Gospel Reflection for October 25, 2020 – 30th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Exodus 22.20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1.5-10; Matthew 22.34-40
 
“Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?”  Matthew 22.36
 
In the gospels of the fall Sundays, Jesus inhabits the temple courts, teaching and disputing questions with other Jewish teachers and officials. The issues — tenants, taxes, and this Sunday, which commandment of the 613 is greatest?

As citizens this fall, we dispute our own questions in the public square as we prepare to elect leaders. By whose authority shall we live? What kind of tenants shall we be on a planet home that is God’s gift and the inheritance of all? Who can our taxes help?

Matthew writes in the mid A.D. 80s after the Romans destroyed the temple, so for his Jewish audience the question intensifies — on what foundation do we build a future? Jesus’ answer is love God with your whole heart, spirit, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18).

The first commandment calls us to love God with all our heart, spirit, and mind. On what or whom do we set our hearts? We live in mystery, existing without having made ourselves, and for what purpose? How do we listen to our spirit and the Holy Spirit? We can use our minds to envision our farthest goals, to laugh at failure, remember success, to cry, sing, dance, praise, to start over and over. To what use do we out our minds?

Love of God is inseparable from love of neighbor. In God’s creation no one is alien. The fourth to the tenth commandments are the hammer and nails of Christian community.

What sustains your heart and commitment to God? Who that you once considered alien have you come to treat as neighbor? What demonstrates love most convincingly to you?

Bible Study: The Gospel of Mark

In Advent this year (only 8 weeks away) we read from the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s gospel is the shortest; also the one written closest to Jesus’ time. This fall is the perfect time to start a Bible study with friends or parishioners.
 
Sister Joan explores the stories and themes of Marks’ Gospel in 11 short chapters, making it ideal for small groups to read and discuss. The book is equally helpful for homilists, who have a chance to explore Mark all year long.
 
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Friday Autumn Poem

This poem was first sent to me by a dear friend, Mary Gormley Frenza. For years, we sent it to each other every autumn. This year it goes to all of you. May the harmony of leaf and flower be your companion today.

APOLOGY TO MY NEIGHBORS IN AUTUMN

In these still days far lovelier than summer
There is no need of talk, no need to hear
Tales of strange places from each latest comer.
Rather avoid all comers, rather fear
The whir of motors chugging up the drive.
Like the assiduous bees who haste to hive
In attic windows, striving now to win
The last gold honey for the last wax bin,
So I for my own harvest must be free.
The humming silence is compelling me
To swing the hinges on each rusty door
That locked away my spirit, and let pour
Inward the harmony of leaf and flower.
I could sit, sun-drenched, on this hummock,
hour by hour,
Sloughing off worldliness, growing as sound
And simple as this pear tree on this ground.

Mildred Whitney Stillman


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Gospel Reflection for October 11, 2020 – 28th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 25.6-10; Philippians 4.12-14,19-20; Matthew 22.1-10
 
“The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  Go out onto the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” – Matthew 22.9
 

The meal Jesus describes in Sunday’s gospel parable is more than the lavish dinner Luke describes in his gospel. Matthew turns the parable into an allegory. The dinner becomes a royal wedding feast for God’s Son, Jesus, the messiah, Israel’s long-anticipated king of peace. Those who refuse to come to the feast don’t believe Jesus is the messiah.

Without the wedding allegory the parable raises everyday questions. Why do people refuse invitations or come late or just do a cameo? The parable asks us to look at how we relate to others and examine our priorities — the farm, the business, family, friends — what, who comes first? Guests who refuse an invitation risk never being invited again. Snubbed hosts have insult and anger to process.  What about the leftover food?

For Matthew, Jesus the messiah hosts the wedding banquet every time Christians gather in his name and break bread together. Eucharist fulfills the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God setting a great feast for all nations. For Christians eucharist is this messianic meal, a feast that invites people of every nation to its abundance.

Who do you invite to your table? What do you like about a wedding feast as an image of the kingdom of God?

October 4, 2020 – 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 5.1-7; Philippians 4.6-9; Matthew 21.33-43

“With that the tenants seized the son, dragged him outside the vineyard, and killed him. When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” – Matthew 21.40

The vineyard workers in Sunday’s gospel are tenants. Like them, my family lived on someone else’s farm, worked the land, and shared the crops with the owner.

I like to drive past the farm where I grew up. I know the lay of the land like a pro golfer knows a course, the crests of the hills, the sloughs, the immovable rocks along the fence lines. As I learned the land and worked it with Dad and Grandpa, it seemed to belong to us.

Few people farm today but many city people rent and lease. For someone who owns buildings, an ideal tenant treats the leased space as if it were his or her own.

But tenants always cause wear. Apartments need painting and repair. The rent due at the end of every month reminds tenants who the owner is. The end of a lease brings up settling the damage deposit.

On farms, tenants and owner square up at harvest. In Sunday’s gospel the owner’s servants discover trouble in the vineyard. The tenants feel the entire grape harvest belongs to them.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah lament for God about a vineyard that has produced sour grapes.  Instead of justice, equality, and generous sharing of resources, God’s people  fail to keep the covenant.  The prophet calls them to return. 

What is your experience of being a tenant? Of being an owner who rents to others? In whom or in what do you invest despite disappointment?

