Friends, I Have Done You No Injustice

25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Gospel of St. Matthew 20:1-16

Within today’s readings there are a couple familiar phrases.  The first, found in Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord,” and the second, from the Gospel of Matthew “The last will be first and the first will be last” have, to some degree, become platitudes, or clichés in today’s Christian culture.  These phrases, and those like them, are statements found in or extrapolated from the word of God and are often used in the wrong context and no longer accurately represent the truths which they contain.  Phrases such as these are often a conversation ender, a vocalized exclamation point, signaling that it is time to talk about something else.

In case you need a bit more context, here are a few more examples of these Christian clichés or platitudes.

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  A statement often used to explain away the frustration and disappointment when something does not go our way.

Or “Let go and let God.”  Again, a statement intended to encourage one not to be anxious.

“Be not afraid!”  A phrase popularized by St. John Paul II, that is now used so often it has become a meme on social media.

Please understand, I am in no way diminishing the truths contained in each of these statements.  Nor am I attempting to lessen the importance of their meaning.  I am simply pointing out that as followers of Christ we have a habit of misusing statement about the nature and promises of God that their significance and meaning are lost and inconsequential.  We have turned them into ornaments, as if they are the finishing touches on a Christmas tree, instead of profound and meaningful insights into the nature of God.

Today’s Gospel could be easily categorized as a cliché or platitude.  We could… just categorize today’s Gospel as a simple reminder that salvation is intended for all.  Or… as a lesson that late comers to the faith are as welcome as those who have been baptized while yet in the cradle.  Though these truths of God are evident, clear, and relevant there are additional, even dare I say, grander truths of God and his nature that are presented to us in today’s Gospel reading.

We are told, “a landowner… went out to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  What is notable here is that the task of hiring laborers was typically reserved for a foreman or steward, individuals who were trusted to oversee the work and the laborers.  Yet, in this parable Jesus emphasizes that the landowner himself went out, multiple times in the day, to the public spaces seeking laborers.

The landowner, as an image of God, is constantly and consistently seeking and calling all of humanity to himself.  He is not satisfied with just a few, rather, he seeks to fulfill his desire for the salvation of all humankind.  God is so in love with all of humanity, that he came to earth, revealed himself, manifesting his desire for the salvation of all.  As the landowner who spends his day going to the marketplaces, so too God is actively seeking each and every one of us.

Another truth about God revealed to us in this Gospel is revealed as the landowner assures those whom he has called that he is just.

God is not a cheater.  He does not deal with humankind unfairly.  He keeps his promises, he honors his word, he shows no preference, and holds none in greater esteem.  Our choice in responding to his call for salvation is not weighed, measured, or balanced on scales.  Instead, our response to God‘s call is rewarded in full as we are granted full membership into the family of God with all privileges and honors due as his chosen people.

Finally, we are presented with another truth of God as portrayed through the landowner, and that is God’s justice is manifested in his mercy.  As those who answered God’s call in the eleventh hour of the day so too were those who responded earlier in the day all beneficiaries of the mercy of God.  God as the creator and sustainer of all things is free to administer his generosity as he determines, and as we have already established, he is a just God, his generosity, and therefore his mercy, is also his justice.

So often we separate these to truths of God.  We separate his justice from his mercy and deem them to be in opposition, when in fact they are the same.  Both working in concert to bring all of humanity to salvation.

We must ask ourselves; do we view the promotions at work, the negative medical tests, the removal of obstacles, or the miraculous healings as evidence of God’s mercy?  Do we interpret rejections, failures, difficulties, and illness as evidence of God’s judgement?

Or, rather, should we consider all that this life offers; reward, consequence, obstacle, or tragedy as evidence of the landowner, our just and merciful God, calling us to deeper love with both him and our neighbor?

Our challenge this day is to move our faith beyond platitudes and clichés.  To grow deeper in our understanding of God and the truths he has revealed to us.  We must refuse to confuse faith formation with meaningless ornamental clichés and platitudes.

My brothers and sisters, bluntly speaking, God is calling us beyond the false ideal that temporal reward and/or suffering are evidence of God’s love and concern or disdain for his people.  He has called us to labor in his vineyard.  Though may it be through the heat of day, or through trial and discomfort, his promise remains steadfast and true, when he states, “Friend, I have done you no injustice.”

Much Like a Lemon Meringue Pie

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. John 8:1-11

Today’s Gospel in John is layered, intricate, and laced with strategically placed subtleties of truth, mercy, and calls to obedience. When the ingredients of this Gospel are mixed with the current realities of our lives, both personal and communal, it is any wonder that the resulting confectionary, much like a lemon meringue pie, is a startling combination of sour and sweet.

