The Parable of the Wedding Feast

“The Parable of the Wedding Feast”
Matthew 22:1-14 “in a snailshell”
Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’ Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:1-14

Life-giving Water

God promises to restore Israel from its exile, Ezekiel says in today’s first reading.( Ezekiel 36, 23-38 ) God’s honor and power have been shamed and questioned, not just Israel’s honor and power. And so God say: “I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations in whose midst you have profaned it.”

Israel’s re-creation is undertaken by God’s initiative, not human initiative. The waters of Genesis flow again. “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.”

“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”

Pope Francis remarked on the sacredness of water in his letter “Desiderio Desideravi.” Water is a pledge of God’s promise of life, to each of us in Baptism and to our world  through sacred history:

“He used water to regenerate humanity through the flood (Ge 6:1-9,29). He controlled it, separating it to open the way of freedom through the Red Sea (cf. Ex 14). He consecrated it in the Jordan, plunging into it the flesh of the Word soaked in the Spirit. (cf. Ma 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22) At the end he blended it with the blood of his Son, the gift of the Spirit inseparably united with the gift of the life and death of the Lamb slain for us, and from his pierced side he poured it out over us. (Jn 19:34) And it is into this water that we have been immersed so that through its power we can be inserted into the Body of Christ and with him rise to immortal life. (cf. Ro 6:1-11)” (Desidero Desideravi 13) 

“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you…This once-desolate land has become like the garden of Eden,” the nations that once ridiculed God’s power will say. The cities once ruined, laid waste and destroyed, are now resettled and fortified.”

God’s promise still stands. We’re reminded of it in the water.

Wise Words for Today

In our first readings for yesterday and today at Mass, the Prophet Ezekiel ( 24,1-11) has some wise but hard words for secular and religious leaders. St. Matthew’s gospel today about the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20,1-16) has some lessons for ordinary people too.

Yesterday Ezekiel spoke against the King of Tyre for making himself a god. Clever, successful, sure of himself, the King of Tyre sits on the throne that belongs to God alone. He will be pulled from his throne and put to a violent death. 

Remember, though, Ezekiel is a Jewish exile in Babylon. He’s really speaking, not about the ruler in Tyre, but about the ruler in Babylon. Leaders like him shouldn’t make themselves gods. Only God is king over all. That’s true today as well as then. 

Today, Ezekiel excoriates the shepherds of Israel, the Jewish religious leaders, who gouge their sheep for their own benefit. Woe to these shepherds, the Lord says.

Notice that God doesn’t say he will replace the shepherds with other shepherds. God himself will be their shepherd.

 “Thus says the Lord GOD: I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep …I will save my sheep… I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”

There’s no sign that God gives up on his people in our reading. In fact, God becomes more engaged than ever. He comes when times are bad. “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” The Lord is our shepherd.

The gospel reading from Matthew about the workers in the vineyard may also say something to us today. First, it says the owner of the vineyard is looking for a harvest. He wants it, it’s close to his heart, and so he calls laborers, as many as he can get, at any time he can get them. 

God wills a kingdom to come.

The laborers ( they’re us) have their own ideas how it will come. They want to control the way things are done. They have fixed ideas and dispute the owner of the vineyard. He’s not fair, they say. Actually, he’s far more generous than their ideas make him to be.

Keep looking at the Word of God. Far wiser that what you hear and see on CNN, Fox, CBS, the New York Times, ABC. or Facebook, or Twitter…..

The Workers in the Vineyard

“The Workers in the Vineyard”
Matthew 20:1-16 “in a snailshell” 
Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘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?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16

Listen to Ezechiel

The Prophet Ezechiel, Rubens

We usually look to the New Testament for wisdom day by day. The Old Testament readings in our lectionary don’t seem as relevant as the New; the words themselves– “Old,” “New”– suggest that. The Fathers of the Church, though, preached and reflected on the Old Testament a lot, more  than we do. For one thing, they saw in the Old Testament their mission to be involved in the world of their day.

During his ministry Jesus was cautious about saying anything the Romans and those occupying Palestine might see as meant for them. He’s careful about social or political statements that could end his ministry quickly. Look what happened to John the Baptist, for example. In today’s gospel reading (Matthew 19,23-30) Jesus tells his disciples, with Peter as their head, that the rich will find it hard to enter the kingdom of heaven. He’s cautious about indicating who the rich are.

The Prophet Ezechiel (Ez. 28,1-10) in our Old Testament reading today, however, speaks out against the rich and powerful of his time by name. He inveighs against the Prince of Tyre, a small Phoenician kingdom entrenched along the Mediterranean Sea, where Lebanon is today. Smart traders and skillful politicians, they saw themselves as a model society for that part of the world.

Ezechiel like so many of the prophets was a social critic. He’s warning  the Jewish ruling class in exile in Babylon then about seeing Tyre as their model for rebuilding Jerusalem. He sees too much of Tyre’s unjust ways and arrogance to buy into becoming a nation like them.

In our own time and place, we shouldn’t lose our voice for criticizing social issues, prophets like Ezekiel seems to say. While we struggle with our own personal sins and failures, we need to keep promoting a just society throughout the world. God calls us to work for issues of social justice, like immigration and poverty, for example.

We need to listen to Ezekiel.

A Camel Through a Needle’s Eye

“A Camel Through a Needle’s Eye”
Matthew 19:23-24 and Mark 10:23-25 “in a snailshell”
Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Sunday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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.”

Matthew 19:23-24

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”

Mark 10:23-25

Where did the Mystery of the Assumption come from?

