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For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser: https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111217.cfm
“Its mine and you can’t have it.” How often did we say those words as children, or worse, how often as adults do we still say them? They express control and selfishness. At first blush, it appears that this is the message being conveyed by the wise virgins in our Gospel today. In that Gospel we are told that there were five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. “The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.” When the bridegroom arrived, “all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No for there may not be enough for us and you.’”
Were the wise virgins being selfish in not sharing some of their oil? In order to answer this question, we need to remember that parables were simple stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God. They were not meant to be taken literally. From this perspective the question, then, is what was Jesus trying to tell us in this parable. Well, I would suggest that Jesus was telling us that some things can not be acquired at the last minute, and one very specific thing that cannot be obtained at the last minute is a relationship with God. At the end of our lives we can’t turn to the person next to us and ask them for some of their relationship with God. We need to plan ahead and work throughout our lives to develop our relationship with God.
Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom is an exhortation to seek wisdom. “For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care;” And the wisest thing we can do is seek God, and to build a relationship with God.
In our second reading this weekend Paul reminds the Thessalonians of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of eternal life that has been given to all of us. He closes with the clear command: “Therefore, console one another with these words.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- The Gospel parable reminds us that we need to work now to develop our relationship with God. How does one do this?
- How does one seek wisdom?
- Belief in eternal life is one of the pillars of our faith. How would you explain this belief to someone who came from a non-Christian background?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110517.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend comes in two parts. In the fist section, Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees because “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” The scribes and Pharisees were not deliberately hypocritical. From their perspective, following the law exactly and slavishly was critically important. In doing so they believed they were being true to God. Unfortunately, they had allowed the precise and detailed following of the law to take the place of their relationship with God. While their actions were correct, they did not flow from heart set on God. Like the scribes and Pharisees, sometimes we too can “do” the right thing, and think that is enough. Our actions, though, need to flow from a heart set on God. It is only in this way that we can truly grow in our relationship with God.
In the second half of our Gospel this weekend, Jesus reminds us his disciples that: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our first reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Malachi, shares the theme of the Gospel. In it God, through the prophet, is critical of the priests because they “have turned aside from the way and have caused many to falter by your instruction, you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. In it Paul gives thanks to God because the Thessalonians: “in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for a lack of consistency between their words and their actions. When have your actions not been consistent with your words?
- Jesus invited his disciples to humble themselves. What does that mean to you?
- Have you ever felt the word of God at work in you?
Recently I attended a lecture by author Kathleen Norris. During the course of her talk she shared a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria, a first century Jewish philosopher: “BE KIND for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I loved the simplicity of the words, but also the profound meaning behind them. I suspect all of us have “battles” we are fighting in our lives. They could be bad memories, addictive behaviors, physical or mental health issues, difficulties in relationships, financial problems, job concerns, etc. etc. The list could go on endlessly. Whatever battle an individual is fighting, though, it is very often unseen and in many cases known only to a few.
So, recognizing that everyone has their own personal battle they are fighting, the real question is how do we “be kind” to everyone? Well, I think this is easier than some might think. In fact, I think it can be boiled down to four simple things.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. It is easy for all of us to observe what we “perceive” to be someone’s bad mood or poor behavior, and then respond in kind. More often than I care to admit, when I think someone is being indifferent, unfriendly, or mean, I mirror that behavior in my response to them. We need to remember, though, that we are dealing with our perception, and perception doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. Perhaps the individual is just preoccupied with a difficulty or a problem they are dealing with. Or perhaps, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and aren’t ready to deal with the world outside themselves. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a very simple way to be kind.
- Don’t take out your bad mood on someone else. Too often when I am having a bad day, or when I’m overly tired, or when I am worried about something, I can easily share that bad mood with almost everyone I encounter. The challenge for all of us is to recognize when we are “out of sorts,” for whatever reason, and then make a conscious choice to keep our bad mood to ourselves. I have a friend who regularly gives themselves a “time out” when they recognize that they are in a bad mood. It gives them time to think about what issue/concern is the source of their bad mood, and then find a constructive way to deal with that. Not taking out our bad mood on someone else is an easy way to be kind.