The sour of individuals who, in the name of righteousness, were willing to destroy human life. The sour of the sin of a woman condemned to bear the consequence of her transgression, as well as the transgression of the one who was not there. The sour of the law that required death and was manipulated in order to obscure mercy. And finally, the sour in the condemnation and self-righteous vindication on full display in the words, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”

The sweetness of this Gospel is recognized in the patience of Jesus as he knelt and deliberately drew his finger through the dirt. The sweetness of God’s justice when Jesus calls all to examine themselves before casting judgement on another. And finally, the sweetness of mercy. The mercy that was present in the most intimate of moment between the Redeemer and the redeemed when Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Is there a reason why the Pharisees brought before him this particular woman? Why did they drag this woman before Jesus as the instrument of their test?

According to John the Evangelist the words of the lawyers were very specific when they challenged Jesus. They stated, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” The law did indeed call for death of those caught in the act of adultery. As it states in Book of Leviticus, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” Yet where is the man? Why was he not brought before Jesus to stand in judgement? We do not know the answer nor is it safe to assume, except that the Pharisees were not interested in justice only in the entrapment of Jesus.

Regardless, I call your attention to the specific language of the Pharisees. The law to which the Pharisees referenced was not just a sentence to death but it was specific to the means of death; death by stoning. This Law of Moses was applied to a betrothed virgin. Only a betrothed virgins caught in the act of committing adultery were to be stoned.

Is it by accident that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of the same transgression of which his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary herself stood once accused?

The Pharisees were hoping to discredit Jesus. To demonstrate that his words, his miracles, and his message of salvation were nothing more than the concoction of a deranged itinerant preacher. Instead, Jesus turned the tables and used their own self-righteousness and their perversion of the law and caused them to declare themselves unworthy of condemning another.

When we take the truths presented in this Gospel and attempt to find application for them in our modern-day lives, we experience no shortage of examples. We are able to call out the names of priests and bishops whose secret sins have been so publicly and rightly exposed. We can point fingers at governments, institutions, and corporate entities who have been called to justice for the atrocities and evils inflicted upon humanity in the name of an agenda, cause, or profit. We can even describe the faces of individuals, whom we know and call friends, whose sin has wounded, caused scandal, and created division and strife in our lives and even in our church. There are no shortage of examples of personal or corporate sin in this world… in our nation… in our community… in our church… and, in our own homes.

We have no choice but to respond to the sin around us, whether it be in our community, in our church, or in our own home. However, we must not respond to that sin in the manner of the Pharisees. We cannot cast our fellow brothers and sisters into judgement and ignore the mercy which we ourselves have so readily received. Yes, we must always be calling sinners to repentance and we too must always be seeking repentance.

We judge, we condemn, and we get angry with those who openly and visibly engage in sin. But Jesus did not. He called the woman to repentance and offered his mercy and admonished her to sin no more. Are you? Are you offering mercy instead of judgement? Are you condemning and dismissing or are you forgiving and inviting the sinner into your home and into your church?

As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter let us take this moment to examine ourselves in the light of today’s Gospel. In the sour and sweet reality of living for Christ in a world that does not recognize him. May we respond to one another and to the sin of this world with kindness and mercy and me we endeavor to obey the words of Jesus, “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.”

The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, and not just in Christian circles. There are numerous cultural examples of this parable being re-told throughout history and in many different cultural mediums. Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, the popular movie Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and even the comic book heroes turned movie franchises, Iron Man and Bat Man, all capitalize on the theme of a rebellious child leaving home and reaping the consequences of the sins of pride and selfishness, then returning home in hopes of forgiveness and redemption. These are only a few examples of the continuous cultural relevance and meaning found in the themes presented in this parable.

As parents we read this parable seeking comfort and hope anticipating the return of our own prodigal children. As children, we find the constant and never wavering love of the Father to be a beacon calling us back home, trusting that we too will be forgiven and restored, in spite of our fall. As the faithful, we quietly examine ourselves in the example of the elder son hoping that we have not exchanged our relationship with the Father for orthodoxy and religiosity. And, as fellow pilgrims on this journey, we come together in solidarity knowing that we are not alone, nor are we unique, because we all have found ourselves playing the roles of rebellion and self-righteous indignation in this continuing story of total dependence upon the love and the inexhaustible mercy of God.

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, speaks to all of us regardless of our vocation, title, or position.

I confess to you today my sisters and brothers in Christ, that I am struggling. Struggling to resist the discouragement associated with disappointment. The disappointment that comes from failing expectations. Expectations, either rightly or wrongly, that influence my thoughts and govern my behavior. Thoughts and behaviors that neither reflect the man that I am seeking to be nor reflect my hope in others in becoming what I hope they should be.

Am I alone in my discouragement? I am not. And neither are you.

We must push on. We must never cease in becoming what God wishes us to be; his children in perfect and holy communion with him. Today’s Gospel is a parable of hope. Hope that regardless of how low we have fallen, or how far we have fled, or how cold our hearts have become that redemption and restoration are ever present and available to those who are willing to receive it.

May our disappointment be replaced with resolve. May our failures result in opportunity. May our expectations be rooted in love, and may our actions be expressed in mercy and kindness.  May our sin bring us to the cross of Jesus, and may our orthodoxy never replace our relationship.

