Isaiah, in the first reading, compares the people God to a vineyard that has produced bad grapes.  After all the labors—the soil carefully prepared, the location well-chosen, the selected vine stock planted, the boundary set up to keep out the wild animals, the tower and the wine-press—all lovingly prepared by the owner but the vineyard produced only bad grapes.  God has lovingly protected his people and they have rendered only sour grapes, violence and oppression. So, Isaiah prophesies: God will destroy this vineyard.

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The vineyard was not for God and yet he cared for it out of his love. He had chosen a people for himself. But they were unfaithful and they will be destroyed. But later on, Isaiah would tell us of the hope that God will save a remnant and they will rebuild God's chosen people after the destruction.

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The same imagery is used by Jesus in the Gospel with a different emphasis. For Jesus, the problem is not with the vineyard but with the tenant farmers. The vineyard produces grapes and from them wine for drinking. However, the tenants will not give the land owner his due. Such share-cropping arrangements, with the landowner and the tenants divide the produce was a normal agricultural business practice in Jesus’ time. Such arrangements, now as then, are frequently exploitative and unjust. But when the tenants beat up and kill the master’s agents, they don’t complain that they cannot afford the rent and buy clothes for their children. This is not, therefore, a peasant rebellion against the unjust landlord. The tenants’ motive is pure greed. They want the vineyard for themselves. They even kill the owner’s son and heir. Perhaps they think that in the future they can legally claim the vineyard as their own property on the ground that the legitimate owner has abandoned it.

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Many tenants who have received so much kindness personally from God want to monopolize the joy they could give to God and others; and as a result, deprived themselves of any joy they could have. They denied something fundamental, something so important: the owner and the heir who make their life possible. And eventually, the second, the third, the fourth and so on and so forth, chances are exhausted and mercy had to give way to justice.

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 The parable of the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel is a way to teach the Pharisees (and US), that they (and US) have fallen into a twisted sense of right and privilege that did not belong the them.

So when the Son comes on behalf of the “true owner” of the People of God, they are going to reject and kill him, thinking that they can have the property and that somehow everything will return to normal.

 Our Lord today, through the parable, is prophesying the outcome of their greed and envy: everything they thought was theirs will be given to those who will be worthy stewards of God’s gifts!

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26 A (Two Sons)

Readings:

Ez 18:25-28 / Ps 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9/

Phil 2:1-11 / Mt. 21: 28-32

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In today’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard, the first son said no but later reconsidered his decision and did the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who actually did what the father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the one who had said no to him.

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Jesus told this parable in the temple in Jerusalem just days before they would arrest him and put him to death. For three years he had been preaching to the people, inviting them to repent and believe in the Good News. He discovered that, in fact, it was the public sinners like the tax-collectors and prostitutes who responded to his invitation. The religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees, still opposed Jesus and his message. They had greeted John the Baptist with the same attitude.

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The parable compares the tax-collectors and prostitutes to the son who first said no but later did what the father wanted, and the Scribes and Pharisees to the son who enthusiastically said yes but did not go. One group has no fine words but they have good deeds. The other group has fine words but no corresponding good deeds. The parable is for us, too. Today, God still has 2 sons. The two sons represent two kinds of people and the different ways they try to relate to God. There are those who have no fine words: like those who profess no faith, who do not go to church, who do not pray. But sometimes when there is injustice in the city they will be the first to rise up to condemn the injustice. When there are calamities, they are the ones who donate food, and clothing.

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Then there are those of us who have fine words: who come to church every Sunday and say to God “Amen”! We believe” We wear medals as ways of professing our faith. But sometimes when it comes to concrete action in support of what we know to be the will of God, we are found wanting.

            -Like the first son we can say yes to the Lord in appearance, while deep inside us we really say NO to him.

            -Like the Pharisees we can appear so pious, making pretentious long prayers,         attending bible studies, recollections not so much out of love and search for            deeper meaning in life.

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One can SAY yes to the Lord while keeping on slandering others, neglecting one's responsibilities, while holding on to our attachments…

What about our baptismal vows, marriage vows and our religious vows? A solemn YES is often times TARNISHED by so many NO’s. A husband, for example can say YES with the lips while keeping on being unfaithful to one's wife.

All these simply amount to not going to the Lord's vineyard.

