25 October 2014

ONE LOVE, THREE DIMENSIONS

XXX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
exodus 22:20-26; 1 thessalonians 1:5c-10; matthew 22:34-40

when i was growing up, my father would say: «no matter who they are or what they do, treat your neighbours with love.» i didn’t understand what he meant until one sunday…
on our return from church, we spotted someone shovelling corn from our barn into a truck. we knew this man. he was known to steal but no one had caught him; no one had confronted him because of his temper. we’d caught him red-handed. 
dad got out of the car. what would he do? dad said: «take as much as you need. if that’s not enough, come back tomorrow.»
the man dropped his shovel and went away. he never stole again. perhaps he learned to be a good neighbour that day. i know i did (cf. louis lehman).

that sunday, lehman learned that being a christian meant loving GOD and neighbour, and being in right relationship with GOD and neighbour. 
this sunday, the readings challenge us to learn and practise three dimensions of the «greatest commandment»: love of GOD, of neighbour and of oneself.
in response to the scribe’s question—which commandment is the first of all?—JESUS gathers up the scripture of israel in one statement. the first part quotes the jewish creed, the shema, which every jew knew by heart: «hear, o israel: the LORD our GOD is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your might.» alongside this creed, he places a passage from leviticus: «you shall love your neighbour as yourself.» 
JESUS reminds the scribe that a combination of these texts makes the summary and essence of the law. in the first reading, from exodus, fidelity to the covenant with GOD is expressed in compassion towards the needy neighbour: the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor. 

will i practise the three dimensions of one love? how will i love GOD, my neighbour and myself in the week ahead?

18 October 2014

REPAYING GOD

XXIX SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 thessalonians 1:1-5b; matthew 22:15-21

a young man, desperate for a job, prayed to GOD for a job. he promised that he would always give 10 percent of his income to the church. 
his prayers were answered. he got a job that paid $10 a week. he was overjoyed, and put $1 in the collection plate every sunday. soon, he moved on to a higher paying job at $100 a week; he dutifully put $10 in the plate. eventually, he earned $1,000 a week; while he still put $100 in the plate, he did it grudgingly. then he hit it big! he started earning $10,000 a week. 
that’s when he sought out the pastor, and told him about his promise: «when i made that promise, i earned only $10 a week. now… would you please release me from my promise to give 10 percent of my income to the church?»
the pastor thought about it and replied: «my son, i cannot release you from a promise you made to GOD. but i could pray that your income be reduced to the original $10 a week!»

giving to GOD… we find it difficult! GOD is not often on our «to do» list. and when he is, he is way down that list. 
this sunday, in response to the pharisees’ and herodians’ carefully-formulated and absolutely-loaded question—«is it lawful to pay taxes to caesar or not»—JESUS challenges us to «repay… to GOD what belongs to GOD.» repay! what belongs to GOD? in one word: everything! we, our whole life… everything belongs to GOD! 
JESUS illustrates this when he asks for a tax coin and then asks: «whose image is this?» the emperor’s image, stamped on the coin, showed that the coin belonged to the emperor. we are stamped with the image of GOD. we belong to him! and JESUS challenges us «repay» to GOD what is his: ourselves… our lives, our time, our resources and potential, our service.

how willing am i to give myself, my time and all i have to GOD? how am i going to give myself to GOD in the week ahead?
today is mission sunday. how will i give myself to the mission of proclaiming GOD, his goodness and his kingdom?

11 October 2014

FIRST CATCH THE RABBIT!

XXVIII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
isaiah 25:6-10a; philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; matthew 22:1-14

a nineteenth-century recipe for rabbit pie begins with the injunction: «first catch the rabbit.» haddon robinson comments: «the writer knew how to put first things first. that’s what we do when we establish priorities; we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.»

that’s precisely what the guests in this sunday’s gospel parable did not do!
it was jewish custom to prepare food according to the number who accepted an invitation (like today’s rsvp). when the feast was ready, the host would summon the guests to partake of the banquet. in the parable, the king sent his servants twice to summon the guests, but the guests «made light of it» and went about their business. they refused to honour the king’s invitation (which they had accepted earlier).
the jews had accepted GOD’s invitation on mount sinai. but when the LORD came and summoned them to his banquet, they refused to honour the invitation.

it’s important to note the reason for the guests’ refusal: they «went away, one to his farm, another to his business.» they were busy with something urgent: their livelihood.

but the wedding feast represents the messianic kingdom; it symbolises the important: salvation and eternal life. 
the guests got their priorities wrong: they left the important for the urgent; they gave up live for livelihood.

GOD invites us to the banquet of life. we accepted the invitation at our baptism. 
do i honour the invitation? do i have my priorities in order? or am i so engrossed in gathering the other ingredients for «rabbit pie» and i forget to «catch the rabbit»?

04 October 2014

TENANTS, NOT OWNERS

XXVII SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 
isaiah 5:1-7; philippians 4:6-9; matthew 21:33-43

the angel gabriel returned from surveying the earth, and reported to GOD: «you own a choice piece of real estate known as earth. but the tenants to whom you’ve leased it out are destroying it. in another few years, it won’t be fit to live in. they have polluted your rivers; fouled the air; degraded the soil; destroyed the rain-forests… by any rule of sound management, LORD, you have one option.» then raising his trumpet to his lips, gabriel asked: «shall i sound the eviction notice?»
GOD said: «no, gabriel! not yet. you are right, but i keep thinking if i give them a little more time, they’ll quit acting like they own the place!»

the readings of today
- portray us as tenants of GOD’s vineyard… and remind us not to act like we own the place. 
- highlight GOD’s generosity and trust: he provided everything the people needed—fertile land, hedge, winepress, tower—to produce a good vintage. GOD asks: «what more was there to do for my vineyard?» 
- tell us of GOD’s patience: he sends his servants several times to collect the produce, and finally sends his son. 
- remind us that GOD’s justice will prevail: the people yielded «wild grapes» (first reading); they refused to hand-over the produce, and treated the servants and the son violently. so GOD finally evicts the tenants: «the kingdom of GOD will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.»

we are tenants. GOD has given us a mission to accomplish. he has provided the means and the freedom to accomplish it… and in a most amazing «vineyard»! 

do i look after the vineyard, or do i ruin it though my selfish and materialistic consumerism? what kind of fruit do i bear: «wild grapes» or grapes of good vintage? do i hand over the produce to GOD, or do i act like i own the vineyard?