28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that Heaven awaits us as a party, not a chore. Everybody has to prepare for the party if they don’t want to miss out on the fun.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes our future as the ultimate party where shadows and tears are banished and there’s only room for celebration. Everyone, “all peoples,” are invited to this celebration. No expense is spared on the food and the wine. Everything that could sour the party is not just put on hold; it is banished forever. It’s not just a moment to forget worries, but to leave them and the tears they cause behind forever more. The Lord is the life of the party on a deeper level than we could possibly imagine.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that moments of famine help us appreciate even more the moments of feast. If you want just one list of all the ups and downs of St. Paul’s missions, just read 2 Corinthians 11:21–33: prisons, beatings, shipwrecks, “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” The Philippians were worried about his hardship, but St. Paul responds that he can live in feast or famine because it is the Lord who strengthens him. There are a few lines omitted in this dialogue, where St. Paul recalls how the Philippians supported him materially in his missionary endeavors, even at times when no other church did. Paul assures them that the Lord will provide for them whatever they need as well.

In today’s Gospel the wedding feast reminds us of Heaven, but also that although everyone is invited to the party, some in the end will not be found worthy to participate in it, and some won’t want to participate in it at all. Some had already been invited to the feast, and now servants were sent to tell them it was ready. Obviously these invitees had a closer relationship with the king: they were invited to come, and didn’t feel obliged to come. The invitees ask to be excused, but really just gave excuses not to come: they’d known when the great dinner would be held and had made other plans. Some didn’t even make excuses and just killed the messengers. They either didn’t want to go or were simply indifferent about going: that showed what they thought of their king, both as their ruler and as their friend. Something or someone else came first.

Abandoned by his friends, the king invited other members of his kingdom, but not on the basis of friendship, just on the basis of a benevolence a king owes his people. In the end he also invites his subjects who are complete strangers to him, perhaps people not even a part of his kingdom at all, “good and bad.” They benefit from the great dinner, but they cannot take the place of those the king wanted to partake of it, his invitees, those he wanted to acknowledge as his friends.

If this parable speaks to us of Heaven it’s also a reminder that God is merciful and good, but in the end we have to do our part, even a little, if we want to be saved. Salvation is not automatic. The man with no wedding garment had no answer for the king’s question: there was no excuse he could offer, and if the king was displeased, it means something was expected of that man that he didn’t do. That wedding garment symbolizes having done something to partake and appreciate the marriage feast. This poor man shows no signs of celebration whatsoever. Maybe he represents that Christian who goes through the motions all their life, but never really seeks to help himself or others to get to Heaven. We have to give Our Lord something to work with. The man with no wedding garment managed to get to the banquet hall, but he didn’t go far enough to stay.

When you talk to some people about Heaven they just roll their eyes. When you talk to some believers about Heaven, their attitude is more, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Ask anyone on Friday afternoon how he feels about the great party coming up that weekend. He can’t wait. He is humming and tapping his feet everywhere he goes, thinking about the celebration to come. Visualize the ultimate party this weekend: not a kegger, but Heaven, celebrating in eternity with those you love. If we stop and truly contemplate Heaven how can it not bring a smile to our face and put us in a “partying” mood?

Are you going to pass up the greatest party of all time?

Readings: Isaiah 25:6–10a; Psalm 23:1–6; Philippians 4:12–14, 19–20; Matthew 22:1–14.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that the more we hoard things for ourselves, to more miserable we make ourselves and others.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes the misuse and abuse of the people of Israel by their leaders as being like vines ripe for cultivation and left unattended. Vineyards evoke images of careful cultivation by skilled vintners with the expectation of fine vintages of wine. The Lord had prepared Israel like a fine vineyard, and Israel’s leaders like vintners with everything at their disposal to be fruitful and successful. What the Lord received instead were wild grapes. Grapes with no cultivation, left to grow or die by chance, depending on weather and other conditions, were not very good grapes. If anything good grew at all it was not thanks to the vintners, and what grew in such an unfavorable situation was not of much worth. The leaders of Israel were expected to cultivate justice and peace in their subjects, and they didn’t.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches that the peace of God and the shelter of our hearts and minds in Christ depend on our attitude and the things we value as important. Envy and greed can lead to inaction, but anxiety can have the same effect. Paul counsels us in moments of anxiety to ask God for what we need, but in a spirit of gratitude for what the Lord has already done. That’s the best remedy to a warped sense of entitlement when things don’t go as we’d like. Our Lord has promised us that the Heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask (see Matthew 6:8), so there is no need to worry. If we occupy ourselves with truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence we’ll not only experience the peace of God, but help to spread it.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to imagine a group of men given the opportunity of a lifetime, both professionally and personally: not only a good place to live, but a great way to make a living. Imagine a business at a good location, with an abundant clientele, a great lease, and the job of making a lot of people happy (the vineyard is for producing wine, throughout Scripture, symbolizes joy). If that weren’t enough, the men running the business also have a wonderful place to live and a great landlord. Any outside observer would say that professionally and personally the owner has been very good to his tenants, even going beyond what a tenant would expect or deserve. All the owner asks in return is a share of the joy that he hoped the tenants would produce.

