October 8 – Bearing the Right Kind of Fruit

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Today’s readings focus our attention on vineyards. Isaiah’s song concerning his friend’s vineyard begins with inspiring and poetic images of an idyllic vineyard where the choicest harvest is expected. Instead, the vineyard yields wild grapes, which causes the owner to abandon it. The psalmist cries out to God, asking that God once again take care of the vineyard, which is the house of Israel. The parable told in today’s Gospel offers a stern warning that those who commit treachery in the hopes of attaining personal wealth will be “put . . . to a wretched death” (Matthew 21:41). Jesus warns his listeners not to act like the murderous tenants in the vineyard. Instead he exhorts them to produce the kind of fruit that will lead them to the kingdom of God.
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October 1 – God’s Ways

In the stream of readings during this portion of Ordinary Time one week’s texts can often appear to pick up exactly where the previous week’s concluded. The sentiments expressed in today’s first reading seem to be a direct reaction to the Gospel passage we heard last week. In that Gospel, the landowner pays the same wages to his workers whether they worked for a full day or for only a few minutes. Today Ezekiel gives us the lament, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”(Ezekiel 18:25). These Sundays in Ordinary Time offer us a glimpse into the ways of the Lord. We see how God’s way has the tendency to turn the accepted conventions of the day upside down. Those who always expected that their way to heaven was guaranteed are disappointed. Those who thought they never had a chance are given that chance. Today offers us another opportunity to discover the abundance of God’s mercy and love.
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September 24 – Call Upon the Lord

The very first line of today’s first reading summons us to seek the Lord and to call upon God. This sentiment is echoed in the refrain for today’s responsorial psalm: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him” (Psalm 145:18a). Saint Paul is the embodiment of someone who constantly sought the Lord. In the excerpt we read today from his letter to the Philippians, we find Saint Paul toward the end of his life, a life he describes as completely consonant with Christ. He writes, “For to me life is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). To find out what it means to live life completely in accord with Christ we need look no further than today’s Gospel. There we find that God’s love and mercy are immeasurable for all those who seek and call upon the Lord.
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September 17 – Forgiveness

Nearly ten years before, a son and father had parted ways when the business they shared went bankrupt. The son blamed the father. They did not speak to each other again. Then the father became seriously ill. The mother called the son and told him he had better come soon. The son walked sheepishly into the hospital room. The father motioned his son to him and whispered: “Did you ever think you could do anything that would keep me from loving you?” Resentment and anger are foul things, the first reading from Sirach tells us. Remember the last things. Stop hating. Live by the commandments. As Saint Paul writes to the Romans, we are to live for the Lord and die for the Lord. Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel reminds us of God’s compassion. The immense sin of humanity has been forgiven and stricken from the record. We are to forgive others in the same way.

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September 10 – God’s Watchers

In the ancient world watchmen were extremely important people. They kept communities safe, and were there to alert them to any impending danger or attack. Before locks, alarms, and security systems, watchmen were the protectors, the safety measure. So when the Lord charges Ezekiel as a watchman today, it is a weighty charge. So weighty, we learn, that if Ezekiel fails to sound the alarm for those around him and they perish in a state of wickedness, Ezekiel will be held responsible! This profound connection between God’s will on earth and in heaven is repeated in today’s Gospel, where Jesus instructs us that we are to be the security force, the watchers placed on alert that nowhere in the Body of Christ, the church, will there be any two members of the one Body who are not reconciled. Scripture tells us that Jesus reconciled all things in heaven and on earth through the blood of his cross. But we are given the mission to continue that reconciliation on earth as in heaven through our ceaseless efforts to be, as Paul would write, ambassadors of reconciliation. Let us not get too comfortable thinking that we are responsible only for keeping our own lives from the path of wickedness and disagreement. We are also held accountable for the lives of the members of Christ’s body around us.

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September 3 – Following Christ

If you’ve ever had an unpleasant but somewhat amusing practical joke played on you, then you have some understanding of how Jeremiah feels today when he tells God “good one—you duped me.” We can almost see him shaking his head with a bit of a rueful smile, but an angry undertone in his voice. In similar fashion, Peter thinks Jesus is “duping” him when Jesus starts to explain that being Messiah means suffering and dying, and being a follower of the Messiah means taking up a cross and doing the same. Jeremiah tries to deny God’s will for him by trying to shut up; Peter—who has just been made the foundation of the church—out and out denies the teaching of Jesus, for which he is named “Satan” today. Fortunately for us, Jeremiah comes to realize that to have the word of God placed in your heart means that it will be futile to try and keep silent, even if it means scorn and derision from those around you. Luckily Peter ultimately returned to the faith he professed in last week’s Gospel, and came to understand our need as baptized followers of Christ to follow in his way, even when it means following him to our very death.

