Monthly Archives: October 2017


1-1Jesus came not to abolish the Old Testament law but to fulfil it
And in today’s Gospel, He reveals that love—of God and of neighbour—is the fulfillment of the whole of the law

An authority on the Law of Moses gives Jesus a pop quiz: name the greatest commandment. Specifically, Jesus is to consider the 613 commandments found in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, and to select the cornerstone. But we know this is not a casual conversation among colleagues. Matthew reminds us that Jesus silenced the Sadducees, the priests who served at the Temple in Jerusalem. They asked their thorniest question about the Torah, and Jesus aced that test. Now it is the Pharisees’ turn.

The Pharisees were a sect within Judaism, which worked as a social movement seeking to change society with a greater faithfulness to following the Torah. The Pharisees in Jerusalem see Jesus’ growing influence on the crowds, and they seem to want to shut down this movement before it goes any further. The question then comes from a place not of wanting to learn but desiring to trip up the rabbi from Galilee. Jesus immediately answers with what is the most succinct statement of everything he taught and his every action: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

We are not just to love God, but our neighbour, and not just God and our neighbour, but we are to love ourselves, as only then can we love our neighbours as ourselves. Everything hangs on love.

The love Jesus is talking about here cost him his life, so this is love beyond mere sentimentality or emotion. Jesus teaches about the form of love that in Greek is called agape.

The love we are to have for God is a matter of heart, mind, and soul. While we think of “heart” normally in terms of affection, in the scriptures the heart is the centre of will, character, and conscience. Loving God is about deciding to put God first in our lives and to make our will conform to his will. From this experience, I reach out in love to others with the love that begins in the very life and nature of God.

So, Agape love is a decision, an act of the will. To decide to see others as God sees them. To act on this decision rather than just whether you feel the emotions of love. The love you have for others must start with God. We have to ask God to give us this gift. To pray for God to reveal the way God sees these other people in your life, especially the difficult people you deal with.

When trying to decide what to do, put agape into the equation. Should you forgive? Should you pick up the phone and make a call? Should you write a letter? Should you make a visit? The decision to forgive, or call, or write, or visit, or whatever it is that will make this love concrete should not depend alone on whether you have been hurt or could be hurt. The answer should depend on answering the question, “What would love do?”

This is how the ideal of loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself is made real. This love is a choice, a decision, an act of the will, and it belongs in the heart of your relationship with your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends, your co-workers. Have the courage to not simply talk of love, but to put love into action. The love God has for you is patient and kind and will never fail. Choose to share that same amazing love with the people in your life.

We love in thanksgiving for our salvation. And in this become imitators of Jesus, as Paul tells us in today’s Epistle—laying down our lives daily in ways large and small, seen and unseen,

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Posted by on October 28, 2017 in Uncategorized



1-17In today’s Gospel Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem continue their tense exchange of questions and challenges.

Two important political groups in Jerusalem—the Pharisees and the Herodians—are ganging up on Jesus. The Herodians; were supporters of Herod, the King of Israel who was a Roman lackey so they were supporters of the Romans. Then there were the Pharisees, who, as religious purists, would object to paying taxes especially to a king, like Caesar, who claimed to be of divine lineage. At the same time, the crowds, were watching. They didn’t like either the Romans or their taxes, and they frequently showed their dislike by rioting. They would be very unhappy at any answer that seemed to approve of the taxes. Finally, there are the soldiers, who were watching, Romans who were paid by the taxes in question. They didn’t much like the crowds, who had a penchant for rioting and whose rioting they had to control.

So, this was no abstract debate. The intent of the question was to ensure that Jesus was either arrested for treason by the Romans, discredited as a false teacher by the Pharisees, or the Herodians, or lynched by the crowd as a traitor to his own people.

Jesus slipped out of the trap. He asked for a coin. It’s a special minting of the denarius. On the coin is marked, “Tiberius Caesar, majestic son of divine Augustus, High Priest”. Below these words, the image of the emperor is pressed into the metal. To any good Jew, the coin itself violated the commandments by claiming that Caesar had divine pretensions, by containing an image of this false god.

A big part of what Jesus said was simply “give the thing back.” It could belong to no one but Caesar; it could certainly not belong to anyone who worshiped the God of Israel. This answer avoided the trap, and it allowed that particular tax to be paid with that particular coin—not as an act of political submission, but as a sign of religious fidelity. It was a very specific, and very narrow answer that made it possible for Jesus to escape the trap.

