33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

A recurring theme in all of today’s readings is the importance of a healthy respect for the Lord. In Biblical language this is usually referred to as “the fear of the Lord,” but today’s Gospel parable reminds us that fear can rattle us into making bad decisions as well as encourage us to make good ones.

Today’s First Reading presents an abbreviated wish list of everything a man should expect from a good wife, but also what is her due. A man entrusts his whole heart to a woman he considers “worthy.” She brings good things into his life, not grief. She is industrious and productive with her talents. She is not selfish, but helps the poor and needy. She is not focused on vanity, but what the Lord expects of her. Note that it says she “fears the Lord”: everything she does is out of respect for the Lord, not just her husband or society. And, as justice demands, she should be rewarded for her praiseworthy works. A good wife has all the characteristics of the fruitful servants in today’s Gospel, and this wish list could describe any person we consider good.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches the Thessalonians that if they truly respect the Lord and put that respect into practice they should have no fear about the day he comes. The Thessalonians are worried about when the Second Coming will occur. Paul tells them it is completely pointless to worry if they live a holy life. What does the thought of Christ returning in glory today do to you? The only fear it should bring is for the unrepentant sinners who’d face Judgment. It is the guilty who fear discovery and judgment. The guilty hide in a life unillumined by the light of Christ, thinking it provides them cover. The fear of the Lord’s judgment can rattle us in the same way, making us scramble for a cover that does not exist, trying to avoid a judgment we know we deserve, all in vain. It’s an awareness of the Lord’s love and mercy that makes us always respect him and live, without fear, in the light of a holy life pleasing to him.

Today’s Gospel is a parable about life. The master in today’s parable gives his servants all the capital they need, but he also expects them to use that capital in a way that benefits not only him, but them. Two servants use it wisely, and one, so rattled by a fear of his master, doesn’t benefit the master or himself at all and pays the price. We have been given talents, some more, some less, and we’re expected to do something with them. We cannot boast about coming up with any of them on our own. It doesn’t matter how talented we are; what matters is how we use our talents in the service of God and for the good of others. The successful servants doubled what they’d received; if through our efforts even one more believer stands before Our Lord on Judgment Day, prepared to enter into his master’s joy, we’ll have accomplished our mission. In the Last Supper the Lord reminded his disciples that they were to bear fruit as the best way of glorifying the Father (see John 15:2, 4, 5, 8, 16). How do we give the Lord a return on his investment in us?

We mustn’t let fear be an obstacle in truly serving Our Lord. As the unfortunate servant found out today, he was so rattled about what he thought were his master’s expectations that he made the wrong move. He was so culpably foolish that the simple steps he could have taken were far from his thoughts. Who knows how things would have turned out if he had simply asked his master for suggestions in the first place. We too must ask the Lord to help us unearth our talents and teach us the best way to use them.

Readings: Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; 25:14–30.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Christ is sometimes referred to as the Wisdom of God, and that comparison goes both ways. Just as Our Lord always lights the way, wisdom is necessary for us to see our path in life and to show the path to Christ for others as well. The greatest wisdom is him.

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that we seek out the things we love, and we need to seek out and love wisdom. If you don’t look for something it is unlikely that you are going to find it. Wisdom is the light by which we see the bigger picture in life. The more we consider the bigger picture in life, the more wisdom we can find.

The world sometimes can be very dark, and we need to keep watch for those moments of light when they present themselves. It’s no coincidence that the First Reading today has us keeping vigil to find wisdom or seeking her out at the crack of dawn. In today’s First Reading wisdom is personified as a woman, but we know that Christ is wisdom Personified. He doesn’t just wait for us to find him. He seeks us out, comes into our lives, our situations, and tries to help us sort things out. Thinking of wisdom perfects the virtue of prudence, and prudence the virtue of knowing the right thing to do in every situation and circumstance. What better teacher than Christ?

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians who are in the dark as to the fate of their fellow believers who have died. In the early Church the Second Coming of Christ was thought to be just around the corner. The Thessalonians were concerned because some of them had already died and the Second Coming had not yet happened. Would the dead be left out?

In the light of the Risen Christ Paul helps them see the bigger picture. It is the wisdom of the Resurrection: if Jesus died and rose, so would their departed loved ones. Death does not have the last word, because Christ has conquered death. Christ sheds light on death and his victory over it, and we have hope as a result.

