September 24, 2011
Who Does the Father's Will?
In this parable, Jesus gives the scenario of the two sons and their responses to a demand from their father. He then asks the chief priests and the elders of the people for their judgment, "Which of the two did the father's will?"
It is, however, not the parable, but Jesus' life, that gives the perfect answer to that question.
This passage is from the second half of Chapter 21 of Matthew. By this time, Jesus has entered Jerusalem (21: 1 - 9). He did this knowing exactly what awaiting him there. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus told the disciples, not once, but three times, that he would "be handed over" and "condemned to death" by crucifixion (the third time is in 20: 17 - 19). Yes, he knows the Father's will.
And he clearly states his intention of fulfilling the Father's will, "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (20: 28).
And the Father's will is the salvation of sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes who accepted the Son.
September 17, 2011
There is Work for Everybody
Often when we read or reflect on this parable, we tend to look at the peculiar way the employer hires and pays his workers.
But there is another peculiar detail here, in the fact that regardless of what time of the day a group of laborers is hired, there is still work for them. This detail of the abundance of work suggests that the story takes place during harvest time .
Jesus begins his parable saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like." Clearly, this parable is about some aspects of the kingdom of heaven.
Earlier in Matthew 9: 35 - 38, we see a Jesus who feels the urgency of his mission, "Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness."
Matthew also tells us the reason for this sense of urgency in Jesus, "At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Indeed, his compassion urges him to proclaim the gospel in his words and actions. His life becomes the reality of God's mercy for those who are "troubled and abandoned."
Go, therefore,and make disciples of all nations." (28: 19).
Yes, there is always work in spreading God's kingdom.
 Daniel J. Harrington, SJ. The Gospel of Matthew. Sacra Pagina series. Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical Press, 1991; p. 284.
September 10, 2011
24th Sunday - A
It's not How Often, but How Much
The Gospel passage for this Sunday follows immediately where we left off last week (It was Matthew 18: 15-20)
The reason behind Jesus' demand of forgiveness is the same, namely, for the offender's salvation, even if it is totally his/her fault, as Jesus puts it, "When your brother sins against you" (See commentary for the 23rd Sunday).
One wonders if Peter has not gotten the lesson, or whether he wants a clarification when he asks, beginning with the same phrase, "If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?"
Jesus first answers with a number "seventy-seven times," even though it is impossible to count such a number of times one must forgive. He then responds to Peter's request for clarification with a clarification.
"A single talent was the largest unit of money known in the (ancient) Near East, and ten thousand the largest number. Thus ten thousand talents is our 'billions of dollars.'" Therefore, "it would be impossible for any servant to have such a debt, and even more impossible to ever pay it back." 
The lesson, then, is not how often must we forgive, it is how much.
Thus, Jesus ends his parable asking Peter and us to "forgive your brother from your heart."
 Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B., The Gospel of the Lord: Reflections of the Gospel Readings - Year A. Homebush, Australia: St. Paul Publications, 1992; p. 176.
September 3, 2011
Jesus seems to demand us a lot when "a brother sins against" me. It's the brother who sins to begin with. "It's not my fault." "He did it." Those would be our normal reactions and responses.
Why all these efforts? First, between you and him. If it doesn't work, bring more people in to talk to him. If it still does not work, then tell the church.... All along, Jesus keeps identifying the sinner as "your brother" twice.
Why bother? Why all the troubles?
To understand Jesus' reason, it is probably best to go back a few verses in this Chapter 18 of Matthew (here, the passage for this Sunday begins with verse 15).
First, Jesus teaches his disciples that children are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, woe to anyone who causes one of such little ones to sin. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (v. 6)
Then, Jesus continues with his teaching of the importance of one's salvation. Using rather drastic images, Jesus stresses that if a part of the body causes one to sin, then it is better to lose that body part than to lose the promise of eternal life (verses 7-11).
Finally, beginning with verse 12, Jesus tells the parable of the man who is willing to leave ninety-nine sheep behind to go searching for just one lost sheep. He then comments, "it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost." (v. 14).
Immediately after that revelation of God's will for the salvation of all humanity, Jesus teaches us what to do "if your brother sins against you."
All the efforts that Jesus asks of us to reconcile with a brother who sins against us are meant to safeguard his and our salvation. God's gift of salvation is so precious that it's worth every effort to preserve it for ourselves and others.
In fact, even if the brother refuses reconciliation, he is not to be rejected. What could Jesus mean when he tells us to treat such a brother "as you would a Gentile or a tax collector?" Remember how Jesus himself treats the Gentiles and tax collectors. Does he ever reject them?