Proper 28, Year A: Matthew 25:14-30: Invest in Love

Love

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 28, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this parable, Jesus describes God’s kingdom as like a man who leaves on a trip and before he goes he leaves his servants in charge. He gives them each different amounts of money and they each responded differently. Some invest it but one just digs a hole and leaves his master’s money in a hole. When the master comes home he calls in his servants to see what they did with his money. he’s pleased with those who increased it, but he’s really angry at the one who only buried the money he was given. He takes money from that one and gives it to the one who made the most money.  The master says,   Everyone who uses what they have will get more. They will have much more than they need. But people who do not use what they have will have everything taken away from them.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

The master in this parable is really giving very large amounts of money to these servants (not for their own use but to keep safe for him and also to increase for him). It’s a big responsibility for each of them. Those who took the money and invested it were given even larger sums of money–so the reward was actually more responsibility to use it wisely. The one who hid the money was afraid to even attempt to invest it–his fear reminds me of Christians who hide away in their own church communities and don’t step out in faith to invest God’s love in the larger world to grow it more. God will come back and say, “What did you do with what I gave you?” and they can only look around at their own small world that they haven’t expanded. We have to step out in faith and use God’s love to change the world, not only to dig a hole and bury it in fear of his wrath. God’s love is meant to be shared, and then it will only grow.

 

 

 

 

Proper 27, Year A: Matthew 25:1-13: Be Ready and in Relationship

Parable of the Ten Virgins

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 27, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s parable is about something that would have been more easily understood at the time (and in some other cultures today). The bridesmaids would all wait at home with the bride for the bridegroom and his own companions to come and pick them all up to take them to the place of the wedding. He would be busy making arrangements and he might be late in coming, so they might have to wait some time. The foolish bridesmaids are unprepared and didn’t bring extra lamp oil (they would have had little lamps that needed extra oil for a long wait). Finally the bridegroom is on his way and they all gather up their lamps to go. The wise bridesmaids have enough for their own lamps (because they were prepared and ready) but none to spare, so when the foolish girls ask them for some, the wise ones advise them to go buy more. But when they are out buying oil, they miss the arrival of the bridegroom. They can’t even get into the feast and are shamed for their foolishness.

 

Jesus finishes his story by saying, “So always be ready. You don’t know the day or the time when the Son of Man will come.” So we have to be ready for Jesus at all times–so often we are distracted by the world around us and our own troubles and not giving our live in love to Jesus and to others. Each of us is responsible for our own relationship with God and our readiness, even if we are also in community within a church. 

All Saints’ Day, Year A: Matthew 5:1-12: Blessings

The Sermon On The Mount (The Beatitudes), IsraelYou can see all the lectionary readings for the All Saints’ Day, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This section of scripture is usually called the “Beatitudes,” which means “statements of blessing” (probably loosely translated). Beatitudes were a sort of literary form in Judaism–proclamation of what behavior drew blessings. Another example is in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked”, etc. 

Jesus goes up and sits on a hill and speaks to the people. I’m just going to share here the blessings here straight from the Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible:

Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need.
    God’s kingdom belongs to them.
Great blessings belong to those who are sad now.
    God will comfort them.
Great blessings belong to those who are humble.
    They will be given the land God promised.
Great blessings belong to those who want to do right more than anything else.
    God will fully satisfy them.
Great blessings belong to those who show mercy to others.
    Mercy will be given to them.
Great blessings belong to those whose thoughts are pure.
    They will be with God.
Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace.
    God will call them his sons and daughters.
Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right.
    God’s kingdom belongs to them.
Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace.
    God will call them his sons and daughters.
Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right.
    God’s kingdom belongs to them.

I think it’s worthwhile to meditate on each of these in turn for some time. So many of us who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord fail to work to bring peace or be humble. So many of us want many other things besides doing right. So many of us do not strive to show mercy or to make sure our nation as a whole is merciful rather than vengeful. I like to read these in this version for a little way of seeing them in a new light. God will bless us if our hearts are right–maybe because right hearts can make the world a better place.

Proper 25, Year A: Matthew 22: 34-46: Commanded to Love

Jesus Christ mosaic icon

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 25, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The Pharisees are questioning Jesus again. This time an expert in the Law of Moses asks Jesus this: “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

If this was meant to be a trick question, Jesus answered it well. And I think it’s an important lesson for Christians today–such a succinct answer for how we should live. Love God and love others. Love in this case is not some mushy feeling but an unconditional love and an action. You have to choose to live that love–it’s not just the emotion of a moment. It takes work and practice. Love does not always come easily. We must make it a part of every aspect of our lives as much as possible.

Next, Jesus asks them a tricky question in return: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

They give the accepted answer: “The Messiah is the Son of David.”

So Jesus says,

“Then why did David call him ‘Lord’? David was speaking by the power of the Spirit. He said,

‘The Lord God said to my Lord:
Sit by me at my right side,
    and I will put your enemies under your control.’