In today’s Gospel the lighted lamps represent charity. The less charity you have, the less likely you’ll be ready for Our Lord or able to help yourself or anyone else to find him. An Entrance Antiphon in the liturgy for the feast days of virgins summarizes perfectly what is praiseworthy of the Wise Virgins today, “Here is a wise virgin, from among the number of the prudent, who went forth with lighted lamp to meet Christ.” The wise ones know the wait for the Lord can be long, so they take extra oil. They see farther and plan. The foolish ones probably didn’t see much beyond the party they wanted to enjoy, but the party was just one part of what was expected of them.

The marriage feast in today’s parable is an image of Heaven. The wise virgins continued to stoke the light with the fuel of their charity (love for Christ, and love for others in him), and that light not only showed them path to take, but others as well. Jesus today teaches us that we must have an intense and lasting love to light the way. Love is the only mark of an authentic disciple. If a disciple is following Christ, someone can follow that disciple to be led to Christ. Like the bridegroom in today’s parable, Jesus will appear at a midnight of human history, and we must be ready with lamps bright and alight.

The foolish maidens proved how foolish they were by thinking they could risk not loving enough when the moment of decision came. They wanted to draw the wise virgins into their foolishness by asking for their oil. We see this played out in so many areas of our lives: that negative comment, that judgment, that suspicion. We lack charity and we want to suck others in thinking it will resolve our problems, but it doesn’t. Love for Christ is not a tradeable commodity. It is intimately personal. If the wise virgins had taken their advice, then there would have been ten foolish virgins left out in the dark that night instead of five. Since we’re speaking of the love of Christ it begs the question: how much is too much? Jesus teaches us today that the real question should not be how much should we do, but how much can we do.

In Baptism we received the light of Christ, and Christ has asked us to make that light shine in others’ lives in a special way. Are we leaving anyone in the dark? Are we leaving those with whom we work in the dark? In today’s parable the failure rate was fifty percent. Am I sharing the love of Christ with them? Am I helping them? Am I accepting them? Am I sharing the things with them that are truly helpful for them? Paul phrases it beautifully in his letter to the Ephesians: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear” (4:29).

Are we leaving those we “love” in the dark? Those with whom we work are not the only co-workers in our lives. What about our family? Is it a fight every day just to get the kids out of bed, bathed, clothed, and groomed? Are you on the same wavelength as your spouse?

Love is like light. It’s meant to shine on the things that are darkest in order to bring them to light, address them, and resolve them. Love is a light that has to shine in the dark in order for you to see and to show the way to others as well.

Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 6:12–16; Psalm 63:2–8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18; Matthew 25:1–13.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s readings we’re reminded that our receptivity to a message should not be determined by our esteem or scorn for the messenger, but by whether that message is true. When we are the messengers we must also remember that anything we do to contradict the message hinders even the truest things we try to share.

In today’s First Reading the Lord laments the fact that his priests are playing favorites instead of carrying out the office entrusted to them. Priests are held to a high moral standard, even today, and when they don’t live up to it their lifestyle sends the wrong message and imparts the wrong teaching. Our Lord in today’s Gospel does not criticize the Pharisees so much for what they teach as much as for what they do. They themselves don’t do what they teach. Being revealed as a hypocrite is one of the most detestable things imaginable. A hypocrite transmits two contradictory messages and, even when one of them is true, he clouds the ability to get to the truth. The Lord today warns the priests who are showing partiality and hypocrisy that their blessings will become curses: when the truth is revealed about them an apparent blessing is revealed to be a lie for everyone to see.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul paints another portrait of a minister of God: a humble, caring, and loving messenger. Humility is about speaking the truth, no matter what the consequences. Paul’s actions show his sincerity in holding himself up as an example not only of a shepherd of souls, but of any believer. He has put the Lord’s invitation to be meek and humble of heart into practice, seeing his ministry as one akin to a nursing mother. Like the mother of a newborn he not only nourishes them on the Gospel, but offers them his very self. His motivations are not selfish: he cares for them because he loves them. Unlike the burdensome Pharisees Our Lord decries in today’s Gospel, he doesn’t seek to be a burden to anyone. In Acts it is mentioned that he practiced his livelihood (tent making) while carrying out his ministry (see Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35).