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We become disciples only when we fulfill the will of the Father. Jesus says in the gospel: Not everyone who says to me LORD, LORD, shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

What the Lord is looking for is a 3rd son. One who says YES and at the same time keeps his words.

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Roughly, the Gospel for today could be summarized into this : GOD LOVES HUMBLE SINNERS MORE THAN THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS AND PROUD SAINTS.

He speaks of rebellious sons, of money-grabbers and prostitutes entering the kingdom of God right now, while professional religious persons stay behind in complacent pride.

This does not mean that the Lord is indifferent to sinners nor does he condone sin.

This is to show that Jesus VALUES change of heart more than mere words or reputation.

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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

          The gospel this 25th Sunday relates about envious people in the parable, the workers who were hired in the morning complained and protested that they were paid the same wage as those hired in the afternoon. “A gross injustice,” they said.

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          Legally, there was no injustice because the deal was covered by a personal contract. All workers agreed a wage of one denarius.

          (I) There is an important lesson here about God’s justice. When seen from our often mathematical and narrow-minded viewpoint, it often looks like injustice. We tend to think that if a person can do more, he is a better person, and should have a greater reward. Why, for example, is there such a disparity between the income of a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, and a bus driver? Which of these, in fact, really does more? Is this really just?

          (II) We even think that if we do more for God, he will somehow love us more and reward us more than others. That is very much at the background of today’s parable. For many of us, the workers were quite right to criticize their employer. They worked longer hours and should have got more money. But we need to realize that there is another way of looking at the situation. This is not just about justice but God’s love, generosity and compassion.

          Like the early workers in the parable, we may be tempted to complain of the good fortune of others who care nothing about God while we work hard, trying to be good but are lagging behind.

         (III) Compete only against yourself and not with others, but then learn to celebrate the success of other people. And if you are successful, do not let success get into your head. Neither should you allow the envious to ruin your day. Do the best you can do but not only in terms of skills but more so in terms of character and attitude… and always remember that God has blessed you with success but you should learn to handle it responsibly.

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          A person is truly great when he is not envious of his rival’s success.  If God wants to be overly generous with some people, that is his business. In the gospel, the employer, signifying God, says, “I am free to do as I please, am I not?”

             And don’t forget, STOP ENVYING THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING, THAT MAN PROBABLY HAS  

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE … which fortunately you don’t have!

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How many times is seventy times seven?

Peter speaks for each one of us in today's Gospel passage when he says, "How many times am I supposed to forgive the neighbor who keeps sinning? After seven times, if he still sins, what's the point in forgiving him again?"

"No, not seven times," Jesus says, "seventy times seven,"which according to my Father's calculator in heaven, is infinite.

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The name 70x7 is synonymous with God's eternal forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 reads: Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."

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Jesus isn't telling us to forgive our brothers 490 times, or 70 times, or 77 times. He's telling us we should always forgive our brothers when they have sinned against us. God in heaven has forgiven us all of humanity's sins. How wrong it would be for us to deny our brothers and sisters a similar forgiveness for much lesser matters. Back in the book of Matthew (18:23-35), Jesus tells a parable to emphasize this point.

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Why do we find it so hard to forgive others even though it is the only way to gain God’s forgiveness? I think it is because we fail to appreciate and celebrate our own forgiveness. Like the unforgiving servant in the parable, we focus on the 100 denarii that our neighbor owes us rather than the 1000 talents we owe to God which He has graciously cancelled.

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We would rather only forgive people if they "go and sin no more." But waiting for their repentance is harmful to us. When we choose to pray "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing," we break the chains of anger that bind us to what they did. We're no longer a victim of the incident that hurt us. The wounds of our heart and spirit are healed, because we receive directly from Jesus the love that was supposed to come from those who sinned against us.

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Forgiveness, like love, is a decision, not a feeling. It begins with an honest prayer: "Father, I don't want to forgive them, but I choose to forgive them. I ask You to forgive them, too. And please forgive me for holding onto my resentment, anger or bitterness." Did you realize you're already praying this whenever you recite the "Our Father." Jesus taught us to pray, "Father, forgive us as we forgive others." He did NOT add, "Unless, of course, they don't want to stop sinning." Let us pray for deeper appreciation of God’s loving mercy so that we can forgive others, too.

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