The coin belonged to Caesar because it was stamped with Caesar’s image and marked with Caesar’s inscription. The coin was made by the emperor for the emperor’s purposes. All that is a pretty good claim to ownership—a claim that Jesus recognized, for that coin.

The next question that flows from Jesus’ words is: “What, then, belongs to God?” Well, what is made in the image of God? What is stamped in the likeness of God and created for God’s purposes?

The sanctity of human life is a core Christian doctrine that derives from the Genesis 1 account of humankind being created in the image of God. Humankind is the image or ikon which represents God: every human being regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or state of health. This is the basis of the prohibition of murder in the Ten Commandments. The incarnation of Christ and his redemptive death affirms the extraordinary value He places on each human life. This is our central characteristic, what it is that makes us human beings, is that we are created in the image of God. And what’s more, at our baptism we are further marked, we are stamped, we are inscribed, with the sign of the cross. Our image and likeness, and what is written upon us, is that of God himself. To whom, then, do we belong?

This, the question of our ultimate loyalty and our deepest allegiances, is what Jesus is really talking about. The Lord is saying simply that what belongs to God is nothing other than we ourselves. There is no higher claim and there can be no higher claim. Our lives are God’s, and all that we do is to be marked by that conviction. All competing claims for our lives and for our allegiance are to be evaluated and understood in the light of whose we are, and whose image we bear.

Give to God what is God’s—for God owns that which he has made in his image, and he is Lord over that which bears his inscription. It is that image, in ourselves and in others, that leads to concrete imperatives for justice, compassion, and righteousness. It is that image that both claims our allegiance and directs our efforts. It is God’s image that gives ultimate value and meaning to what we do. It is that image, and no other, we owe God everything. We owe Him our very lives—all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are called to be a light to the world working in faith, and in love, enduring in hope, as today’s Epistle teaches.

Certainly, give to Caesar the things that are Caesars—but give to God the things that are God’s. Don’t be everything; don’t have or hoard everything. Live your life mirroring how God created life: as a gift for the giving. That truth will transform us, allowing us to become agents of hope even in the darkest of times.



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Posted by on October 21, 2017 in Uncategorized



2-3Immediately after criticizing the religious leaders through the parable of the tenants in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus proceeded to tell another parable, again directed at the religious leaders. We hear this parable in today’s Gospel.

Jesus offers an image of the kingdom of heaven using the symbol of a wedding banquet. In today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah and in today’s psalm, the Lord’s goodness is evident in the symbol of a feast of good food and wine. Jesus’ listeners would have been familiar with the image of a wedding feast as a symbol for God’s salvation. They would consider themselves to be the invited guests. Keeping this in mind helps us to understand the critique Jesus makes with this parable. The context for this parable is the growing tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. This has been the case for the past two Sundays and will continue to be true for the next several weeks.

What may be hard for us to imagine is that the marriage contract negotiated was a financial contract between two men, the bride’s father and the groom. So, a man works out a deal with a woman’s father, and she is ordered to go and live with that man – someone she may not even have met. After a period of a year or more, the man decides that this is working out, and he and his contractual partner (not his bride, her father) lays on a feast.

And pretty much everyone would come. In those days, ordinary people owned two changes of clothing: your regular, everyday work clothes; and a festive garment, a wedding robe – something that you kept clean and unwrinkled. And most people did not own much more. When the messengers came to invite you to a marriage, or you heard that bell ring – you would just pen up your sheep, drop your weaving, whatever; run home and put on your wedding garment; and go to the party.

If you live in Galilee or Bethlehem, you knew that to come to a wedding feast was to wear a wedding garment. So, this parable, which seems harsh – after all, someone is thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for wearing the wrong clothes. But perhaps this parable is about participation, or the lack of doing it fully. There is the first group, who simply decline the invitation. And then there is the guy without the wedding robe, who refused to participate completely. If you were you the king, you would feel snubbed and insulted by these people and if you had the power, you might send those who offended you to the outer darkness. Or at least, you’d be tempted to.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. This is a parable, remember. An analogy of the Kingdom of Heaven, a story of the way God acts in the world.