He didn’t seek out money, but was grateful when it was offered to help him help others (see Philippians 4:14-16). It wasn’t about the money. If any servant of Our Lord was just in it for the money they would probably change careers (see Paul’s “boast” in 2 Corinthians 11:16–33 if you want a job description). Paul received satisfaction from knowing that through his example the Thessalonians truly believed that he had shared the word of God with them and put it into practice as a result. Every servant of Our Lord couldn’t be happier if he helped someone in this way.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord makes an admonition to the disciples that for us has become a basic rule of thumb: practice what you preach. He also reminds us that with prestige and recognition come expectations. All believers are brothers because they all share one Father in Heaven, and they are all disciples because they follow the teachings of one Master, Christ. Through baptism we’ve all received an equal dignity in the eyes of God, and when any member of the Church forgets that, other members of the Church suffer through their bad example.

At the same time, Our Lord does not deny that the scribes and Pharisees whom he is criticizing have an authority that comes from Moses that is to be respected. Today there are some who are tempted to discard the preaching because certain preachers do not practice it. That’s not what Jesus teaches us. It’s sad when a preacher gets in the way of the message by putting himself first, but if he is preaching what has been handed down to us from Christ through the apostles and their successors, it is still a teaching that is necessary for us, because it is true. That’s the ultimate criterion for accepting anyone’s message: whether it is true or not. Prestige or infamy don’t change what’s true.

The core lesson today to bishops, priests, and deacons is to not let themselves get in the way of communicating the message: it’s not about ego, titles, or honors, but, rather, about communicating the message Our Lord has entrusted to the Church’s pastors through the centuries. This is a lesson for every believer: through our bad example we can hinder the spread of the Gospel, the message everyone needs to hear and believe. Our Lord also reminds us today that with prestige and recognition comes expectation: the expectations we have, but also the expectations of others. When we seek recognition or prestige for their own sake, climbing the social ladder, trying to get ahead in life, etc., at some point we come to the realization, if we’re fortunate, that we’re milking past glories instead of doing the things that’d merit recognition. That’s vainglory. Even if we don’t realize it we can be sure that others do. Jesus puts us on guard against resting on our laurels, as some scribes did, who focused on maintaining and increasing their prestige instead of helping people to understand God’s word, which is what they were trained to do, and what was expected of them. If we focus on giving the best of ourselves for the sake of others, receiving recognition for it or not doesn’t matter to us. This is a healthy way of keeping our accomplishments from getting to our heads.

It takes a lot of courage these days to share the Gospel, even when we do back it up with our Christian example. This shouldn’t discourage us. Even Our Lord faced people who detested what he was trying to say (“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”—John 6:60). Some believers take exception to Church teaching on a specific issue, but they fundamental question is whether what the Church teaches is true. When the Church presents us a with a difficult teaching on faith or morals our first response should be faith, not criticism. We don’t believe it is an opinion, but, rather, the truth. In faith we know that Our Lord entrusted his teaching on faith and morals to the Apostles, and that has been handed down to us. If we have a difficulty with that teaching we must first take it to him in prayer and then ask him to help us understand, not reject the messenger.

Readings: Malachi 1:14b–2:2b, 2:8–10;1 Thessalonians 2:7b–9, 13; Matthew 23:1–12.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s readings we’re reminded that there’s real love and other ideas of love that pale in comparison. The best measure of love is how we treat others, including God.

In today’s First Reading the Lord reminds us not the mistreat the disadvantaged or we’ll soon be one of them. Woe to the Israelite who forgot that he was once a foreigner abused and mistreated in Egypt and decided to treat a foreigner in the Promised Land in the same way. Widows and orphans were especially weak and helpless in the times of the Old Testament. Mistreating them was equivalent to kicking someone when they were down. Making a living was so precarious that charging interest in a loan was a sin called usury: people literally had no money to spare, and not many had a surplus of possessions to loan either.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he imitated the Lord and taught them to do the same. They were such good disciples that they became a model of belief for the entire region. Paul starts some his letters chiding his listeners and pointing out their flaws in imitating the Lord and sharing his word. He not only gives them an A+, but tells them their listeners gave them an A+ too.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds the Pharisees, and us, that if we truly want to understand the ways and desires of God we need to see things through the lens of love. Love for God and love for neighbor are intimately linked, which is why extremists of any religion who claim to harm their neighbor in the name of God are about as far from the truth as can be imagined. Some people try to project themselves on God, and paint him as aloof, distant, cruel, or self-absorbed. Others in the face of suffering and evil question whether God loves us at all, or why he would allow bad things to happen.