This is where the mystery of sin enters: mystery in the sense of sin, ultimately, following no logic but its own, a twisted logic that bends everything around it and denies greater truths eventually at its own expense. The tenants start beating up the people coming to collect the owner’s fair share and leaving him empty handed. There’s no remorse: gradually they start killing them too. The owner shows a kindness that the tenants, to any outside observer, do not deserve. He keeps giving them opportunities until one day he gives them the greatest and most definitive opportunity: he sends the heir himself, a reminder that he is the owner and they are the tenants, and an extension of his very self.

In their twisted logic they convince themselves that by eliminating the heir any trace of ownership will die with the owner, and he’ll also stop bothering them (the son was the last one he could send, as the parable narrates). The chief priests, scribes, and elders pronounce judgment on this “theoretical” case and their own words condemn what they themselves are doing. Our Lord is the cornerstone. You can’t even speak of having a structure, having a building, without a cornerstone–it joins two walls together. Many “tenants” who’ve received so much kindness, personally and professionally, from God want to monopolize the joy they could give to God and others, and as a result impoverish any joy they could really give.

They deny something fundamental, something structural: that the owner and his heir are what make their life possible, whether they acknowledge it or not, and eventually second chances (and third, and fourth, etc.) are exhausted and mercy has to give way to justice. The parable of the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel is a way of teaching the Pharisees that they had fallen into a warped sense of entitlement over something that didn’t belong to them: the People of God. So when the Son comes on behalf of the true “owner” of the People of God they’re going to reject him and kill him thinking that somehow everything will then return to normal. Our Lord today through the parable is prophesying the outcome of their covetousness and envy: everything they thought was theirs will be taken away and given to those who’ll be worthy stewards of God’s gifts.

Paul reminded us today about how we can pay our Lord his due: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence. Those things don’t just bring peace and joy into our lives, but also in those we know and love. Let’s contemplate today the kindness of God in our lives and ask him to help us to see how we can work with him to bring joy to him, to others, and to ourselves.

Readings: Isaiah 5:1–7; Psalm 80:9, 12–16, 19–20; Philippians 4:6–9; Matthew 21:33–43.

26th Week of Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

Imagine someone really important that you wanted to meet. If you ignored his representatives when they introduced themselves and tried to arrange a meeting, or his son, do you think he’d be interested in meeting with you? In both of today’s readings we see the dire consequences of that attitude.

In today’s First Reading the Israelites in exile remember all the Lord had given them, and all they had squandered by turning their backs on him and his prophets. When they were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses warned them that they choice between a blessed life and a cursed one depended on them: “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). They chose a life without the Lord or those sent by him, and they suffered for it.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns those who think they can spurn his disciples or him that in doing so they cut themselves off from the one who sent them all: God the Father. Many people today try to come up with “creative” ways to associate themselves with divinity that don’t imply the mediation of anyone else, human or divine, and it’s no surprise that often they lose sight of the fact that God is not just something, but someone, if they have any thought of God at all.

God the Father has sent his Son, and his Son has sent us, his disciples, to lead us to both Father and Son, not to mention Spirit. Let’s not shy away from bringing others to Our Lord so that they too can receive the blessings that come from truly knowing God.

Readings: Baruch 1:15–22; Psalm 79:1b–5, 8–9; Luke 10:13–16.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that we have two fundamental choices in life when the Lord asks something of us: obedience or rebellion. Rebellion is a choice, but it is the wrong choice.

In today’s First Reading Ezekiel reminds us that those who blame the Lord for their destructive path and decisions are only deluding themselves. Rebellion is usually egged on by an injustice we have suffered. Today Ezekiel debunks any claim that God is unjust in letting the wicked perish and the virtuous live due to their actions. The most fundamental principle of ethics doesn’t even require the Bible. Aristotle in his ethics described it as “do good and avoid evil.” We’re free to do either, but we’re also responsible for the outcome. The Lord has simply established the “rules of the game.” He knows what is truly good, and he knows what is truly evil.

The wicked do evil, and many people suffer the consequences of their evil, not just them. The virtuous do good, and many people benefit from that good. The Lord has created us with the freedom to do good or to do evil. He wants us to do good, because he knows a virtuous life is a successful and beautiful life. He also knows the flipside of freedom: we’re free to blow it and choose evil. He doesn’t want us to do it, but he permits us to do it out of respect for our freedom. No one can honestly say the Lord hasn’t tried throughout salvation history to dissuade us from taking the wrong path. In the end our decisions are our own.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul traces out a simple path for us to follow. It is the path Our Lord himself followed. He summarizes it very well: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” Everyone upon hearing those words experiences a little twinge of rebellion at the thought of it, which speaks directly to today’s Gospel.

