Sunday, 17 September 2017 12:35

Simple but challenging logic; in a vineyard

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To get the message of today’s Gospel, ask the nearest 6-year-old. The logic of Jesus’ parable is simple: If you refuse to forgive someone for a small thing they did to you, how on earth can you expect God to forgive your sins against him?

Sure, a biblical scholar could take us through the text and its background and illuminate some points. But in the end, we would come back to the same message. The challenge of the parable is not to the head but to the heart.

I can ask myself: Who has hurt me? How deeply? What injuries have those close to me suffered?

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 17
Sirach 27:30-28:7
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

To get the message of today’s Gospel, ask the nearest 6-year-old. The logic of Jesus’ parable is simple: If you refuse to forgive someone for a small thing they did to you, how on earth can you expect God to forgive your sins against him?

Sure, a biblical scholar could take us through the text and its background and illuminate some points. But in the end, we would come back to the same message. The challenge of the parable is not to the head but to the heart.

I can ask myself: Who has hurt me? How deeply? What injuries have those close to me suffered?

How do I feel about those who injured me and my loved ones? Have I forgiven them? Would I be willing to forgive — and be reconciled with them, if they were willing?

As we ponder such questions, we might also note that the first reading contains a related piece of logic.

“Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” (Sir 28:3)

Now this could be taken to mean that anger has a bad effect on a person’s whole psychosomatic being, even preventing the body from healing from some sickness or other. But I don’t think that’s what the author is getting at.

Sirach isn’t talking about everyday exasperation. He’s talking about anger that is “nourished.” The Greek word for “nourish” here actually means protect, treasure up, store in one’s mind for careful consideration. Sirach is talking about harbored anger. And, in his view, keeping anger is a sick thing to do.

If I double down on my anger toward someone, holding on to my memory of my hurt like it’s some valuable treasure, if I would like to see the one who hurt me suffer, even just a little — then I am not well. The anger that I’m storing in my mind for continued consideration is like a fungus in my soul.

Obviously, I can’t begin to heal from the bitterness that has taken root in me until I’m willing to let go of it. As long as I protect my anger, it will stay there, making me sick.

Sirach doesn’t make this point to make anyone feel condemned. He presents the logic of our situation to spur us to change. His negative observation implies a positive encouragement. “Hey, if you would stop nourishing your anger, God could begin to heal you.”

So the final question is: Do I want to be healed?

Reflection Questions: Have I forgiven those who have wronged me? Where in my life do I need healing?


Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 24
Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Matthew 20:1-16

Gospel parables often contain a paradox meant to open us to a deeper understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship to God. To unpack the deeper meaning of the parable takes time, reflection and silence.

At times, we are challenged to “think outside the box” to understand the meaning of God’s word. This is particularly true of today’s Gospel parable that invites us to reflect on how different God’s ways are from our ways.

At first glance, the scene in the Gospel appears unfair, even unjust, as workers who come at the 11th hour are paid the same as those who work all day. From a purely human point of view, it doesn’t make sense. And that’s when we realize something deeper is unfolding.

The parable is not a lesson on how to run a business or payroll. In fact, it has nothing to do with economics. To understand the meaning of Jesus’ words, we look to the times when Jesus first spoke the parable.

Then, a vineyard was a symbol for the people of Israel. And the owner was an image for God’s generous love revealed in Jesus’ ministry of healing, preaching and teaching.

Those who worked the entire day were like the many devout, pious people of Jesus’ day. They would receive their just reward at the right time. Those who were hired at midday are like those who live on the margins of society and respond in faith to Jesus’ message.

Finally, there are sinners, tax collectors and outcasts. They are getting much more than they deserve or have worked for. They are receiving the overflowing generosity and compassion of God’s love.

Jesus extends God’s mercy and generosity, even to sinners and outcasts, to the poor and the defenseless. Coming into God’s presence, we resist the temptation to focus on our rights and our expectations.

God cannot be outdone in generosity. God is generous in a way that far surpasses human standards of justice and fairness: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8).

God is infinitely generous in ways that go beyond human standards of fairness and justice. We often measure out compassion and love according to spoken and unspoken measures. God’s love does not work that way. God’s love is limitless generosity, as the prophet Isaiah affirms when he invites the people of Israel to turn to the Lord for mercy.

God’s word today challenges us to make generosity and compassion a way of life, rather than something we do only in times of crisis. We open our hearts to God’s love poured out for us on the cross of his son Jesus. Having encountered the healing power of divine love, we let the cross of Christ serve as the model for how we treat others.

I have been forgiven and loved immeasurably, beyond human standards or expectations. Knowing God’s generosity, I become a channel of God’s love to others as I say in faith, “Speak to me, Lord.”

Reflection Quote: “The Lord never tires of forgiving! It is we who tire of asking forgiveness.” (Pope Francis, Angelus address, March 17, 2013)

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