In the Gospel for Wednesday of the Twenty First Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus charges the Pharisees with hypocrisy. “You say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out!” (Matthew 23: 30-32). They blame others for killing the prophets. As descendants of those who disobeyed God and killed the prophets, they ignore their own complicity. They are as guilty as their ancestors for rejecting a prophet, Jesus. Blaming others avoids the responsibility of changing ourselves. When I blame my wife for our problems, things get worse. When I take some responsibility for them, healing can occur. How does God help you take responsibility for mean things you have done?
In the Gospel for Tuesday of the Twenty First Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus has harsh words for the Pharisees. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23: 23). Jesus calls them blind guides who mislead people. I am glad Jesus calls out the hypocrites. Then I wonder about my own hypocrisy. How am I just, merciful, and faithful? Do I unwillingly participate by my consumption in institutional violence against unjustly treated workers? Do I show mercy even to those who have hurt me? Do I love others without concern for payback? How about you?
In the Gospel for the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Jesus gathers his disciples. Philip recruits his brother, Nathaneal. “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (John: 1: 45). Philip and Nathaneal recognize that Jesus is from God. They know Jesus is their connection to God. He is the one. Only Jesus can fill their hearts’ spiritual desires. If I am not a resolved as Philip and Nathanael. I often look elsewhere for the help only Jesus can give. I have a close family member who has stopped talking to me. I agonize over what happened, what I did, what do I do. Ultimately the situation is beyond my control. I turn to Jesus trusting in God’s care for me and my alienated relative. How does Jesus help you stay connected to God?
In the Gospel for Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. At the end of the work day, the landowner pays the early comers and late comers the same wage. Those working all day complain about unfair treatment. The landowner replies. ” ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ [Jesus ends the story.] ‘Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last’ ” (Matthew 20: 13-16). If I worked all day, I would have complained too. I do complain about others’ good fortunes. I wonder why they deserve it. Yet God is generous to all. God cares equally for the first, last, deserving, undeserving, poor, rich, young, old, and everyone. The parable of the laborers reminds me to trust in God’s goodness to me and others. How is God good to you? You to others?
In the Gospel for Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus warns his disciples about the danger of riches. “‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible'” (Matthew 19: 23-26). God saves the rich, and everyone else, by God’s initiative, not ours. Our salvation is in God’s hands. God promises us salvation if we love without counting the cost. Jesus is our example. Jesus generously loves anyone in need. God wants us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, forgive the sinner, visit the sick, and more. This love gives purpose to our lives now and after death. How does God help you love unconditionally?
In the Gospel for Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Peter’s question sets up the story. ” ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times’ ” (Matthew 18: 21-22). The number seven symbolizes perfection. Seventy-seven times symbolizes boundless forgiveness. Jesus tells his disciples that there is no limit to forgiveness. God is always ready to forgive. So must we. Forgiveness is essential to loving relationships. We hurt one another in our families, neighborhoods, and other parts of the world. Forgiving the other or asking the other to forgive mend broken relationships. With forgiveness there is hope for healing. I tried to be the perfect parent. Then I realized that forgiveness is more loving than perfection. When I was able to forgive myself, the more I was able to forgive others. How has forgiveness healed your relationship with God? Others?
In the Gospel for Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells the disciples how to resolve disputes. “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18: 19-20). If a private resolution does not work, the Christian community can decide. This reminds of family meetings with my sons. With a family discussion we resolved issues such as undone chores, fights with siblings, and video time. God helped us discern the loving thing to do. How does God help your family make decisions? Your Church?
In the Gospel for the Memorial of Saint Claire, Jesus teaches his disciples a lesson about humility. “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Matthew 18: 3-5). The disciples had just asked Jesus who would be the greatest in heaven. Jesus reminds them they are as dependent on God as children on their parents. Jesus tells them to not take themselves too seriously. God works through us. We do not operate alone. No one is more important than another in doing God’s work. I still take responsibility for things over which I have no control. What could I have done to help my brother avoid his stroke? How could I have better supported my son through his first year of teaching. When I realize God is with me, I have the grace to deal in love with these and other difficult situations. How are you dependent on God?
In the Gospel for the Feast of St. Lawrence, Jesus talks about his death. “Amen, amen, I say to you, and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12: 24). Jesus is the grain of wheat. Salvation in Christ is the fruit. Only Jesus’ death makes our salvation possible. Through the death of Jesus, we enjoy a renewed relationship with God and one another. Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus’ incredible love to death for God and for us changes us. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved children of God. We are not alone. When I feel isolated or alone, the love of Christ in others lifts me up. My wife’s reassuring words help me face a tough day at work. The prayers of my parish friends helped me support my son struggling with a new job. How do you experience the saving love of Jesus?
In the Gospel for Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus predicts his passion. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16: 24-25). Following Jesus requires self denial. Christian self denial is submission to the will of God. Christians know that God is God and they are not. Doing God’s will is loving as God loves. This means setting aside our own needs for the needs of others. A parent takes care of a sick child in the middle of the night. An advocate of social justice risks ridicule. A young professional volunteers her evenings at a shelter for homeless women. A congregation lowers the thermostat in the church to reduce its carbon footprint. How do you follow Jesus’ example?