Sometimes it can be helpful to return to first principles and ponder more deeply about the purpose and deepest nature of things like the Church. Thankfully our readings today provide us with this opportunity. After the Second Vatican Council, reflection upon the nature of the church has revealed that the reality of the church can be expressed in three closely related terms which describe her purpose and pastoral reality: kerygma-martyria; leitourgia and diakonia. For example, Emeritus Pope Benedict in his first Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (2005) expresses the reality of the church is this way (n. 25):
The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.
The first reading (Exodus 22:20-26) expresses the call of the community to share in the compassion of the Lord for the poor and vulnerable (diakonia): Foreigners, widows and orphans. The second reading is an example or the fruit of the kerygma – when the Gospel is proclaimed, then people are set free from all manner of idols to become servants of the rel and living God (I Thessalonians 1:5-10). Finally the Gospel, which allows the rabbi Jesus to provide his answer to the commonly addressed question: which of the 613 mitzva / commandments is the most important and which can help to provide a summation of all that is important in the law and the prophets. In answer, Jesus quotes first from the greatest prayer text of Israel, the Shema, to declare that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind is the greatest and first commandment; but the second is also essential: to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
Sunday 30, in Year A. Radio recording also available.
In trying to understand the bible, for me, one of the most important questions to ask about any particular passage is – what is the context? Where does this passage fit within (for example) the ministry of Jesus and in this case – the Gospel of Matthew. Once we do this, it should become quickly clear that the primary interest of Jesus in giving the reply to this unlikely coalition force of the Pharisees and the Herodians is not to answer for all time the question of the proper relationship between the church and the state. Although many more conservative church leaders have used this text in this way, it should be clear that in these final days before his arrest Jesus is dealing with the situations that are being presented to him. The leaders of the Pharisees send some of their disciples with some Herodians – the pro-Roman supporters of King Herod. Since the Pharisees are mostly made up of ordinary and sincere followers of the Torah who would have rejected the Roman rule and authority and would certainly have opposed the hated additional tax that Rome had imposed. The question that is put to Jesus is very clever and brilliant as such things go. Jesus is set up for a fall if he answers this badly, since to say yes – it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor would have put him offside with the majority of the population who hated the tax; but to say no would make him liable to accusations of treason and his immediate arrest by the Romans would have been inevitable. So he asked for one of the denarius coins that were used to pay the tax. These Roman issued coins were forbidden from being in the temple area, because they were considered to be clearly blasphemous and idolatrous, containing as they did the image of the emperor and the title which claimed that he was divine and the high priest. Such coins should have been exchanged outside the temple for the Jewish equivalent which did not contain such images. In declaring that we must ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are God’s’ Jesus reminds us that in fact all things properly belong to God: all of our lives and all that we possess are gifts that we have received from the Lord.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (9m12s)
Sunday 29, Year A. Matthew 22:15-22
Another strange parable in a series of strange parables. The parable that Jesus tells about a king throwing a huge wedding feast takes on a strange form in the Gospel of Matthew – especially when it has the additions that are unique in this gospel – namely the king taking the time out in the middle of the wedding feast (with all of this abundant food already sitting there on the tables) to go off and wage war against those who failed to come to the banquet – and then the four verse addition that is not found in Luke’s version of this parable (but is found in the Gospel of Thomas) about the king throwing out a wedding guest who had come in off the street because he was not wearing a wedding gown. Both elements are quite bizarre and many have struggled to make sense of them over the years. As in the previous two parables in this three-parable set directed very pointedly against the religious leaders of Israel after Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem only a few days before he is arrested and tried by these same leaders – it seems that Jesus needs to speak very loudly and directly to these leaders because they are just not getting it. They don’t understand how tense the political situation has become and how much is at risk if they continue to lead Israel down the same path of violence and rebellion. God in Jesus continues to call his people back inside the wedding celebration. He longs for us to celebrate with him and especially to be ready to party with him in the banquet at the conclusion of all things.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (12 min)
Sunday 28, Year A. Matthew 22:1-14
The homily from Dawid and Ha Wojcik’s wedding is also available here.
One of the things about spending the first half of September walking 320km across Spain was that it forced you to slow right down. Literally. Now that I’m home again, it can be tempting to revert back to the usual pace of life and fill every spare moment with the usual distractions. But at least for those 14 days our world was filled with much simpler things. Like walking. And feeling pain. And being hot. And thirsty. And hungry. And tired. And then towards the end of the journey, once we had arrived in Galicia – wet. Very wet in fact. But when you take a whole day to walk from one small village to another – the distance that you will probably cover in your car in 15-20 minutes – you tend to notice so much more of the landscape as it unfolds around you. You notice the dirt. And the waterways. The crops and the fruit. You especially notice any fruit that is hanging over the path of the Camino itself – especially if it looks ripe and accessible and to not be in someone’s property. All of this stuff begins to matter. Which also means that the parables that Jesus tells about vineyards and fences and fruit begin to jump out a lot more from the page. Especially because we were walking during late summer, which is just before most of the crops would be harvested and the fields were full of fruit and anticipation.
The vineyard was one of the favourite images that the prophets and psalmists used to describe the relationship of the people of God with the Lord. He wanted us to share in his bounty and his goodness and for us to enjoy a rich and full life. But when it came time for the harvest, he did expect for us to remember that we were the worker tenants and not the owners of the vineyard. The fruit belongs to him – not to us. He is looking for partners in his beautiful work of renewing creation. If the current tenants are not worthy of this challenge, then he will take away the vineyard from our control and give it to others who will return the blessings back to the Lord in worship, and acts of compassion, justice, love and grace. A huge and challenging parable.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’29”)
Sunday 27, Year A, Season of the Year