Sunday by Sunday

FAITH Magazine July-August 2008 s

Our regular guide to the Word of God in the Sunday Liturgy

See also the suggestions for 2002

14th Sunday of Year A
Mt 11.25-30

1 We can come to a knowledge of God through human reason discovering God’s fingerprints left in creation. But that deeper knowledge of God which comes to know Him as personal - Father, Son and Spirit - can only be given by God Himself. In human friendships we can only come to know a person intimately if they choose to let us know who they are. So also with God. We cannot fall back on our powers of investigation and understanding to know God. God is not an object or a thing which can be examined in detail and known in its entirety. Hence it is not the learned and the clever who know God. It is those who give time and attention to getting to know Him in the personal relationship of prayer, reading the scriptures and receiving the Sacraments.

2 This Gospel passage makes it quite clear that Christ is the one who makes God known. It is a mistake to present Jesus as one among the many founders of great world religions. Jesus Himself and His early followers preached that He is the Son who reveals the Father. The RE programmes in our Catholic Schools do not seem to be faithful to this teaching. Following the so called “learned and clever” for the sake of a false open-mindedness and sensitivity to other faiths, they fail to communicate who Jesus claimed to be. For the sake of our children Christ, the Son of God must be placed back at the centre of our teaching.

3 Our lives can be burdened by many things. Jesus invites us to bring all these things to Him. In His teaching we find rest for our souls. We often perceive the Gospel and the Church’s teaching as a further burden on our already weary shoulders. But in fact they take weight off, not add it on. Like a bird’s wings, they do not further burden the bird but give it the possibility of taking flight.

15th Sunday of Year A
 Mt 13.1-23

1 The seed is a wonderful image for the Word. It contains all the potential to bear fruit but requires fertile soil to realise that potential. God does not force His Word upon us but invites us to listen. He gives the gift, full of potential and generous enough to bear fruit 100-fold. But still He relies on the listener. We are so often like the day-dreaming school boy who vaguely hears the drone of the teacher’s lesson but when questioned could not repeat a word of it. In the noise of our materialistic world we are in danger of relegating God’s word to the level of a teacher’s drone. Unless we work to make time and space to listen to God then the seed will bear no fruit in our poor soil.

2 Why does Christ speak in parables? This is like a real live version of the parable of the sower. The disciples are the good soil - they are the ones who take the time to ask. They listen attentively and want to understand. They make the effort to get to know Jesus. In those few words of Matthew: “The disciples went up to Him..” we see how they responded to the initial call and turned their eyes and ears to the message being preached. Their reward, like a seed in good soil, was that God’s word bore fruit in them. Not only the parable but the people themselves teach us the lesson.

3 In very bright sunlight we sometimes have to shade our eyes if we want to see anything at all. Jesus is trying to communicate the bright sunlight of God’s glory and He knows human eyes must adjust to the glare. The parables give that little shade which allows our eyes to focus on the message. They draw on ordinary human activities to teach us about God. God Himself drew on the human nature itself in order to teach us completely about Himself. Jesus Christ is the greatest parable.

17th Sunday of Year A
 Mt 13.44-52

1. A real Christian can be recognised by the priorities of his life. Once the true worth of a life lived for God is recognised then all other aspects of life take their proper place. It is amazing what lengths we will go to so as to make sure we do not miss our favourite soap opera, or what sacrifices we will make to be able to have our annual holiday. The effort and plans which we make to enable us to enjoy our favourite things are not reckoned as burdensome. “It’s worth it,” we tell ourselves. How much effort and self-sacrifice am I willing to give so as to live my life for God? The true Christian knows the true worth of the gift of faith.
2. The first two parables give two different ways of finding the treasure. One stumbles across it accidentally, the other has been seeking it for some time. Some of us did not go in search for God but stumbled across His path or were handed our faith on a p late. Others have searched for a meaning to their lives and have travelled a long, hard road to find it. In either case it is the response once the treasure is found which is important. Whether it is found by accident or by design our response needs to be c outrageous and total. Both men sell everything they own - they know the full value of the treasure they have found.
3. It is not a pleasant teaching, and it is certainly out of fashion at the moment, but the fact of a general judgement was central to Christ’s instruction on the Kingdom. There is a marvellous equality in the image of the dragnet, it hauls in all kinds and is not selective in its catch. All of us will be judged without exception. The separation will not be according to race, colour or social standing but simply according to ‘the just and the wicked’. Christ is the Just One. If our lives are centred on Him an d in imitation of Him then the general judgement will be a time of joy not disaster.

18th Sunday of Year A
 Mt 14.13-21

1. Jesus has just finished His teachings on the Kingdom and hears of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod. He and His disciples retreat to avoid the crowds but to no avail; the crowds follow in their thousands. It was the duty of the OT kings to feed the poor and hungry. By feeding the 5000 we see Jesus confirming His teaching on the Kingdom and showing very clearly that He, not Herod, is the true king. The parables of the Kingdom challenge us to give up everything for the sake of the Gospel. Here we see that the King Himself promises to care for His citizens. He will always give us what is necessary to live lives centred on Him.

