Jakarta, 24 September 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
GOD WILL PROVIDE FOR ALL PEOPLE
(A biblical reflection on the 25th ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year A], 24 September 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalms: Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18; Second Reading: Philippians 1:20-24,27
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16 RSV)
Because people in biblical times built walls around their city for protection from hostile invaders, the only way anyone could get in or out was through the city gate. The area just inside the gate was a busy place because that was where the elders met to settle the disputes of the city’s residents, traders sold their goods, and men gathered looking for work.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who went to the city gate at daybreak, midmorning, noon, mid afternoon, and late afternoon to hire men to help with the harvest. The younger and stronger workers undoubtedly got jobs first. Those who were still around later in the day were the men who could not work as fast or do as much because of old age or poor health. These men were unemployed simply because no one hired them.
When it was time for the vineyard owner to pay the workers, he gave each of them a full day’s wage; those hired first felt cheated because they worked longer and harder than those hired later in the day. Naturally, the laborers who worked all day thought the vineyard owner should have paid them more than the ones who did less work. We can sympathize with these men, but we should also consider the predicament of the others.
A man needed at least a full day’s wage to feed himself and his family for one day. If a man did not find a job, his wife and children would have to go without food and his neighbors would ridicule him because he wasn’t able to provide for his household. Therefore, the owners of the vineyard showed compassion for those he hired last by paying them more than they deserved.
The moral of the parable is clear. The owner of the vineyard is God and we are the workers. Because our God is compassionate, we can expect Him to give us our daily bread. He will provide for all people, even for those who are lowly and not wanted. All we need to do is put our trust in Him.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 94-95.)
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, remind us constantly that our calls and rewards are totally the grace and generosity of our heavenly Father, and we cannot apply human standards and limits to His generosity. We do not ask to be treated fairly, but for our hearts that treat others as He has treated us. Amen.
Jakarta, 23 September 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN TIMES
(A biblical reflection on the 24th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 17 September 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
First Reading: Sirach 27:30-28:9; Psalms: Psalm 103:1-4,9-12; Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9
The Scripture Text
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “ I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servants fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debat because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 RSV)
In the first two chapters of the book of the Prophet Amos, we find God choosing not to punish various nations until they commit their fourth offense. God patiently forgives them on the first three occasions but his wrath flares up after that. Since we cannot expect a human being to be more patient and merciful than God, the rabbis of Jesus’ day concluded that no one had an obligation to forgive anyone more than three times.
Peter came out of last week’s Gospel looking pretty bad, but in today’s reading he tries to repair his tattered image by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother. Being a good Jew, Peter knew he could not be expected to forgive anyone more than three times.
Without waiting for Jesus’ response, Peter asks if seven times is enough. He probably was looking for a pat on the back for being very merciful, and he undoubtedly wanted Jesus to praise him for his willingness to go beyond what was expected of him. Instead, Jesus goes one step further and tells him to be ready to forgive seventy times seven times.
Jesus did not literally mean we should forgive others 490 times (70×7=490). The phrase “seventy times seven” was symbolic of a great number, meaning we should always be ready to forgive. There must be no limit to our mercy.
Notice that the rabbis reasoned that the number of times a person should forgive is dependent on the number of times they believed God forgives us. Since God supposedly forgives three times, humans also should forgive three times. In the parables in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ reverses this logic by teaching that God’s forgiveness depends on our willingness to forgive others. If we forgive those who have offended us, God also will forgive us. However, if we hold a grudge or seek revenge, we cannot expect God to show us mercy. We have to forgive before being forgiven.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 92-93.)
Short Prayer: Our Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for Your death, which has brought me life. May all sinners know Your mercy and forgiveness. May our voices be one in praising You forever! Amen.
Jakarta, 16 September 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THE THREE STEPS IN HOW TO LOVINGLY CORRECT ANOTHER PERSON
(A biblical reflection on the 23rd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 10 September 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalms: Psalm 95:1-2,6-9; Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10
The Scripture Text
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:15-20 RSV)
We have never found the original manuscripts of the four Gospels, but some very old copies do exist. In our oldest copies of the Gospel according to Matthew, today’s reading is a little different from what we heard proclaimed in Church. In the sentence that talks about what to do if your brother commits some wrong against you, the words “against you” are not there. This indicates that someone other than the original author added these words. How and why did this happen?
Since printing presses and copying machines were not available in the first century, a scribe copied an important document by hand. He would sit down with a quill pen and a scroll of papyrus and copy the document letter by letter. Occasionally, the scribe would make a mistake and leave out a letter or phrase, but sometimes he tried to make a passage clearer by adding his own words. That’s what may have happened with today’s reading: a Christian scribe added the words “against you” to clarify what Jesus said.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus outlines a three-point plan we should follow to lovingly correct a fellow Christian we observe doing something wrong. If, however, the guilty party still refuses to repent, Jesus tells us to treat that person like a Gentile or a tax collector.
A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish. Many of the Jews did not associate with Gentiles, and some of the rabbis even taught that a Jew travelling through Gentile territory should shake the dirt from his sandals before stepping on Jewish soil so as not contaminate Jewish land.
Tax collectors were even worse than Gentiles. Because the Jews considered God their King, they thought their tax money should be used for the upkeep of God’s house (the Temple). Because the tax collector gave the tax money to the emperor, the Jews believed he was stealing from God. Therefore, the Jews had nothing to do with tax collectors. A Jew who touched a tax collector was ritually unclean and could not offer sacrifices in the Temple.
Treating an errant person like a Gentile or a tax collector is a last resort. The reading clearly stresses that we should give the sinner every opportunity to repent.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 90-91.)
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray for unity in my Christian communities where I am a member, my family, with my friends, and among all people. Make me an assertive person, Lord, and may the world know that we are Christians by our love for one another. Amen.
Jakarta, 8 September 2017 [Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary]
A Christian Pilgrim