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August 27 – Be a Rock

Peter’s history as a follower or friend of Jesus is a bit spotty. It might be natural to wonder if Jesus, in giving him the keys to the kingdom, didn’t feel a bit like a parent giving a teenager the keys to the family car. But it was at the moment when God’s power and presence broke through everything else to raise up Peter’s great profession of faith in Christ as Messiah that Jesus chose to establish the bond between the loving, forgiving mercy of heaven and our vocation to be witnesses of that love, mercy, and forgiveness on earth. Like any parent, Jesus no doubt foresaw the failings, the irresponsible maneuvers or impaired senses, the collisions that the church would be headed for. But, most importantly, he also saw us at that moment as God prefers to see us: capable of manifesting great faith, with a willingness to remain at the feet of Christ to understand what it truly means to be Messiah and Christ. As the letter to the Romans points out to us today, we have not known the mind or the wisdom of God, but God knows us and still chooses to manifest the reign of justice, joy, beauty, and peace through us. Let this be our vocation. Let us always strive to be solid ground on which the church of Jesus Christ can be founded and on which it can continue to be built.

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“Let all the nations praise you!” (Psalm 67:4) today’s psalm response exclaims. In the psalms and other Hebrew scriptures, this kind of invocation is actually an invitation to God to act, to intervene in human lives in a manner that will cause everyone—not just the Chosen People—to give praise. Stated a bit more strongly, it is something of a “put up or shut up” challenge to God, the sort of strong statement the psalmists of Israel, trusting in their intimate and loving relationship with God, were not afraid to make. The Gospel has its own exclamation, announcing the appearance of the Canaanite woman with “Behold!” (Matthew 15:22) “Behold!” is a scriptural flag that tells us that God is about to act or announce something through an individual or a situation. In the case of Jesus, God was going to act through this woman, whom nobody among Jesus’ followers would have believed to be an agent of the divine will. Like the psalmists, we might passively inform or perhaps even actively challenge God to do something so that everyone will come to belief, but God will always turn the tables on us. It becomes our calling, our duty (as it was for Jesus) to behold the situations and persons of our daily lives so that God can act through us, so the Kingdom can be announced through our living.

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August 13 – Nothing to Fear

A rabbi was asked why God sends trials and troubles into human lives. “Because God gets lonely for his people” was the reply. There is some resonance with this wisdom in today’s Gospel, as Jesus makes his disciples get into a boat without him and goes off alone while they venture into stormy waters. Of course, neither Jews nor Christians believe that the Almighty plays this sort of whimsical game with them, but there is some truth in the statement that we don’t turn to God for saving help until we’re in a bind. Peter’s role today, as it is throughout the New Testament, is to be a sign or to represent each member of the church and the whole church. Our story is the tale told about Peter’s faith today. What can bolster our faith is that even when Christ calls us to face bravely the tempests of life, if we are walking through them with our eyes fixed on him in faith, we have nothing to fear. Even when we falter or sink, simply crying “Lord, save me!” is enough to help us know the steady grasp of God’s hand. Then, sheltered inside the walls of faith, the storms we endure lose their power over us.

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August 6 – Eyewitnesses

Today, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, is a day of eyewitness accounts. The first, a vision reported by the prophet Daniel, was well known to Jesus and his apostles. The vision account was written in quite mystical and figurative language. It is a vision of heaven, powerful and memorable. There are flames of fire, burning wheels, the Ancient One, and a Son of Man. Clearly, Daniel saw something. But was it a dream? Was it real? Was it merely a clever myth? Peter wants no such confusion about his vision! We are told in Matthew’s Gospel what he and his friends James and John saw when they went up on the mountain with Jesus one day. Jesus warned the three witnesses to tell no one until “the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). Lest readers of one of the Gospels discount the story or simply write it off as a pious myth, Peter gives his own account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in his second letter to the church. He writes with authority, as an eyewitness. He reports this message from God concerning Jesus: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” and he assures us that the message is “altogether reliable” (2 Peter 1:17, 19).

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