Gospel Reflection for September 20, 2020 – 25th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 55.6-9; Philippians 1.20-24,27; Matthew 20.1-16

“Call the workers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the daily wager.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more, but each received the daily wage.” – Matthew 20.8-10

Last Sunday’s parable and this Sunday’s are more about who God is than about how envious and exacting we humans can be. The owner forgave his manager last week rather than through him in jail until he paid his debt. But the manager refused to forgive a servant who owed him a debt and instead threw him in jail.

We learn God, who freely gives us life, makes forgiveness the standard in the kingdom. We pray in the Our Father that God forgive us as we forgive those who harm us.

In case you find yourself thinking these parables seem old fashion. An story in the morning news shows this parable playing out in Florida. A recent statewide election returned the vote to ex-felons but legislators set up requirements to pay court costs first, which few can afford.  

This Sunday’s parable introduces a generous vineyard owner how pays those who worked the last hour of the day the same as those who worked all day. Needless to say, those who worked all day grumble and complain to the manager they deserve a higher wage if those who worked only an hour get the full daily wage.  

The owner asks, “Am I not allow to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or, are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable is not about the wages workers deserve but about the householder’s generosity and a Christian social order. In effect the vineyard owner shows a preferential option for the last, for the poorest. The householder repeatedly seeks workers in the marketplace and cares that all receive a living wage.

Jesus calls us in this parable to be generous like God is generous, to include people who are poor in the common good. We all stand in the same relationship to God, who owns the vineyard of creation. No one goes home in this parable without the daily means to feed a family.

What makes a person first or last in our society? In Jesus’ eyes? 

Gospel Reflection for September 13, 2020 – 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: Sirach 27.30-28.7; Romans 14.7-9; Matthew 18.21-35

Peter came and asked Jesus this question. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” “Not seven time, but I tell you, seventy times seven,” Jesus replied. – Matthew 18.21-22

How can a servant who has his own debt forgiven turn around and throttle a fellow servant who owes him far less? Why doesn’t he forgive as he has been forgiven? Why throw the debtor into prison, the very punishment the servant had pleaded not to receive.

Forgiveness was not the normal thing in the merciless servant’s world. Putting a debtor in prison or selling a family into slavery were customary ways to settle accounts. It is the king’s change of heart that was astoundingly abnormal. He didn’t just give the servant more time to pay him back; he wrote off the debt completely.

So the servant’s treatment of his fellow servant becomes unfair only in the light of the king’s extraordinary mercy. That’s the parable’s message: The reign of God turns things inside out, backwards, and upside down. Mercy and forgiveness, not payback and punishment, are the norm in God’s kin*dom.

Pope Francis describes the mercy of God as “the beating heart of the gospel” in his exhortation On Love in the Family. Relationships take time to build, the pope says. “There is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of growth as these progressively appear,” making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us to do our best” (#295).

Who has forgiven you? Whom have you forgiven? In your dealings, are you generous like God or more exacting like Scrooge?

A Confirmation Program You Can Use at Home!

During this time of staying at home, zooming and online instruction, DREs and parents tell us our Confirmation programs are saving their lives. See for yourself.

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Online Program for Adult Faith-Sharing

Sunday by Sunday, our faith-sharing weekly for adults, will be totally online beginning with the October 4 issue. It is ready for you to read on your phone, computer, tablet, iPad — the device that works best for you. You will find all 52 weeks of Sunday by Sunday right in your hands, ready to use, ready to share. 

All you need to do is tell us you want to receive Sunday by Sunday in this format. We will send you a password. Go to our website — goodgroundpress.com — enter that password, and go right to the current issue. You can read the issue on any device or print it out. Let us know you want to receive Sunday by Sunday beginning October 4 by calling us toll-free 800-232-5533, or by clicking here to get to our website. The cost for a year-long individual subscription is $25.00. Our low-cost bulk subscriptions may be ideal for your parish or your faith-sharing groups. 

If you are not familiar with Sunday by Sunday you can read samples at our website. These days when we cannot go to Sunday Eucharist together, Sunday by Sunday brings the Sunday Gospel to you.

Gospel Reflection for August 9, 2020 – 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19.9,11-13; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.22-33

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14.27

Both the prophet Elijah and the apostle Peter live and lead in unsettled times and experience questions we are asking today. Where is God in this mess? Where is Jesus in this cross wind?

Like them we may find God when we are hearing no answers or when we are in over our heads. When Jesus invites Peter to walk toward him on the water, Peter steps out of the boat but the strong head winds and great waves take his attention off Jesus. He cries out in fear. In faltering he finds Jesus’ present.

The risen Jesus is not with his followers in the same way the historical Jesus was.  Matthew pictures Peter in a community struggling between the experience of having Jesus among them in the flesh and the promise of his risen presence. How does Jesus continue with this community? Is he a ghost, a memory, a real presence?

The boat full of disciples is going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Gentile territory. As Gentiles become Christians conflicts arise with family members and with what practices Jewish Christians expect them follow. Today the Church faces headwinds and cross currents on a global scale. 

To escape with his life, Elijah runs to Mt. Horeb where God gave Moses the commandments. He does not hear God’s voice in the old ways–thunder, lightning, earthquake. Instead Elijah hears God is sheer silence, encounter God’s voice within, speaking within the interior silence of his consciousness.

What waves of uncertainty do you face? What are you crying out about? What do you hear in silence?

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