Mary’s Tomb, Jerusalem

Can we find the story of the Assumption of Mary in scripture? We’re celebrating that mystery Auugust 15.

There’s no account of Mary’s death in scripture. The first accounts are found in the apocryphal body of literature called the Transitus Mariae, popular in the Christian churches of the east from the 5th century, which describe the return of the apostles to Jerusalem for Mary’s burial and their discovery that her body was taken up to heaven. The writings attest to a early interest in the death of Mary in some parts of the early church.

The first liturgical celebrations of Mary’s death and assumption to heaven took place in Jerusalem at her tomb (above) on the Mount of Olives about the 5th century. The Roman Catholic Church draws her present belief from this early tradition. Mary is “wholly united with her son in the work of salvation,” For scriptural support, the church looks to sources like Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians–the second reading at Mass for August 15th – to understand Mary’s Assumption.

Paul wrote that letter about the year 56 AD to Corinthian Christians who had questions about the resurrection of Jesus. Their precise difficulty seems to be that they saw only the soul surviving death and not the body, a common conception of the Greek mindset of the day. That belief brought a low appreciation of the body and the place of creation itself in the mystery of redemption.  The created world wasn’t worth much and was passing away, so let it go.

Paul countered that opinion with the belief he received, a belief preached from the beginning:  “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-6).

Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, Paul affirms, and we will rise bodily too. Jesus is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Mary’s bodily assumption follows the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Because of her unique role in the mystery of redemption she is among the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Her assumption is a resurrection story and we see it as an affirmation that we will follow Jesus who rose body and soul.

In her prayer, the Magnificat – the gospel read on the Feast of the Assumption – Mary accepts her mission from God to share in the mission of her Son, the Word made flesh, who came to redeem the world.

The church gradually understood the mystery of Mary’s Assumption over time. The rise of Gnosticism in the 3rd and 4th centuries certainly promoted appreciation of this mystery. As a world view, Gnosticism promised escape from the limits of bodily life through a higher knowledge. As a result, human life and creation itself didn’t matter.

Mary’s Assumption claims they do.

The Roman Catholic Church formally defined the dogma of the Assumption on November 1, 1959, on the Feast of All Saints, but the belief was firmly held for centuries before:

“…the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians: ‘In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death'” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 966).

Mary’s Assumption was defined in a century when human life and the planet itself were threatened. World War I ended in 1918 after four years when millions perished. World War II, ending in 1945, left the real possibility that war and nuclear weapons could bring about the destruction of the human race. The Holocaust seemed to prove the capability of human evil.

Threats to human life and creation still continue; now, we face new dangers from climate change and consequent poverty.

Mary’s Assumption is a sign of the sacredness of human life and creation itself. In her, God calls us to honor and preserve the human body and our created world for their final destiny, a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe in the resurrection of the body.

The Feast of Mary’s Assumption is the oldest and most important of Mary’s feasts in our church calendar.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“The Woman and the Dragon”
Revelation 11:19-12:17 in a prayer couplet
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

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St. Teresa Benedicta and St. Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe
Teresa Benedicta

A number of martyrs are remembered in our liturgy in mid-August. August 9, we remembered Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on today in 1942.

August 10th, we remembered Lawrence the Deacon, one of the most important martyrs of the early church.

August 14 we remember Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, who also died in Auschwitz about a year before Edith Stein, August 14, 1941.

Peter Brown, an historian of early Christianity, says it wasn’t the bravery of Christian martyrs that impressed the Romans. The Romans were a macho people; war was in their blood. They prided themselves on dying bravely.

What the Romans marveled at was how Christian martyrs approached death. They saw something beyond death. They considered themselves citizens of another world, who followed Jesus Christ in how they lived. They believed in his promise of everlasting life.

Lawrence the deacon, for example, could have escaped Roman persecution, but he wouldn’t abandon the poor of Rome in his care. Jesus said take care of the poor.

Centuries later, Maximillian Kolbe was a priest who wouldn’t abandon the vocation God gave him.

Before World War II, Kolbe was active as a Franciscan priest, promoting devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He ran a large, successful Franciscan printing enterprise in Warsaw.

In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi arrested him and a number of other Franciscans and imprisoned them for some months. They ransacked their printing place, probably hoping to intimidate them. Then, they left them go.

Instead of being intimidated, Kolbe began to house refugees from the Nazis, some of them Jews. That got him into trouble, so he was arrested again, on February 14th, 1941, and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labor.

Concentration camps like Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe and Sr.Teresa Benedicta died are the nearest thing to Calvary in modern times. More than 1500 of them were spread mostly through German occupied territories in Europe. Twenty million people died in the camps in the Second World War, 6 million were Jews. 1.3 million people went to Auschwitz; 1,1 million died there.

Five months after Kolbe entered Auschwitz, in July 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped. In reprisal, the Nazis took 10 men from the barracks to put them to death by starvation. One of them cried out that he had a wife and children who would never see him again. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place.

He was the last of the ten men to die of starvation and an injection of carbolic acid two weeks later, on August 14, 1941.

Many stories of Kolbe’s ministry among the prisoners in Auschwitz were told after his death when Auschwitz was liberated. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1983, who called him “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Age.”

He was a sign of God’s love in a place where God seemed absent.

Maximillian Kolbe’s death on the vigil of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven has been seen as a further sign. God’s hand reached into the dark horror of Calvary to save his Son. God reached out to Mary to bring her, body and soul, to heaven. God reached into Auschwitz and other camps of horror to bring suffering human beings to glory and peace.