- Don’t talk about people behind their backs. When we criticize or denigrate others, particularly when there is no way for them to explain or defend themselves, this demonstrates a serious lack of charity on our part. In effect, we are passing judgement on them “in absentia.” Failing to honor the name and character of someone in their absence is always inappropriate. Not talking about someone behind their back is another easy way to be kind.
- Say a quick prayer. I suggest this because it never ceases to amaze me what a difference it can make to pause for a moment to pray for someone or to pray for myself. Prayer helps to take the focus off of me and my feelings, and reminds me that God is always offering us God’s grace to help us deal with, work through, overcome or forgive whatever is causing us not to be charitable. Saying a quick prayer for someone or for ourselves is an easy way to be kind.
Being kind is not always easy, especially when we don’t know what battle someone is fighting. Perhaps, though if we are kind to others, they in turn will be kind to us. And who knows, that kind of mutual kindness could even start a trend.
- What “neighbor” do you find difficult to love?
- I have a friend who says the reason we have difficulty loving our neighbor as ourselves is that we don’t love ourselves very well. What do you think?
- Who comes to mind as someone you would name as an imitator of the Lord?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102217.cfm
There is an old proverb that says: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We see an example of this in our Gospel this weekend. We are told that the “Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him with the Herodians………..” The Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter enemies. The Pharisees believed the observance of the Jewish law was paramount. They defended it rigorously. The Herodians on the other were seen as collaborators with the occupying Romans. They were willing to make compromises with Jewish law. They displayed a “go along to get along” philosophy. A delegation from these two groups approached Jesus with a feigned compliment: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They then laid their trap with a skillfully devised question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus said yes to paying the temple tax, he would have lost status with the Jews who were following him. If he said no to paying the temple tax, he would have been liable to being denounced to the occupying Romans. Jesus’ response is well known. He asked for a coin (which had Caesar’s image on it.) and said: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The question that is unspoken, of course, is if a coin bears the image of Caesar, what is it that bears the image of God? The answer, of course, is that we do.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this reading Cyrus, a Gentile ruler, is referred to as the Lord’s anointed because the Lord used Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and thus allow the Jews who had been in captivity to return home. The point of the reading is that God can work through anyone.
Our second reading this weekend is the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. In it Paul greets the Thessalonians, and reminds them that they are remembered in his prayers: “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- We have all heard that we are made in the image and likeness of God, but what does this mean to you?
- God used King Cyrus for God’s purposes. Have you ever felt God using you or someone you know for God’s purposes?
- Paul told the Thessalonians that he remembered them in his prayers. Are there people you remember in prayer? Have you ever asked someone to remember you in prayer?
“I think you missed the turn.” Those words were spoken to me by my friend as we were on our way to another friend’s home for dinner. And in fact, they were right. I had indeed missed the turn. In my defense, though, I had been paying more attention to our conversation than I had been to the directions. Fortunately, the missed turn was easily compensated for and we arrived at our destination on time.
This experience came to mind a few weeks ago when I was praying about a decision I needed to make. In my prayer, while I was trying to be open to God’s will, God didn’t seem (at least to me) to be particularly communicative. It occurred to me that it certainly would have been helpful if God had simply told me: “You missed the turn.” or “You’re headed in the wrong direction.” Unfortunately, neither of these directives was forthcoming.
I suspect there are times for all of us when we wish that God was clear and unequivocal in what God was asking of us or what God would have us do. If only God would be direct and unambiguous in communicating with us, things would be so much easier. And while on one level this is true, on another—and deeper level—it would negate our free will. And our free will is what defines us as human beings and distinguishes us from the other created beings on the earth.
Because of our free will, God doesn’t issue clear edicts or direct commands. Instead God communicates with us in much more subtle ways. God communicates with us through the movements of our spirits, in the longings of our hearts, and in the ponderings of our minds. In and through these things, God helps us to understand what God would have us do, or where God would have us go. It is always our free will, though, whether or not we attend to and follow these subtle promptings.