David calls the Messiah ‘Lord.’ So how can he be David’s son?”

He is quoting from a Psalm here, and the Psalms are generally believed to be written by David. The Pharisees have no answer for his puzzling question, so they were not brave enough after that to ask him any more challenging questions.

 

I love how Jesus turns the tables on them and gives them their own theological challenge–except in their case they have no answer. He challenges them to contemplate the Messiah in a new way–as someone like David but also greater than David. They don’t know what to make of it.

Proper 24, Year A: Matthew 22:15-22: Trick Question

Jesus and the tax coin - lithography

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 24, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The Pharisees are again plotting against Jesus. They make a new plan to trap him into saying something wrong and send some men to question him–this time some are fellow Pharisees and some are Herodians. For background, the Pharisees were nationalists who resented the rule of Rome, but Herodians supported Herod, who was ruling in the name of Rome. So really these are two groups that don’t agree coming after Jesus together. Their planned trap seems to be to get Jesus to choose a side and alienate one or the other, perhaps enough to get him arrested.

Their question is, “Teacher, we know you are an honest man. We know you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what others think about you. All people are the same to you.So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22: 16b-17, Easy-to-Read Version). It’s such a sneaky, political move–starting with flattery and leading up to the gotcha question. If Jesus says you should pay taxes to Caesar, (agreeing with the Herodians), the Pharisees will denounce him to the people and probably say he’s a blasphemer, since part of the people’s horror of Caesar is that he’s set up as a god and even called divine on the coins. If Jesus says you should not pay taxes, the Herodians would be angry and report him to the governor to be tried for treason. Of course, he sees right through them to their motives. 

“You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me saying something wrong? Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” They showed Jesus a silver coin. Then he asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? And whose name is written on the coin?”

They answered, “It is Caesar’s picture and Caesar’s name.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

When they heard what Jesus said, they were amazed. They left him and went away.

(Matthew 22: 18b-22, Easy-to-Read Version)

I love this. Jesus is so brilliant. He doesn’t give them what he wants. He again first responds with another question, as he does so often in these exchanges. Then he refuses to give into the trick question and gives an amazing response. He’s not saying they shouldn’t pay taxes, but he avoids the pitfall of endorsing Caesar’s claim to divinity in his separation of Caesar from God. In my head I picture him coolly flipping the coin back at whoever handed it to him and leaving them with mouths hanging open.

Proper 23, Year A: Matthew 22:1-14: Extending the Invitation

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 23, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This week’s parable is a difficult one. In this story Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast given by a king for his son. He sent out invitations and when it was time for the feast, he sent his servants out to bring the invitees, but the invited people refused to come.  So the king sent more servants, but the people still refused to come. Some even attacked the servants sent to ask them to come–beating them and killing them. So the king was angry and sent his army to kill those who had killed his servants. This is some mess of an invitation at this point.

So the king sends servants out again, this time to bring everyone they see–anyone out on the streets, good, bad, anyone. So they filled the feast with guests of all kinds.

Then the king saw a man not dressed in his wedding clothes (at that time there was a tradition of the host providing special clothes to guests for the wedding, so this guest had refused to comply even when handed the clothing to wear). The king had the man thrown out into the darkness.

Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Many people are invited. But only a few are chosen.”

Wow, that’s some story. Since Jesus specifically says this is like God’s kingdom, the king is obviously God, and it seems those who refuse to attend the feast are like the religious leaders who at that time were rejecting Jesus and plotting against him–or all people who turn against God’s kingdom. So God extends the invitation to all–which is a trend in the Bible–it moves from exclusivity to inclusivity over the arc of history. God’s kingdom expands that invitation to everyone, beyond the original descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus makes clear how far that invitation extends. And the wedding guest who does not wear his proper clothes is like someone who gives lip service to being a follower of Jesus, but does not truly follow the way of Christ.

This parable can seem harsh, but it’s also hopeful in that so many are invited to the feast, no matter who they are.

Proper 22, Year A: Matthew 21:33-46: God’s Vineyard

Vineyards in autumn harvest

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 22, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus again has a parable for his listeners. In this parable, a man owns a vineyard. He prepares it with a wall and a hole for a winepress. He builds a tower on it. Then he leases the land to farmers and leaves town. When it’s time to pick the grapes, he sends servants for his share of the grapes on his own land.

As it turns out, the wicked farmers grab the servants, beating one, and killing two others. So the man sends more servants to the farmers, but the farmers do the same thing. Finally he sends his own son, thinking they will have more respect for his son than his servants.

But the farmers see the son and think that if they kill the son, the vineyard will be theirs, since he is the heir to the vineyard. So they kill the owner’s son as well.

Jesus asks his listeners, “So what will the owner of the vineyard do to these farmers when he comes?”

The leaders and priests say that he will kill the evil men and lease his land to other farmers, who will give him his fair share as promised. 

Then this:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you have read this in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders refused to accept
    became the cornerstone.
The Lord did this,
    and it is wonderful to us.’ 

