joy to worship Almighty God. We remember and profess our faith in the mystery of our salvation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. The saving actions of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil coalesce in the Holy Sacrifice of one Mass.

Moreover, at Mass, each faithful Catholic is fed with abundant graces: First, we are nourished by the Word of God– God’s eternal truth that has been revealed to us and recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We then respond by professing our Holy Catholic Faith as presented in the Creed, saying not simply I believe” as a singular person, but we believe” as part of the Church. Second, if we are in a state of grace, then we have the opportunity to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. We firmly believe that our Lord is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and that we receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion. Not only does the Holy Eucharist unite us intimately with the Lord, but also unites us in communion with our brothers and sisters throughout the universal Church.

The Holy Eucharist is such a precious gift! With this in mind, no one should simply think of attending Mass as fulfilling an obligation. To attend Mass is a privilege, and any faithful Catholic should want to attend Mass. Our perspective should not be, I have got to do this”; rather, we should think, I get to do this.”

The Mass offers such precious gifts, provides the nourishment of great graces, and unites us as a Church, there for we do indeed have a sacred obligation to attend Mass. The Third Commandment states, “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” For Christians, we have always kept holy Sunday, the day of the resurrection as our day of rest. Just as creation unfolded on the first day of the week with God commanding, “Let there be light,” our Lord, the Light who came to shatter the darkness of sin and death, rose from the dead on that first day marking the new creation.

The Code of Canon Law (#1246) proscribes, “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.” Moreover, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass…” (#1247). Therefore, the Catechism teaches, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin” (#2181), and grave sin is indeed mortal sin. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, repeated this precept in his apostolic letter Dies Domini (Observing and Celebrating the Day of the Lord, #47, 1998).

Of course, serious circumstances arise which excuse a person from attending Mass. Such as if a person is sick, has to deal with an emergency, or cannot find a Mass to attend without real burden. A pastor may also dispense a person from the obligation of attending Mass for serious reason. For instance, no one, including our Lord, expects a person to attend Mass who is so sick he cannot physically attend Mass; there is no virtue in further hurting one’s own health plus infecting everyone else in the Church. In the case of extreme weather conditions, a person must prudently judge whether he can safely travel to attend Mass without seriously risking his own life and the lives of others. When such serious circumstances arise, which prevent a person from attending Mass, they should definitely take time to pray, read the prayers and readings of the Mass, or watch the Mass on television, at least participate in spirit. Keep in mind when such serious circumstances arise, a person does not commit mortal sin for missing Mass.

A person must really reflect on how valuable the Mass and the Holy Eucharist are. Every day, faithful Catholics in the People’s Republic of China risk educational and economic opportunities and even their very lives to attend Mass. In mission territories, people travel many miles to attend Mass. They take the risk and they make the sacrifice because they truly believe in the Mass and our Lord’s presence in the Holy Eucharist.

When a person negligently skips Mass, to go shopping, sleep a few extra hours, attend a social event, or not interrupt vacation, the person is allowing something to take the place of God. Something becomes more valuable than the Holy Eucharist. Yes, such behavior really is indicative of turning one’s back on the Lord and committing a mortal sin. God must come first in our lives. On Sunday, our primary duty is to worship God at Mass as a Church and to be nourished with His grace.

 

Excerpted from
Fr. Saunders pastor of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria.

Parish Profile: St. Matthias School Principal, Mrs. Kristin Lee

Kristin Lee PhotoIn talking with Mrs. Lee about her professional life as an educator, and about her new role at St. Matthias, one word that quickly comes to mind is “energy”!    Mrs. Lee’s varied background as a social worker, teacher, instructional coach, and now principal has been filled with challenges and she has used her energy to rise up to each challenge, succeed, and challenge herself to do more!

Mrs. Lee always wanted to be a teacher, and in college she was on the path toward teaching. One summer during college, she worked at a day camp with very small children and found the experience quite overwhelming.  She doubted herself and her ability to teach, but still wanted to help people, so she changed her major to social work.  After graduating from college with a degree in social work, she worked with young adults within the court system, as well as with the elderly in a nursing home setting. However, her dream of teaching stayed with her, and eventually she went back to college to get her teaching certificate, and later a Master’s degree.  She then went on to obtain an Education Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision.

Mrs. Lee has a passion for urban education, and worked within Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) for nine years. She was a teacher for six of those years and then was an Instructional Coach and fill-in Principal at her school.   While she enjoyed her position within MPS, she was missing the Faith aspect of teaching, and thus came to St. Matthias. Mrs. Lee loves it at St. Matthias and appreciates the support and warm welcome from the staff, students, and parish!

