Jakarta, 19 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
EVERYONE SHOULD ALWAYS BE PREPARED
(A biblical reflection on the 32nd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 12 November 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:1-13
First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalms: Psalm 63:2-8 Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 4:13-17
The Scripture Text
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:1-13)
In first century Palestine, Jewish wedding celebrations were very special events involving the entire town. The festivities began after dark with the bridegroom and his friends making their way to the house of the bride. As they walked through the dark streets, members of the wedding party carried torches of oily rags wrapped atop brass poles. They often needed an extra supply of oil to keep these torches lit.
The groom usually tried to catch everyone by surprise by keeping secret the day and the time he chose to claim his bride. However, someone usually went ahead of the wedding party to announce that the groom was on his way.
The bride joined the procession when the groom arrived at her house and – accompanied by much singing, dancing, and merry making – they returned to his home for both the wedding ceremony and the seven day celebration that followed. During this return procession, people came out of their homes and into the street to join the festivities and to offer their congratulations to the happy couple.
Once the wedding party arrived at the home of the groom, only the invited guests went inside. Because the door was barred shut with a heavy beam, making it difficult to open and close the door, latecomers were not allowed in. This explains why the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel were not admitted to the celebration when they arrived at the groom’s house. The ceremony had already begun and removing the beam not only would have been a chore but the resulting noise would have disrupted the proceeding. Thus, the foolish bridesmaids missed the long-awaited wedding ceremony because they were unprepared.
The bible often uses a wedding as an image for the reign of God. In the parable in today’s Gospel, just as no one knows the time of the bridegroom’s arrival, so no one knows the day or the hour Jesus will return to the earth to establish the reign of God. It could be today, tomorrow, next year, or ten years from now. Since no one knows when Jesus will return, everyone should always be prepared and should not be caught sleeping like the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel parable.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 108-109.)
Short Prayer: Thank You, God the Holy Spirit, for dwelling in me! Enkindle in me the fire of Your love. Refresh me, so that I may be ready to meet Jesus when He returns! Amen.
Jakarta, 10 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING BANQUET
(A biblical reflection on the 28th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 15 October 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:1-14
First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalms: Psalm 23:1-6; Second Reading: Philippians 4:12-14,19-20
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were in invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and sent off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find. And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14 RSV)
To understand the parable in today’s Gospel, we have to remember that Jesus addressed it to people who had no modern conveniences like gas or electric stoves, refrigerators, and supermarkets. Preparing a huge banquet was a difficult and time consuming task because the host could not possibly plan everything so the food would be ready exactly when the guests arrived.
Because of the work involved, the host usually sent two invitations. The first informed the guests they were being invited to a banquet, but it did not include a specific time for the feast because the host could not be sure when the food would be done. This advance notice gave the guests time to wash up and change into appropriate clothing so they would be prepared for the second invitation when all the food was ready.
The Jewish rabbis often used the image of a wedding banquet to symbolize the reign of God. Some of them believed that God would invite only the Jews to this banquet and that the leaders of the Jewish people would occupy the places of honor because of their holiness.
In this parable, Jesus is the king’s son for whom the banquet is given, and the invited guests are the Jews. The servants are the prophets of the Old Testament and those gathered from the byroads and the alleys are the Gentiles. The meaning of the parable should now be clear.
Through the prophets, God told the Jewish people to prepare for the coming of the reign of God, but because their leaders refused to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, God extended the invitation to the Gentiles. With this parable, Jesus infuriated the Jewish chief priest and elders because the Jews despised the Gentiles and believed the Gentiles would not share in the reign of God.
In the parable, the king sends his servants to burn the city of the guests who did not come. This was probably not part of the original story but a detail Matthew added years later. In 70 A.D., the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship. Because Matthew wrote the Gospel after this event took place, biblical scholars believe he added the detail about the burning of the city as an explanation that God allowed Jerusalem’s destruction because the Jewish authorities refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 100-101.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love and mercy, which know no bounds. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your beloved Son, Jesus, on the cross, which makes me clean and whole. Help me to come to You wherever I need to repent so that I can be cleansed and renewed. Amen.
Jakarta, 14 October 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THE TAX COLLECTORS AND THE HARLOTS GO INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD BEFORE YOU
(A biblical reflection on the 26th ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year A], 1 October 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:28-32
First Reading: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalms: Psalm 25:4-9; Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-11
The Scripture Text
“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32 RSV)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter God’s Kingdom before the chief priest and elders. As you can imagine, the chief priest and elders were probably not very happy when they heard this.
As the spiritual leader of the Jewish people, the chief priest officiated at worship services on Jewish holy days, was the main religious teacher, and had the responsibility of protecting the Jewish law. Because the chief priest represented the entire community, the Jews believed he should be holier then anyone else.
The elders were older Jewish men respected for their wisdom. They usually made up the town council, the city’s main governing body. Also known as the Sanhedrin, the town council passed laws, enforced these laws, and even tried those who were accused of breaking the laws. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin is the group that arrested Jesus and determined He should die.
So, it appears Jesus was aiming His comments at the Jewish people’s religious leaders, who were regarded as very holy men and were supposed to be an example to the ordinary Jew. Because of their holiness, most people believed the chief priest and elders would occupy the places of honor in God’s Kingdom.
The prostitutes and the tax collectors were the exact opposite. As public sinners, despised by their fellow Jews, they were to occupy the lowliest spots if they ever made it to the Kingdom of Heaven. They certainly weren’t in the same league as the chief priest and the elders.
We are now ready to understand the meaning of Jesus’ comments. The chief priest and the elders said they were holy, but like the first son in the parable, they did not back up their words with action. They refused to repent when John the Baptist urged them to do so.
The tax collectors and the prostitutes who accepted John’s teaching and reformed their lives are like the second son who ended up doing his father’s will. Because of this, Jesus says they (not the chief priest and the elders) will have a prominent place in the Kingdom of Heaven, implying that the tax collectors and prostitutes are holier than the chief priest and elders. As you can imagine, Jesus angered the Jewish leaders so much they began to look for a way to put Him to death.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 96-97.)
Short Prayer: Holy Spirit, lead all people everywhere back to our merciful Father, who is waiting to pour the fullness of life into their hearts. Amen.
Jakarta, 29 September 2017
A Christian Pilgrim