| Ez 18:25-28
|| Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
|| Phil 2:1-11
|| Mt 21:28-32
A father and his problem children
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings ask us what it takes to change our minds.
In the first reading the prophet Ezekiel emphasizes individual responsibility and accountability for our actions. Those who turn away from lawlessness and turn toward good will live; those who do not turn back from lawlessness will suffer eternal death. Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel teaches that God’s invitation requires a response, and that each is accountable for his or her choice and its consequences.
In the second reading Paul writes to the Philippi ekklesia to encourage them to stand firm in one spirit and to model their behavior on Christ’s life. He quotes from an early liturgical hymn: Christ humbled himself, emptying out his divinity to become fully human. He was obedient to God’s saving mission, even to his death. God exalted Christ, proclaiming him messiah and Lord. Paul suggests that the Philippians humbly love one another, empty their own interests, and embrace Christ’s obedience.
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus directs a parable to the chief priests and elders about a man who asks his two problem children to work in the family vineyard.
- The first child. The first child says “no,” but, later, regrets his answer and goes to the vineyard. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised by the first child’s no response. Children were culturally and religiously expected to honor parents by complying with their requests. Jesus tells us that “afterwards” or “later” the first child “changed his mind.” Matthew uses the Greek word μεταμέλλομαι (meh-tah-MEHL-loh-mah-ee), which means “to regret” or “to wish a choice could be undone.” Realizing his answer was wrong, the first child acts to correct it.
- The second child. The second child says “yes, sir” but does not go. Jesus’ hearers would have been even more surprised by the second child’s action (or inaction). Although the second child’s yes would have restored the hearers’ religious and cultural expectations, his inaction undermines their expectations. Although this child respectfully addresses his father as “sir,” he willfully ignores his duties: “he did not go.”
- Which one did the father’s will? The religious leaders answer “the first child.” By their answer, the religious leaders condemn themselves. Jesus constructs the parable using the religious leaders’ own language (the “vineyard” as the people of Israel) and metaphors (God as “father,” Israel as “children of God”). The religious leaders admit that they have failed to work in the vineyard. John’s preaching had given them time to change their minds, but they refused. The tax collectors and prostitutes who have changed their minds enter the kingdom, while the religious leaders do not.
RCIA participants and the believing community find hope in today’s readings. Ezekiel proclaims God’s desire that we turn away from evil and turn back to God’s ways. Jesus’ parable teaches that wrong choices are not permanent. Anyone can change his mind, do what is right, and enter God’s kingdom. Redemption is available to all. What keeps us from working in the vineyard? Pride? Anger? Fear? Human respect? What keeps us from changing our minds?
|Am 6:1a, 4-7
||Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
||1 Tm 6:11-16
The entitlement and isolation of riches
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings tell us to change the way we act toward those who suffer.
In the first reading, the prophet Amos complains about Israel’s conspicuous consumption. Judgement is coming, he warns, in the form of the Assyrians. Israel’s opulent lifestyle parallels the rich man’s actions in today’s gospel; he also faces justice.
In the second reading the author of the first letter to Timothy charges Timothy to uphold his baptismal and apostolic mission. While the author appears to address Timothy specifically, some scholars understand this passage as addressed to the ordained ministers in Timothy’s ekklesiais.
In the gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
- The characters: (1) A rich man, with resources like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos, wears purple clothes and fine linen underwear. Jesus tells us that this ultra-rich man “has a feast every day,” meaning that he doesn’t keep sabbath. (2) A poor man, who suffers with full-body sores, is too weak to walk or to work. Jesus tells us the poor man’s name–Lazarus (in Hebrew: Eliezer), which means “God helps.”
- The social context: The poor man’s family, knowing the rich man is the only person in the community with resources to help, place Lazarus at the rich man’s gate every day. In Hebrew culture, the Law (Dt 15:11) requires the rich to help the poor, and the prophets (like Amos) constantly remind the rich of their obligations. In Greek and Roman society, the social culture of patronage required the rich to help the poor.