God has invited us to be partners in the building up of that kingdom, on earth as in heaven. And this omnipotent God, who could reign down fire from heaven and smite us where we sit – this God does not act like the king in today’s story, although he could. God does not enforce the dress code or punish us for not participating fully.

Instead, our God invites us again and again, over and over. We are called to that feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. The feast at which the disgrace of the people will be taken away from the earth, when God will wipe away the tears from all faces.

You, me and every person on this planet are welcome at this table.
When God is the host, everyone is invited. Sadly, as in today’s parable, not everyone comes – but everyone is invited.

When God is the host, the food is rich beyond our imagination or understanding. Sometimes it appears to be quite simple – like bread and wine – yet we can be profoundly moved and transformed by this feast. When God is the host, we are nourished not just for the morning, but for the journey. And when God is the host, everyone gets the same gift: the amazingly abundant, undeserved, and inexhaustible gift of love.

Jesus’ message in the parable cautions against exclusive beliefs about the kingdom of heaven. The parable also teaches about humility. Those who assume that they are the invited guests may find that they have refused the invitation, and so others are invited in their place. To accept the invitation is also to accept its obligations. God wants our full conversion in complete acceptance of his mercy.

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Posted by on October 13, 2017 in Uncategorized



1-17 In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again speaks to the priests and elders with a parable. In this parable, the landowner leases his vineyard to tenants and sends his servants to collect the portion of the harvest that the tenants owe to him. Eventually even killing his son. After telling the parable, Jesus questions the chief priests and elders about what the landowner will do to the wicked tenants. They all agree that the landowner will kill the wicked tenants and give the land to new tenants who will pay the rent. In telling the parable, Jesus is clearly drawing upon Isaiah 5:1-7, which is today’s first reading and one that the priests and elders would have known well. The Kingdom of God will be taken from the unbelieving and given to the faithful. The chief priests and elders have condemned themselves with their answer to Jesus’ question.

We need to examine today’s story in the full context of the Gospel, to view it against the backdrop of all we know of God’s action in Christ. As Christians, we always start with the fact that God initiates the relationship with us – not we with God. God calls us to be in unity with him and all people. God’s reaching out to us is best understood as his giving us everything we have – with no strings attached and without our deserving it, without our having done anything to gain it. As he proved on the cross, we are worth dying for.

We don’t have to earn God’s love; it is given freely. The wicked tenants received all they needed from the owner, but they refused to accept his graciousness and turned their backs on him, his servants, and even his son. They, by their actions and inactions, cast themselves out of the vineyard, no less than Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in their loss of the benefits of the Garden of Eden. The miserable death we might experience can only result from our failure to accept the gifts of God. It can only result from our selfishly acting as if the vineyard is all ours – or should be all ours and no one else’s, let alone God’s.

It is not so much that God’s patience with us might eventually run out, causing us to be put to a miserable death. It is more like our time runs out only because we wait too long to catch on to what God wants for us, and then we by our actions or inactions cast ourselves out of God’s vineyard, producing a self-inflicted kind of misery that we alone can create.

Today’s Gospel story, of course, provides for us a warning about what we can miss out on if we act like the wicked servants. It reminds us of the great theme of stewardship that is so central to the life of the church and to the healthful focus of individual Christians. When we sing the familiar words, “Praise God from who all blessings flow,” we need to remember the actions that they imply – that we need to “walk the talk” by remembering that what we have is not ours to own, but is on loan from God.

We need to remember that God’s way of grace and love is encouraging us to respond to our good fortune of living in his vineyard by reflecting that love in our actions toward others.

That as we care for, as we exercise stewardship over God’s creation – especially our fellow human beings – we do so as a reflection of God’s love. That love is poured out to us in such measure that it overflows from us, and through us can overflow onto all creation. An overflow that allows us to maintain creation and preserve it and protect it from harm. An overflow that impels us to love others and share with them the Good News of God in Christ – a truth they might miss if we ignore our mission and neglect that which so graciously enriches us.

If, in reflecting on today’s Gospel story, we concentrate on God’s setting us up on a vineyard, giving us all we have, we can recognize that this is his way of encouraging us to be good and faithful servants – good and loving workers in the world he has left to our care – good and faithful followers of his son, Jesus.

Our focus needs to be as St Paul says in the Epistle to “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen”. Keep being an authentic Christian who cares about people the way Jesus did… and act the same way!


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Posted by on October 6, 2017 in Uncategorized