Three things that can help us be open to God’s subtle promptings are a fierce honesty in our prayer, an openness to various possibilities, and a willingness to change direction. Honesty in our prayer is needed because it is easy to come to prayer with a decision already made. We need, though, to be truthful about our personal biases and our desires because, unless we honestly acknowledge them, they can influence our decision making. Similarly, if we aren’t open to various possibilities, it is easy to take some things off the table without ever considering that they might be from God. Finally, in order to be open to God’s subtle promptings, we need to be willing to change directions. If we have already set our course on something, we can’t really be open to what God would have us do.
Certainly it would be clearer and much easier if God simply told us when we missed a turn or were headed in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, then our choices would not really be free. Given this, the only alternative is to continue to work to be open to God’s subtle promptings and to pray that if we take a wrong turn, we will notice it, correct it, and get back on course.
- Looking back can you see where you have failed to respond or even rejected an invitation from God?
- Have there been times when you’ve just shown up in response to God’s invitation, without doing anything else?
- In our second reading Paul talks about living in widely divergent circumstances. He then says: “I can do all things in him who strengthen me.” Can you think of a time when you were strengthened to do something that initially you didn’t think you could do?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
Some scripture scholars suggest that today’s Gospel parable may represent an allegorization of another of Jesus’ parables by one of the early Christian communities. The parable of tenants rejecting the many messengers (i.e. the prophets) sent by the owner of the vineyard (God) would have supported this belief. In suggesting this, of course, these scholars are not in any way questioning that it is not the inspired word of God. Rather, they suggest that the early Christian community had begun to see itself as replacing Israel as God’s chosen people. Regardless of the origins of this parable, though, it contains a powerful and ever current message. It invites us to consider how we respond to the many overtures and/or messengers God sends into our lives.
As an important aside, we need to be clear that the Catholic Church does not teach that God has rejected Israel or that its election as God’s chosen people has ended. “The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy deigned to establish the Ancient Covenant.” (The Documents of Vatican II Decree on Non Christians) Our Church also teaches, though, that Jesus Christ, “the Lord, is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings.” (Documents of Vatican II; Decree on The Church Today)
Our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, shares the theme of the Gospel. It speaks of a vineyard that, despite the loving care of its owner, yielded only “wild grapes.” In the Old Testament the “Vineyard” was a symbol for God’s people.
In our second reading today from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that by prayer and petition and thanksgiving we will come to know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Questions for reflection:
- Looking back on your life can you see times when you have not recognized or perhaps even rejected messengers of God’s presence and grace?
- Who have been messengers of God’s presence and grace in your life?
- In regard to this weekend’s second reading have there been times in your life when you have experienced the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding?”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
“Actions speak louder than words” is the phrase that comes to mind whenever I read our Gospel for this Sunday
Many years ago I worked with an individual who was very amiable and most pleasant whenever we discussed an issue or concern in their work area. They would agree to a certain course of action, or they would agree to follow through on something and then ………………… nothing.
Actually there was something: excuses, rationalizations, and promises to do better next time. Unfortunately when the next time came the same thing would happen. We would talk; they would agree on what needed to be done; and then ………………………………… nothing.
In our Gospel for this Sunday a father asks both of his sons to go and work in his vineyard. The first one said no, but eventually changed his mind and went. The second one said he would go to the vineyard, but didn’t. This story reminds us that there needs to be a correspondence between our actions and our words. It is easy to say the right thing. It is much harder to say and then do the right thing. And even though the first son eventually did as his father had requested, it took him a while to get it right.
In our first reading this Sunday from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we are reminded that if a person “turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life………..”
Our second reading today continues the theme of the Gospel that there needs to be a correspondence between our words and our actions. St. Paul entreats the Philippians: “………. complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for their own interests, but also for those of other……….. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Jesus Christ.”
Thoughts/Questions for Reflection:
- When have your words been bold, while your actions have been inadequate? What were the consequences?
- In the scriptures, Jesus seemed to focus a lot of time and energy on two different groups: The Pharisees, and the Tax Collectors and Prostitutes. Why do you think that was?
- In regard to the second reading, what does it mean for you to have the same attitude as Jesus Christ?