- What happens: Lazarus dies. In the afterlife, Abraham greets Lazarus with a banquet, with Lazarus as honored guest, seated next to Abraham. The rich man dies. In the afterlife, the rich man, now in the underworld (“hades”), sees Abraham and Lazarus feasting in paradise. He demands Abraham’s help and expects Lazarus to be his slave. Jesus’ hearers would be surprised that the rich man even knew Lazarus’ name and would expect him to beg forgiveness for ignoring Lazarus “daily at his gate.” Instead, the rich man speaks only to Abraham, while continuing to ignore Lazarus. Abraham answers the rich man kindly (“my child”) and reminds him he had “good things” in his earthly life, but Lazarus had “bad things.” Abraham is saying the rich man had the means to help Lazarus but did not. The rich man treats Abraham as his inferior, arguing with him. Failing to hear what Abraham says, the rich man remains unchanged. The rich man’s sin is not that he was rich; it was that he was indifferent to the suffering poor man in front of him.
- An interpretation: “Reversal of fortune” stories are common in all ancient cultures. This parable goes further, describing the danger of wealth. It asks: Can a rich person can enter heaven? In other places Jesus answers “yes,” but wealth makes it difficult, and great wealth makes it almost impossible. Riches can insulate and isolate us.
Today’s parable asks RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our engagement in the kingdom. Baptism and discipleship require us to bring God’s kingdom through caring and compassionate acts. God’s gifts to us provide us with the means to act. Are we complacent in riches that can isolate and entitle us; or do we hear the scriptures’ cry to see and to serve the ones who suffer, who may be at our own doors?
||Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
||Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Discipleship: inclusive, generous, responsible, accountable
In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.
Today’s first reading is from Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. Joshua wants to limit the experience of God to the Tent of Meeting, the official “holy place.” Moses laments that God’s presence is not experienced by all the people all the time. In today’s gospel, the disciples’ view of the unknown exorcist is similar to Joshua’s response.
In the second reading, the author of James outlines the problem of earthly riches: they rot and rust and are of no use in the kingdom (“the last days”). If someone collects riches at the expense of others (“withholding wages from the harvester”), those earthly riches are a witness against that one. The cries of unfairly-gotten wealth and defrauded workers “reach the ears of ‘the Lord of Hosts.'” The final sentence–“You have condemned and murdered the righteous one; he offers no resistance”–echoes Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, part of last week’s readings.
Mark’s gospel continues Jesus’ teachings about discipleship. The gospel contains two stories Mark has joined to create a teaching about God’s generosity and punishment:
- In the unknown exorcist story, John complains to Jesus that someone who is not a disciple (“not walking with us”) is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus defers censuring the man, explaining: “who is not against us is for us.” Jesus emphasizes that God’s inclusiveness is generous, rewarding all acts of service done by anyone, inside or outside the believing community.
- In the warning against scandal story, Jesus emphasizes that God will punish acts of evil, especially when these acts lead the believing community (“little ones”) astray. The Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skan-dah-LIH-zdo), here translated as “cause to sin,” literally means “trip up” or “cause to stumble;” it’s the root of the English word scandalize. The punishment for tripping up others is Gehenna. In Jesus’ time this ravine outside Jerusalem was a garbage dump for unclean things, such as animal carcasses. Fires burned constantly and maggots (“worms”) filled decaying flesh. Jesus identifies hands, feet, and eyes to illustrate how serious he is. “Hands” and “feet” represent action; “eyes” (usually paired with “heart”) represent reflection or thought. Taken together, Jesus says that a disciple’s intentions (eyes) and actions (hands, feet) must align with God’s teachings.
This week’s readings again confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the meaning of discipleship. Joshua and John both want to keep God’s experience and power for the insiders. Moses and Jesus teach them that discipleship must be inclusive. Jesus warns that discipleship has responsibilities and consequences. Do we recognize God outside our church building? Can we see God in the kindnesses of others who are outside our faith? Are our words and actions worthy of a disciple, or are they obstacles that cause others to falter in their faith?