Why do we say “yes” and not deliver? Because the thought of obeying and denying ourselves provokes inner rebellion. Mankind’s entire history of sin is a history of rebellion, so it’s no surprise that rebellion is deeply rooted in us. Our Lord gives us a different example: that of a profound obedience to the Father, and obedience that leads to his death, but also to his glory. It is a difficult path, so it is no surprise that we are hesitant at times to take it, but it is the most fulfilling one.

Our Lord in today’s Gospel reminds us that the true measure of success is not what we say, but what we do. That’s the determining factor of whether we let rebellion or obedience triumph in our life. Conversion is not letting that inner rebellion due to sin shape our decisions and actions. Rebellion can be pretty wild, even exciting, but in the end it doesn’t really lead us anywhere. A believer who says “yes” to God’s will but doesn’t do it, in the end, lets the rebellion win and, therefore, goes nowhere. His lips may have said “yes,” but in the end his heart said “no.”

A believer who says “no” in the throes of rebellion but obeys in the end has conquered and won. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel said “yes” to God’s will, but, in the end, didn’t do it. They maintained a façade of obedience that was revealed to be a façade when God came in Person and showed them a different path to follow. The tax collectors and prostitutes, on the other hand, saw the opportunity at the coming of Jesus to quash the rebellion that had been enslaving them even as it had promised to empower them.

Ditch the rebel without a cause this week. Is there anything you’re struggling this week that’s making you say “no” to God when you should be saying “yes”? It’s never too late to put the rebel without a cause in its place. Meditate on the words of Paul in today’s Second Reading and try to put them into practice.

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25–28; Psalm 25:4–9; Philippians 2:1–11; Matthew 21:28–32.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that if we want to understand God’s outlook on life we need to not only understand the depths of his love and generosity, but imitate them.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that the Lord’s thoughts and ways are miles above our own. He is always close to us, just like a loving parent whom we can always call. He is not just close to the just, but to “scoundrels” as well, ready to help them turn away from their evil ways and thoughts. He is generous in forgiving. Pope Francis on more than one occasion has reminded us that the Lord never tires of forgiving us; rather, we tire of seeking his forgiveness. He will forgive anything for which we are truly sorry. Anything. It’s our limited human attitudes on love and generosity that make us doubt that sometimes.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the generosity of Christ is not just something to admire, but to imitate. Paul had every right to hope for a heavenly reward at the end of his life: being with Christ. He longed for it. However, he also knew his flock still needed him. He still had work to do on earth. His flock can show gratitude for him “putting off” Heaven for their benefit: by showing that his generosity was worth it. The way we show Our Lord that his generosity was worth it is by conducting ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ, just as Paul encourages his flock to do today.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that it doesn’t matter when we start to help to extend the Kingdom of heaven, but that we extend it. We’ll be rewarded fairly, even generously, for our labors, and we shouldn’t fall into envy if it seems someone has had an easier time of it or came late to the party. In Jesus’ time a day’s wage was exactly that: it enabled the worker to live for a day. There was not much surplus wealth, and charging someone interest for borrowing something was a sin known as usury. The workers who came late to the vineyard needed a full day’s wage in order to provide for themselves and for their families. Anyone who is trying to support their family through a part time job knows it is not the same as a full-time job.

The landowner is helping people who really need it. An attitude of envy sees someone else’s gain as our loss. We should be thankful for the ability to earn a living for ourselves and our families, and be grateful when someone else in difficulty receives a little help too. We’ve all been the recipients of a disproportionate love and generosity on the Lord’s part, no matter how long we’ve served and followed him. The grace of our salvation, which we receive at baptism, was not merited by us in any way whatsoever. Most of us were drooling, happy infants when our parents brought us to the baptismal font. The workers hired in today’s Gospel weren’t entitled to getting work, no matter what time of day they started working.

Sometimes we think the Lord must be very measured and calculating in his generosity, but nothing is farther from the truth. He is constantly trying to be generous in our regard. We don’t see it sometimes because his generosity is rebuffed. His generosity is not conditioned by our actions or selfishness. If we really want to share Our Lord’s outlook we need to show that same liberality in our generosity. Commit one senseless act of kindness this week. Don’t condition it by what outcome you foresee, whether the recipient deserves it or appreciates it. It’s not an investment; give expecting nothing in return.

Readings: Isaiah 55:6–9; Psalm 145:2–3, 8–9, 17–18; Philippians 1:20c–24, 27a; Matthew 20:1–16a.