A product of Catholic education, Mrs. Lee grew up in Bayside and attended St. Eugene elementary school, and then attended Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.  Mrs. Lee sees the need today for St. Matthias and all schools at all levels to be inclusive, instill culturally responsive practices, and meet kids where they are, and that is indeed one of her goals for St. Matthias School.  In fact, as a member of the Seton schools system, St. Matthias is part of a Latino Enrollment Initiative to encourage and welcome those of a Latino background. 

Mrs. Lee believes that the Seton School system offers strong professional development programs for the St. Matthias teachers, and also valuable teacher resources which can be customized how each teacher sees fit. She will continue to encourage the St. Matthias staff to take advantage of these resources and to try new approaches during the school year. Above all, she wants to make St. Matthias School a joyful place, where students and staff enjoy spending their days together.

Mrs. Lee and her husband enjoy spending time together and also enjoy the company of their three cats. They enjoy dining out with family and friends, and trying new cuisine options.  When asked what three people (living or dead) that she would like to have dinner with, Mrs. Lee chose Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., who all lived the history and events that shaped the world as we know it. Specifically, she would love to talk to Martin Luther King Jr. and ask how he was able to be patient and positive through such trying times.    Mrs. Lee and her husband also love to travel, and she is an avid reader of all genres, but especially Jodi Picoult books and mystery novels.  Her taste in music is varied also, with Country music winning out most often.

Mrs. Lee says the person who has been the biggest influence in her life has been her Dad, who encouraged her to pursue what she loves to do, and who always demonstrated a Faith-filled life.   Her father has been an example of lifetime learning as he went back to college at age 70 for his Master’s in Religious Studies!   It truly is not hard to envision Mrs. Lee doing something similar-always continuing to learn, grow, and share her experiences and knowledge with those around her.

We are glad you are here, Mrs. Lee!  Welcome to St. Matthias!

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 1, 2017
Matthew 21:28-32

 

Background:

In the final line of last week’s gospel, Jesus declared that the last will be first and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16) As Matthew unfolds his gospel, he next describes the following sequence of events. Jesus makes his third and last prediction of his suffering and death. The mother of James and John petitions Jesus that her sons sit at his right and left when he enters his Kingdom. The other ten disciples become indignant at the request. Jesus then addresses all the disciples, instructing them by contrasting the usual use of authority with his own understanding; Jesus declares that greatness is found in those who desire to serve. The 20th chapter of Matthew’s gospel ends with the account of Jesus healing a blind man outside the town of Jericho.

The 21st chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem riding a donkey and the crowds crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Jesus enters the temple area and overturns the tables of the moneychangers and those selling doves to the pilgrims for offerings. The chief priests and the scribes confront Jesus. The following morning, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, he curses a fig tree because it hasn’t borne fruit and it dies immediately. As Jesus is teaching in the temple area, the chief priests and the elders question his authority to teach. Jesus says that he will respond to their question if they will answer a question for him. From where did John the Baptist get his authority? No matter how they answer him, they will bring embarrassment upon themselves, so they refuse to respond. This dialogue leads into Jesus telling the parable that is the text for today’s gospel.

Stories about two sons were a common way of making a point. The stories of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) and Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:23-27:46) are familiar. The prophet Ezekiel tells the story of two sisters Oholah and Oholibah who represent Samaria and Jerusalem in his story. (Ezekiel 23:1-49) In the gospel, the son who refuses to go to work in the vineyard has broken with accepted norms of behavior and insulted his father, who would typically have the legal right to punish him and even put him to death.

Jesus is very shrewd in the way he phrases the question he puts to the chief priests and the elders. He does not ask which son has honored his father. People of the day valued honor more than obedience. To their thinking the son who only said he would work in the vineyard was more honorable than the one who said he would not. (There are no private conversations in this culture.) But Jesus has asked who actually did what the father asked of him.  Jesus is suggesting that they are like the first son, who in appearance says that right thing, but whose actions are lacking. In fact, their maintaining a virtuous appearance prevented them from responding with care and compassion to the needs of the sinners and those on the fringe. Jesus does not say that they will not enter heaven, but he does say that tax collectors and sinners will enter before them. Many of the sinners were baptized by John, and changed their lives. Many of the religious leaders were also baptized by John, but they had not changed their lives. As a result, the respect they so sought to maintain on earth will not be mirrored in heaven.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you remember an occasion when it was impressed upon you the need to respect your elders?
  2. Are you aware of a time when you were concerned about saying the right things and doing the right things in order to impress another?
  3. As years pass, are you finding yourself more tolerant of the flaws in those around you?
  4. Are you becoming more aware of your own need for conversion?
  5. What is it like for you to go to confession?
  6. What does the fact that the Church makes the sacrament of reconciliation available without limit say to you about the Church’s understanding of the human condition, and her understanding of the desire of God?
  7. Where are you in this gospel text? Are you one of the people Jesus is addressing with the parable? Are you one of the sons? Are you one of the by-standers watching the dialogue unfold between Jesus and the elders?
  8. Can you take some time to talk with God about your experience of this short dialogue?