2. The feeding takes place in “a lonely place”, or rather “a desert place”. When the Israelites wandered through the wilderness for forty years it was God who gave them their daily b read - manna from the desert dust. “Man does not live on bread alone...” we re His own words when He too was in the desert. God has made us with a thirst and hunger for Him and the material world can no more satisfy our need for God than the desert can fill our stomachs or quench our thirst. The 5000 could have gone to villages to buy food. We are much more helpless! Holy Communion is as necessary to us as our basic food and drink. To go to daily Mass and communion is to make those words of the Our Father a reality in our live s: give us this day our daily bread.

3. Jesus breaks the loaves but He hands them to His disciples to distribute them among the people. Again He freely chooses to associate ordinary human beings with His work. In all aspects of Christian life, especially in the Sacraments and most especially in the Eucharist, we receive the free gift from God given through another person. In these days when ‘organised religion’ is looked upon with suspicion we are losing sight of this most wonderful truth about God’s work. God can and does choose human beings to be the instruments by which He communicates His blessings to the world. He chooses our mouths to preach, our hands to heal, our hearts to love His people. Let us not let Him down!

19th Sunday of Year A
 Mt 14.22-33

1. This mysterious Gospel reading is punctuated by references which, taken together and with the OT as background, point to the presence of God. Jesus goes into the hills; the mountains were the place of God’s dwelling and where He would meet His prophets. There is a storm over the sea and a mighty wind; these were often indications of God’s power. The disciples are full of fear at the presence of Jesus; just as the presence of God filled Moses with fear at the burning bush. Finally, Jesus brings a calm to the sea and the storm; just as God was present to Elijah in the “still, small voice”. The disciples probably do not understand the full import of their words but they recognise in Jesus God truly present. He is indeed Emmanuel.

2. The disciples are very frightened when they see what they think is a ghost. Jesus calms their fears with the words, “It is I! Do not be afraid.” This last phrase is one which is found many times in the OT spoken by God. The God of power and might is one who cares for His people and watches over them to protect them. Many times we feel helpless in the face of the trials of life. So many things seem out of our control and it is then that we are frightened of what might happen. The ‘storm-tossed boat’ has often been used as an image of this helplessness. The other words used by Jesus here: “It is I”, are seen as a reference to the holy name of God given to Moses at the burning bush (Ex3). It is in the name of Jesus, who is God-with-us, that we find courage in our fear and hope in ourhelplessness.

3. In response to a single word from Jesus: “Come!”, Peter walks out upon the water. It is an act of faith beyond anything we could do yet Peter is described as a “man of little fait h”. We are so slow to answer Christ’s call of “Come follow me”. But even though we are so slow to follow, even though we are people of even less faith than Peter, we must dig deep and have the courage to believe that in our most dire need our cry for help will be heard. In these times we can use the same words as did Peter: “Lord, save me!” Christ will always reach down to hold us.

20th Sunday of Year A
Mt 15.21-28

1. Jesus is passing through pagan territory but not to bring the Gospel to them. Indeed, at first He refuses even to talk to the Canaanite woman. This strikes us as strange. It is clear that Christ does not intend that the Gospel be refused to pagans because at the end of Mt.’s Gospel Christ instructs the disciples to “go and teach all nations”. The key is that it is His disciples who must do that work. As true man Christ was restricted in time and space and His work reflected this restriction. But at the end of His earthly life He sent His disciples in His place. It is their task - it is our task - to bring the Gospel without restriction to the world. We can do this because Christ is with us, until the end of time.

2. The Canaanite woman shows such persistence that she becomes a pest and in the end she gets her way. There are two things which keep her going even in the face of a refusal: her love for her sick child and her unswerving faith that Jesus could help. Pests are annoying but we have to admire their staying power. Their motivation always comes from a very strong source. Perseverance in prayer is a sign of our motivation, a sign that our love is strong an d our faith is deep.

3. After at first refusing to listen to the woman because she is not a Jew, Jesus sees her faith and grants her wish. He calls her a woman of “great faith”. Contrast this to Peter, t he “man of little faith”, in last weeks Gospel! With the coming of Christ it is no longer blood which determines if we are of God’s people or not but faith. This woman, who is not of the house of Israel, is treated in the end as one of its children because of her faith. She is the forerunner of all of us Christians who are not by blood one of God’s people but by a much stronger tie - God’s children by faith.