If we want to truly understand who God is, we must look at him from the perspective of love and imitate him in his love for us. If we contemplate God on the Cross, the Son nailed to the Cross, depicted on every crucifix, wounded out of love for us, as Christians we need no further answer. God loved us so much that he sent his son to save the world, and his son saved the world through submitting to the worst cruelty that evil and sin could inflict: injustice, torture, and death. He subjected himself to that out of love for us. Yet he doesn’t throw that in our face: he is silent on the cross, but he speaks volumes to our hearts: he doesn’t say, “how dare you,” but “I love you.”

Let’s try to see things through the lens of charity today in order to grow in love for God and love for others. That means caring about God and about others. Spending time with God and with others. Helping God and others in every human way possible. Always wanting what’s best for God and for others.

Readings: Exodus 22:20–26; Psalm 18:2–4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c–10; Matthew 22:34–40.


29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In today’s readings Our Lord is encouraging us to reflect a little more deeply on what we owe the world – “Caesar’s” and what we owe God. One doesn’t exclude the other, nor should it, but they are not on the same level.

The prophecy of Isaiah today is addressed to the Israelites in exile after Babylon had conquered Jerusalem and the Temple. As they hear God’s words through the prophet, they remember another prophecy they received, through Jeremiah, a prophecy they didn’t believe. They’d put their faith in the Temple, since it was God’s house, and they didn’t think the Babylonians would conquer Jerusalem, because the Temple and they as a People were founded by God. However, through the prophets God had warned them that they had stopped giving God his due, which led to disaster, exile, and the destruction of the Temple they’d relied on. Cyrus was the new king of Persia, and was defeating the Babylonians who had taken the Israelites into exile. God told the Israelites that he was using Cyrus, even though Cyrus didn’t realize it, to send them back to Israel and to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus later did exactly that. The Israelites had learned the lesson of the need to give God his due.

In today’s Gospel the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to trap Jesus in something they considered a conflict of interest between what was due to God, and what was due to Caesar. For the Pharisees, paying taxes to Caesar meant saying Caesar was a greater ruler over Israel than God, therefore greater than God. The Herodians didn’t see that as a problem, because they didn’t see paying the census tax as acknowledging anything divine about Caesar. They saw no way out of the situation, so they could trap Jesus in whatever position he took. If he sided with the Pharisees (no tax), he was against the Romans. If he sided with the Herodians (pay the tax), he was a traitor to Israel.

So Christ asks to see the coin, and tells them to clue in that God and Caesar are not on the same level. They were putting Caesar on the same level as God just because Caesar minted a coin saying so. Caesar minted his coins and set up his taxes and temples. By putting his image on the coin, he was saying, “Look what I’ve accomplished and what you owe me.” God permitted him to accumulate all this, because he knew that however Caesar used his gifts, God could use that ultimately for good. If Caesar wanted his coins and recognition, he could have them.

Caesar may have minted coins and set up taxes and temples, but God minted Caesar, and minted us: just like those coins that bore Caesar’s image, we bear the image of God, and we owe him everything because he has literally given us everything. God didn’t just construct a civilization or a set of tax laws: he created everything seen and unseen, as we pray each Sunday in the Creed. Caesar needed armies and miners and minters to produce his coins and make them worth something; God created everything out of nothing, and unlike Caesar, God expects nothing in return for all he has given us.

Let’s reject efforts to mint the truth. God doesn’t play politics: he is the lord of life and history. To consider him a political player is simply beneath him. The Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap him into expressing a political opinion on paying a census tax to Caesar, which some saw as sacrilegious and others saw as their civic duty. To be fair, in Our Lord’s time on earth the lines between civic and religious duty were blurred. By giving to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s, Jesus is reminding us that each of those two things are important on their own level, but they are not on the same level.

The real danger comes when civil authority tries to go beyond minting coins and thinks it can mint the truth. Declaring the state as all-knowing, just as imposing one expression of religion as the definitive one, ignoring the freedom to believe as you choose, is an attempt to mint the truth, and it is trying to give to Caesar what is really God’s. God is the source of all truth, and he has woven the truth into his creation so that all men of good will can find it and follow it.

Sadly there are still many attempts today to mint the truth: religious fundamentalism imposed by force, attempts to redefine basic natural institutions, such as marriage, etc. Let’s ask for the wisdom and the courage to always see what is due to God, what is due to Caesar, and to fulfill our true obligations to both.

Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4–6; Psalm 96:1, 3–5, 7–10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5b; Matthew 22:15–21.