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 24, 2017
Matthew 20: 1-16

Background:

The gospel text for last Sunday was the familiar but difficult parable of the servant who had been forgiven a great debt but refused to forgive his fellow servant. (Matthew 18:21-35) In selecting the gospel text for this Sunday, the Church skips over the 19th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and asks us to reflect on the parable that opens chapter 20.

In the 19th chapter, Matthew recounts that Jesus departed from Galilee and entered Judea. Great crowds followed him and he healed many. In order to test him, the Pharisees asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus’ response challenged the accepted practice of the day. Then Matthew records an occasion when children were brought to him for a blessing. The disciples rebuked Jesus, but he rejected their criticism. Next, a man approached Jesus asking what must be done to possess eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the commandments, but, if he wanted to be perfect, he should sell everything and give to the poor. This led the disciples to ask the question, “Who can be saved?” Peter then asked what they would receive for having left everything to be his followers. Jesus responded, “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:29-30) While the 20th chapter begins by stating that Jesus addressed the parable to the disciples, Matthew has placed it in the context of Peter’s questions about what they can expect to receive for having left everything to become his followers.

The gospel text for today twice contains a reference to the last being first and the first being last. At the end of the parable, the owner summons the foreman and tells him, “… give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.” (Matthew 20:8) The theme appears again in the last verse of the text. This theme is also present in the other gospels. In Mark, Jesus instructs the twelve: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Later, when the rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he needs to do to enter eternal life, Jesus tells the disciples that, although it is impossible for humans, entering eternal life is not impossible for God. “But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:31) Luke also records Jesus teaching this same message. When asked by someone in a crowd about how man will be saved, Jesus likens the Realm of God to a master of a house who locked the door and others came and called from the outside to be admitted. But the Reign of God will be filled with those who come from the farthest ends of the world. “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30) Because this theme of the first being last and the last being first is repeated in all three gospels, it must have been an important part of Jesus’ teaching, and also significant for the early Christian community.

As Jesus told this parable, it probably functioned as way to respond to those who objected to Jesus because he seemed to focus his ministry and attention on the crowds and those who did not keep the religious traditions.  Jesus’ parable reflected a God whose compassion and generosity was without limits and not reserved for those who were the chosen or even the obedient. This God went out and sought workers and treated them as one would treat a family member; they received a full portion for their labor. Such an image of God was very different from a God who expected ritual purity or had chosen people.

For the first Christians, who retold the parables of Jesus and reflected on them for insights into their relationship with God, being faithful disciples often meant being rejected by family and community. Some did not persevere–they lost focus of this relationship with God that Jesus spoke of when he talked about the Kingdom of God. Being first in the Kingdom of God lost its appeal next to the hardship of rejection. It was a daily struggle to maintain a way of life that was counter to the cultural tradition where the people thought of themselves as chosen people. The early Christians were ridiculed by most of their neighbors. Many of the early disciples eventually left the community.

Consider the context, as this parable of Jesus is written and incorporated into the gospel. It takes on new meaning in light of the fact that, in general, the Jews were not accepting Jesus as the Messiah, and yet many gentiles were. The idea that “the first will be last and the last will be first” took on further significance. Those who came to faith and had personally experienced the teaching of Jesus were not superior to those who came later, who may have never encountered the historical person of Jesus.

Today we are fortunate to be able to have the insight into the dynamic way God is speaking through the teaching of Jesus, and through this parable. Biblical scholars help us appreciate how God is present in the scriptures, calling each generation into an authentic relationship with our God. 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of looking for work? How does that experience influence how you hear this gospel?
  2. If you were to imagine yourself as one of the workers in the parable for today, would you have been one of those hired at the very beginning of the day, or more likely at one of the later hours?
  3. How would you have felt as you came up to receive your wages? How would you have responded to the foreman and to your fellow workers?
  4. The workers object to what the owner did, because he has made those hired later in the day equal to those hired at the beginning of the day. Do you have a need to feel that you are special, significant in the eyes of another, and to God? Have you ever talked to God about your desire?
  5. At the end of the parable the owner asks those who are disappointed if they are envious. Are you aware of times when you have been envious of others? How does envy affect your relationship to others and to God?
  6. At the end of your life on earth, do you hope that God “will give you what is just?”
  7. Can you take some time to talk to God about how God’s generosity affects you, or about any other sense of yourself that arises as you reflect on this parable?

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.