21st Sunday of Year A
 Mt 16.13-20

1. This is a turning point in the teaching of Christ for His disciples. He has taught them the Beatitudes, the great prayer, the demands of discipleship and the nature of the Kingdom . But all along the most important teaching was not done with words but wit h the intimacy of friendship. Now was the time to find out if they had learnt this most important lesson. Peter is able to show that they had glimpsed the very foundation for all the rest of Christ’s teaching. The beauty of the Gospel lies in its authority and truth, and these are only possible because the Gospel is spoken by God himself. No ordinary human teaching can lay claim to a man’s whole life. It is because Jesus is God that He is able to make that claim. We can only wander whether, when Peter made hi s reply, he understoodthe claim which would be made on him. The same claim is made on the lives of all who dare to answer as he did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

2. Jesus has already associated His disciples in His work of teaching, healing and casting out devils. If His work is to continue after He has returned to the Father, if the Gospel is still to be preached, then it must continue to have the authority of Christ as its foundation. That authority is based on the person of Christ and so it is passed on to the one who is able to answer the question: “Who do you say that I am?” Through the office of Peter the Gospel remains sure of its foundation and can continue to claim the whole life of a person just as Christ did. Since Christ wished to associate ordinary human beings with His divine mission it follows that those ordinary human beings will also be associate d with divine authority. This is not founded on flesh and blood but on the will ofour Father in heaven.

22nd Sunday of Year A  
Mt 16.21-27

1. Peter has just made his profession of faith in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. Now it is Jesus’ task to teach the nature of the Christ. This teaching is not received so readily from Peter. His reasoning appears the same to Jesus as that of t he Devil during His temptation in the wilderness. Surely there is an easier way! The ‘easier way’, however, fails to recognise the reality of sin and the violence it has done to the Kingdom of God. T here is only one way to overcome the disobedience of Adam and that is by a life of total obedience to the Father’s will.
This is the most difficult part of the Gospel to understand - why did Christ suffer and die? And yet it is this final act of giving which brings us salvation. Christ gave His life to give us Life. Perhaps only martyrs can truly understand this reasoning. It is God’s way, not man’s.

2. Not only does Christ insist on the giving of His own life but He calls His disciples to do the same. The life which Christ asks us to lead is one which goes against the selfishness we find within us and one which goes against the values of this world. It will necessarily meet opposition from within us and opposition from the world. It will lead inevitably to conflict. But to avoid this conflict is to be diverted from the path that leads to life. The way of the cross is the only route from slavery to freedom, from death to life.

3. Each person will be rewarded according to their behaviour. The rule of life for the Christian is to love God above all things and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the rule which should govern every aspect of our lives. If this is the case then our behaviour will reflect it. As a tree is known by its fruit so we are known by our way of life.

23rd Sunday of Year A
Mt 18.15-20

1. There are two presuppositions behind this very practical advice given by Jesus concerning life in the community. The first is that correction and guidance is done for the good of the wrong doer. There is no sense of self-righteousness or vindictiveness in Christ’s command to correct an erring brother. We so often mix our corrections with the desire to “have our say” or “get it off our chest”. This is serving only our own sense of hurt or sensitivity . It does not consider in the first place the soul of the person we wish to correct. True charity looks first to the other person. Before we give advice we must always test our motives in the furnace of charity.

2. The other presupposition which seems just as alien to our modern world is that it is possible to know right from wrong. As the principles of right and wrong are being more and more clouded, so our ability to teach any sort of moral life is eroded. It is so difficult in our society, especially with our young, to teach, guide and correct because right and wrong has become such a matter of personal opinion. Christ not only presupposes the difference between right and wrong but also the capacity of all people to be able to communicate and understand this difference. With the injunction to bind and loose Jesus assures the Church community of His unerring guidance in the moral life.

3. There is a particular link between the teaching on correction of error in the community and the promise to be with “two or three gathered in my name”. It is the principle that tot al individuality has no place in the life of the Christian. We are individuals and should have a personal relationship with God. But we are also members of one family through Baptism. This is why we are instructed by the Church to keep holy the Sabbath by attending Mass tog ether. It is also why we confess our sins through a priest . None of us can worship God and live a Christian life in a purely individualistic way.

24th Sunday of Year A
Mt 18.21-35

1. Peter no doubt thought that he was being quite generous offering to forgive seven times. Christ uses a play on the perfect number seven to indicate that forgiveness should never be refused. It is such a difficult thing to do at times and yet it is something we promise to do every time we pray the Our Father. Since it is something which very rarely comes easily to us it should be often in our petitions. It is a grace which blesses both ways: it is an obvious blessing to the one who has done wrong; but it is also a blessing to the one who is able to forgive because a grudge eats away at the peace of the soul as a cancer.

2. The amounts used by Jesus in the parable of the debtors show how much our need for forgiveness overwhelmingly outweighs our opportunities to forgive. The first man is in a debt of 10,000 talents which is the equivalent of 100 million silver drachmas - an impossible amount ever to pay off for an ordinary worker. This debtor is owed 100 denarii, about 100 days wages, by another man. We should see our debt to God in similar terms. We could never pay it off, not even “given time”. The humility of the true Christian is to recognise such a debt and his joy is to imagine the love which prompts the waiving of that debt.

3. To forgive does not mean to find excuses or to explain away a wrong done, but simply to write it off. It is a totally free act which can never be bought or earned by the one who has done wrong. In this sense it is like the act of creation - it is a free act prompted only by love. This is why forgiveness makes us like God. This is why it is an essential part of Christian life.

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