Sunday, September 24, 2017

Christ sends us to work

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
In just a few minutes, we will hear from our mission speaker for the year.  Tyler Kolden is going to talk to us about missionary work in Eastern Russia.  So, I have a shorter homily than usual.  I just want to bring up 2 points from the gospel that really struck me today.
First, just remember how the gospel begins.  Jesus says: the kingdom of heaven…  Before we even get into the parable, the whole truth is made plain.  We aren’t talking about a piddly little bit of money.  “The usual daily wage” in this story is nothing less than heaven.  It’s nothing less than eternity with God.  So, I don’t care who you are or what you have done in your life: heaven is way beyond anything we could ever hope, imagine, and certainly way beyond anything we could ever deserve.  No matter who we are, we should really remember: we are getting a really good deal.  The people in the gospel were jealous because of the generosity of the landowner.  We might be prone to jealousy sometimes too, when we look at the gifts of others.  But, each of us should reflect on the promises of God and our hearts will be filled with thanksgiving.  So that’s number 1: this story reminds us that we are getting an amazing deal.

Second, it really struck me that the landowner sent those people into his vineyard to work.  Work!  Now, I just got done saying that God gives us much more than we can ever hope, imagine, or deserve.  But, we should see ourselves as active workers in the Lord’s vineyard.  Working for God is not just the job of the priest or the bishop or the pope.  Sure, it’s my full-time job to be pastor here at St. Jude.  But, all of us are called to work full-time for Christ.  Are you a mother?  Take care of your children for Christ.  Are you an accountant?  Treat your customers fairly because of Christ.  A Doctor?  Serve patients out of love for Christ.  This past week I was discussing the sacrament of Confirmation with the parents of our young people who are about to be confirmed.  The Church teaches that the sacrament of confirmation “obliges them more firmly to be witnesses of Christ by word and deed and to spread and defend the faith.”  That’s true for all of us.  Christ sends us into the vineyard to work.  
So two keys.  First, God's pay is more than we can ever imagine; but, second, it’s good for us to remember that he sends us to work.  Christ has a mission for each of us, and his reward is beyond all comprehension.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

God's mercy is amazing

24th Sunday of OT year A 2017:
I learned long ago that I can’t say it better than Jesus.  So will my heavenly Father do to you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.  Jesus’ message is so clear: if we want to be forgiven, we need to forgive.  I can’t really improve on the message.
But, I do want to talk a little bit about this passage.  This is one of my favorite passages, but this passage is also a big pet peeve of mine.  I once had to work on this in my Greek class and it was really eye opening for me.  Our translation says that the first servant owed a huge amount and the second servant owes a much smaller amount.  When you hear that, what kind of dollar amount would you put on it?  Huge amount: 100?  1000? 1,000,000?  The smaller amount?  5 bucks?  But, the text actually says that the first servant owed 10,000 talents and the second one 100 denarii.  I think our bible translator decided to interpret these numbers because we aren’t generally aware of these amounts.  But, if we study these amounts a little bit it really changes the gravity of this passage.
The first servant owes the master 10,000 talents.  How much is a talent?  There are a lot of debates out there about a talent.  But, a pretty good estimate would be the amount of money a laborer would make in a whole year.  So, this man owes 10,000 talents.  Say 20k per talent, that’s 200 million dollars.  Saturday’s powerball is worth 132 million.  So you could hit that and still be 68 million dollars short. 
This homily is not about money.  But, just let the sheer enormity of the amount sink in a little bit.  How much does this guy owe?  More than anyone can possible imagine.  The same is true for us.  We owe God more than we can possibly imagine.  It’s impossible to pay back God for his amazing generosity.  He has given us life, breath, forgiveness, faith, sacraments, our families, our friends, our jobs, and on and on.  Nothing we can do can repay the debt.  That’s why we ask God for forgiveness.  We know we can’t pay him back.  We ask him for his love.
I think the much smaller amount is interesting too.  The fellow servant owes the other 100 denarii.  A denarius was about how much a person made working for one full day.  So to put it into modern terms we are talking about $50.  So 100 denarii is like $5000.  Now, this is clearly much less than the 200 million.  But, it’s still substantial. 
I found this to be just as important to me.  Jesus encourages us to forgive not just small matters, but big matters as well.  5000 is not a small amount of money to me.  And the offenses that other inflict upon us might not seem small.  But, Jesus is still encouraging us to be forgiving.
I found that studying the actual amounts listed in this parable makes the story so much more dramatic.  The stakes are large.  Forgiveness is no small thing.  It’s huge.

But, forgiveness is not easy.  I mean there is a reason why Jesus has to talk about forgiveness so much.  That’s because forgiveness is really hard.  If you find yourself struggling with forgiveness, spend some time with this parable.  Recognize your own debt to God.  Go to confession and have your own sins forgiven.  Ask those whom you have offended for forgiveness.  The more you know and experience forgiveness in your own life, the more you will be able to share forgiveness with others.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Let the faith live loudly within us

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2017:
We get an interesting gospel this week for our reflection.  Jesus is giving us some down to earth concrete suggestions on how to deal with some daily issues and problems.  For example, what do you do when there is division or disagreement within the community?  What do you do when someone sins against you?
This is down-to-earth practical advice.  And that got me thinking a little bit.  One of the problems what we face in trying to live out our faith in these modern times is the problem of thinking about faith and religion as something that shouldn’t affect our practical down-to-earth lives.  I’m sure no one here would literally say: My faith will not affect my daily life.  But, our culture really sets things up in such a way that we are discouraged from living out our faith in the public square.  It’s perfectly fine to be a Catholic, to be a Christian; but, it better not affect how we vote, how we participate in civil government, how we carry out our civil responsibilities.  How many times do we hear: “personally I’m opposed to something, but I won’t let my faith tell other people what to do.”  This leads to a separation between our life of faith and our daily lives which can really be problematic.  Our faith is not a part of our lives, it is a part of everything in our lives.  We should always ask Christ for guidance in all our actions and decisions. 
Someone sent me a clip this week of Senator Diane Feinstein who was questioning Amy Barrett, who was nominated for an appeals court position.  The Senator says: when reading your writings and speeches you get the sense that the dogma lives loudly within you, which is a concern.”  Wow.  What prejudice!  This made me think two things.  First, could we really say “the dogma lives loudly in me.”  That’s one of the best compliments anyone could every give me or any Catholic.  I really hope it lives loudly in me.  Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God.  I’m one of his followers, his believers.  I hope that his truth lives loudly in me.  Second, what kind of weird world do we live in that having the faith live loudly inside of us is a “concern.”

We all need to recognize that our culture is subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, trying to get us to divorce our life of faith from our daily lives.  That’s why it’s important for us to be committed to Christ every day of our lives.