This 4th Sunday of Lent, as we peer ahead to the joy and celebration of Easter, let us find encouragement in the words of the father in the parable, “we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

I was in high school, a junior I think…

I was in high school, a junior I think, and I was driving back to school after lunch. I came to an intersection and the vehicle I was driving suddenly lost traction

Second Sunday of Easter
Divine Mercy Sunday
Gospel of John 20:19-31

Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, was declared by the Holy Church on May 5, 2000, to henceforth be ever known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Today’s Gospel, read every Second Sunday of Easter, describes the event during which Jesus entrusted to the Church his authority to forgive sins. We also read about the Apostle Thomas, the one who doubted, and learn that everyone, including the Apostles, are in need of God’s mercy.

I was in high school, a junior I think, and I was driving back to school after lunch. I came to an intersection and the vehicle I was driving suddenly lost traction (it was mid-January in Wyoming and the road conditions were icy) and slid into the intersection colliding with another vehicle. No one was physically injured in the accident; not me, the passenger riding with me, or the old man driving the 1972 Jeep J-series pickup…it was pink. Not bright pink, but like red paint sprayed over gray primer pink…and it was smooshed. The vehicle I was driving, a 1984 Ford F-150, 4×4, two-toned blue, pickup with a white topper shell had sustained significant damage to the grill, front bumper, and left front quarter panel; so much so that it was impossible to open the driver’s side door. I vividly remember this day and the damage to this pick up, because it was my dad’s pickup, and I was “technically” not supposed to be driving it.

My dad worked out of town during the week and his company supplied him with a “work truck.” His work truck had tool boxes, fuel tanks, and was primarily used for work. His personal truck, the 1984 Ford F-150, 4×4, two-toned blue, pickup with a white topper shell was not used for work. In fact, this truck was not to be used for anything other than, of course, for whatever my father wanted to use it.

The concepts of ownership and authority made sense to me at that time… I am sure… because I had spent the two previous summers working to earn enough money in order purchase my very first car; a 1981 Mid-Night Blue Ford Mustang. A car, by-the-way, which at the time of this incident was safely parked in the driveway of my father’s house because, “Mustang’s aren’t that good in the snow and the pick-up had 4-wheel drive.”

So, like I said, the concepts of ownership, authority, respect, and the common courtesy of asking someone’s permission before borrowing their stuff had to have been concepts that I understood and practiced, even at the age of seventeen. But on that day, they weren’t and I didn’t. I borrowed my dad’s pickup without his permission. I denied his authority, disobeyed his rule, and rationalized and justified why it was perfectly ok for me to do the wrong thing.

The accident, I remind you occurred on a school day, during lunch, and I had to go back to school. I managed to get the damaged pickup back to my father’s home, where I parked it in the garage, and then got into my car and drove back to school. Thinking that I had at least two days to prepare for the return of my father I went back to school relatively confident that I had a couple days before I would receive consequences for my disobedience… and, at the very least, I had a good story to tell.

Later that evening… as I drove up to the house, late because I had basketball practice, and it was dark, very dark, I noticed my father’s work truck sitting in the driveway. I got out of my car and through the kitchen window I saw my father, still wearing his work clothes, sitting at the kitchen table talking to my mother. It was at that moment I seriously considered running away and joining the carnival. I was convinced that whatever fate, fortune, or failure that awaited me as a carney would be far better than whatever was waiting for me on the other side of that door.

I want to be clear. My father is not, nor was he ever, an abusive man. The dread and apprehension that I felt that evening was not a result of the fear of my father; rather, it was because I knew I had disappointed him. I had disobeyed him, taken his hard-work for granted, and denied his authority. In essence, much like Thomas, I denied the position and authority of my father, and acted upon the belief that my own set of rules and perceptions of the world in which I lived, were all that mattered.

I walked into the house, put my basketball stuff away, came back into the kitchen where my parents were still sitting, and stood looking down at the linoleum floor. My father, standing up from his chair, said, “Well, should we go out and look at it?” I nodded and followed my father out the door.

Our garage sits on the back of the property and it is about a 25’ walk from the back porch of the house to the door of the garage. It was a quiet walk for there was no need to say anything. We both knew why we were out there. We got to the garage, turned on the light, and I promise you that somebody must have entered that garage while I was at school and beat that truck with a sledge hammer. Because that 1984 Ford F-150, 4×4, two-toned blue pickup with a white topper shell looked way worse than it did when I parked it 6 hours earlier. I didn’t say anything.

My father, still looking at his damaged pickup, asked, “Nobody got hurt…right?”.

“Yeah.” I answered, “Nobody got hurt.”

We stood there for a few minutes looking at the damage caused and the words I had spoken earlier that day came to my mind as if they were being played over the radio of that 1984 Ford F-150, two-toned blue pickup with a white topper shell. In that period of silence, I heard the rationalizations and justifications that perpetuated my disobedience.

My father then sighed which caused me to come back to reality, and for the first time that evening I looked my father in his eyes, and he said, “Let’s go back inside and have dinner.” He added, “You will get that to the body shop tomorrow, so we can get an estimate.” I told him I would, and I followed him back to the house.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.