“So I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you. It will be given to people who do what God wants in his kingdom. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken. And it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Matthew 21: 42-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

When the leaders heard all this, they knew Jesus was talking about them and they wanted to find a way to arrest him. But they were afraid because the people believed that Jesus was a real prophet.

In this parable, I think the landowner is God and the vineyard is the Kingdom of God. The religious leaders are the faithless and murderous farmers. The servants God sends are the prophets and the son is, of course, Jesus. It’s a simple allegory of the history of God sending prophets who are mistreated, until he sends even his own son. Of course, the leaders do not take it to heart when Jesus basically tells them that they will kill him and then be crushed. They go from this to looking for a way to arrest him. They will not learn. Others (the apostles and all of us who follow them) will experience the Kingdom of God, not these religious leaders who refuse to listen to Jesus.

Proper 21, Year A: Matthew 21:23-32: A Question

Jesus portrait on fresco of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, from 4th century in Mtskheta, Georgia. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem. While Jesus is walking in the Temple area, some religious leaders come up to him and ask him what authority he has to do these things (these things meaning his main activities of teaching and healing and forgiving).

As he so often does, Jesus responds to a question with a question. There’s a nice teaching tip for teachers out there–challenge your students with a question in response. It’s what my favorite professor often did.

“I will ask you a question too. If you answer me, then I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Tell me: When John baptized people, did his authority come from God, or was it only from other people?” 

Matthew 21:24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The leaders didn’t know how to respond. They knew if they said that John’s authority was from God, he would ask why they didn’t believe John, but if they claimed it wasn’t from God, the people would be angry because they revered John.

Tricky question, so they said they didn’t know.

So Jesus tells them that he won’t tell them who gave him the authority.

 

Jesus follows this up with another vineyard parable. This one has a vineyard owner with two sons. He tells one to go and work in the vineyard. At first he refuses to go work, but later he goes. Then he tells his other son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says he will go work, but he doesn’t go. Jesus asks which of the sons obeyed their father. The religious leaders responded that it was the first son.

Then Jesus slams him with some hard truth. (This is the kind of story that really makes me love Jesus.)

“The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.” 

Matthew 20: 31b-32 (Easy-to-Read Version)

 

Jesus is comparing them to the outcasts of their society. They think they are the most correct and religious, but they are actually worse than the worst. In fact, those they think are the worst are closer to God than they are, because they believed in John and repented, while the leaders would not change.
How is this relevant to us today? Don’t be caught up in your religious trappings and believing your way is the best way. Be open with your heart and open to change from God.

Proper 20, Year A: Matthew 20:1-16: The Last First

Vineyards on a hill overlooking the Mosel river

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 20, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires people to work in his vineyard.

He hires some first thing in the morning, some more around lunchtime, and more in the late afternoon. Then when the day is done, he has them line up to be paid, starting with those hired last. He ends up paying them all the same amount, even those who had only worked a short time.  It should come as no surprise that those who started first thing in the morning complained that they were paid no more than those who worked only an hour. But the landowner insists he is being fair–he paid them exactly what he had offered them when he hired them in the morning. He says he can do what he wants with his money and they shouldn’t be jealous because of his generosity.

Jesus ends by saying, “So those who are last now will be first in the future. And those who are first now will be last in the future.”

This story seems pretty easy to understand. God’s grace extends to those who do very little to “earn” it (that’s why it’s grace) as well as to those who work day and night to serve him. The true follower of Christ does not seek to be first but serves in love. The grumpy first-comers probably represent the religious leaders who opposed Jesus and didn’t understand grace. They promoted themselves and their own goodness, failing to comprehend the love of God extending to the lowest people.

May we spend our days serving and not seeking to be first.

Proper 18, Year A: Matthew 18:15-20: Community and Conflict

Paper cutouts of colorful people holding hands in a circle

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 18, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This is some very practical teaching about community from Jesus. The Kingdom of God is all about being in relationship with God and with others.

Here’s a great breakdown from a lesson found on the Episcopal Digital Network:

Remember the steps to Conflict Resolution:

  • Step One: Go directly to that person.
    • Remember the Greatest Commandment – Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor as yourself.
    • The Golden Rule – treat others how you would want to be treated.
    • Be Respectful and responsible.
  • Step Two: Bring along another person or two.
  • Step Three: Bring the situation to the church (or this may mean to your school, work, or community depending on the situation.)
  • Step Four: Walk away from the situation and take a breather. Continue tocommunicate with the person and when they are ready to come into the community, welcome them.

We can use this kind of advice in a lot of situations, not only within church. I have been in situations where someone had a problem with me or what I was doing, but instead of coming to me with their concern, they seemed to tell other people and it got back to me. I admittedly can think of situations where I complained about another person’s actions without confronting them about it. It’s good to remember that the best choice is to talk directly to the person first (unless they are physically abusive and you need protection from them–in which case you should seek help and not confront someone alone).

 

The Kingdom of God is the community of God–people working together to love their neighbors as themselves.