Why is it so terrible for the servant to hide his master’s money in a hole in the ground? Isn’t he simply being cautious? But perhaps Jesus calls us to something more than caution. The servant acts as he does out of fear of his master: “I had heard you were a hard man…” The master has put his trust in his servants, placing his wealth in their hands. If the servants respond by trusting their master, they can be creative, take risks, and make the wealth grow. If they are paralysed by fear, they will achieve nothing.
God has given us many gifts and talents. They are given to us to be used for the benefit of others, and to bear fruit, not to be hidden away. Pope Francis says: “Any environment, even the most distant and impractical, can become a place where talents can bear fruit. There are no situations or places that are closed to the Christian presence and witness.” This parable calls us to open our hearts, put our trust in God, and dare to be creative with the wealth that God gives us.
Jesus’ words are a biting criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the people. They are the successors of Moses, but Jesus accuses them of hypocrisy: they do not practise what they preach. Do as they say, but not as they do! – a stinging rebuke for any preacher or teacher.
Paul describes the Christian model of leadership. Those who have a ministry of leadership should watch over the people in their care like a mother or a father. They should give themselves unselfishly, seeking no reward except for the satisfaction of seeing disciples grow in faith and commitment, as the Good News takes root in their hearts.
We are all called to take on responsibility in the life of the Church. But if we find ourselves seeking recognition for what we do, or building up our own power and importance, it’s a warning sign. We have only one Master, one Teacher and one Father. All that we do should be done for the service of God’s people, and the glory of God.
Jesus is faced with a hostile question, designed to trip him up. Which is the greatest commandment of God’s Law? He replies with the Shema, the great prayer of Israel – the words that God spoke to the people through Moses: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Love of God means giving our whole selves to him, without reserve. And loving God means loving our neighbour, too. The two commandments are really one. Our love of God is empty, unless it moves us to love our neighbours, and to treat them as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Jesus’ teaching goes even further. We may manage to love those who are like ourselves. But all of our fellow human beings are our neighbours, especially the poor and those on the edges – the stranger, the widow and the orphan. We are called to love them, too. Jesus gave his life for us, and he asks us to give ourselves for others.
The Pharisees and the Herodians get together to set a trap for Jesus. If he tells the people not to pay their taxes to Caesar, he risks being arrested by the Roman rulers as an insurrectionist. If he tells the Jews that they should pay, he will anger his followers, who hate the Roman occupation. Jesus’ reply doesn’t evade the question, but rather takes it back to the principle that is at stake. Authority should be respected, as long as it acts justly and serves the common good. But the inscription on the coin handed to Jesus would read “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, great high priest” – a blasphemous claim of divine status for the Roman Emperor. Caesar is claiming what belongs to God.
The modern world is complex and confusing. We are sometimes told that we live in a secular society, and that faith and politics don’t mix. But Christians have a responsibility to engage with political life and to put into practice the values of the Gospel. We should hold our leaders to account, seek the common good and uphold the rights of the poor and vulnerable. Some principles are more fundamental than party politics. Every person belongs to God.
The king in this Sunday’s parable is a man not to be crossed. When the invited guests fail to turn up to his son’s wedding feast, he sends soldiers to burn their city to the ground. Then everyone is invited to the banquet – the good and the bad alike. But the man who enters the feast without a wedding garment is condemned and thrown out into the darkness.
Can we really see this king as representing God? He seems to have more in common with human rulers like King Herod or the emperors of Rome – who, as Matthew knows, did dispatch troops in 70 AD to burn down the city of Jerusalem. If so, perhaps the guest without a wedding garment represents Jesus, who was silent before his accusers and who was condemned on our behalf, and thrown out into the darkness. But Jesus’ death and resurrection was the price of our salvation. Thanks to his sacrifice, we can all share in God’s banquet.
Isaiah’s story of the vineyard expresses God’s love for Israel – God’s chosen people, his pride and joy. And so, Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants becomes a powerful reproach to the chief priests and elders. They have been given responsibility for God’s vineyard, but they have not taken good care of the property entrusted to them. Instead, they have exploited their position for their own ends and persecuted the prophets who were sent as God’s messengers. And Jesus foresees that they will also kill him, the Son of God. In their response to the parable, the leaders condemn themselves out of their own mouths: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…”
The parable reminds us that we are stewards of the gifts that God has given us. For those called to roles of leadership in the Church, Christ offers us the model: leaders should be servants, who give themselves for those in their care, as Christ gives his life for us. These are the fruits that God wishes to see from the vineyard.
Today’s Gospel sees Jesus, yet again, in conflict with the religious leaders of Israel – the chief priests and elders. They were concerned when they saw Jesus enter Jerusalem, acclaimed by the people as prophet and Messiah. They were furious when he drove the merchants and money-changers out of the Temple. By his teaching, Jesus called the people to repentance and conversion, just as John the Baptist did before him. Those regarded as “sinners” – the tax collectors and prostitutes – responded with joy to the Good News brought by Christ. They knew their need for God’s mercy, and they embraced the hope that Jesus brought them. The chief priests and elders, in contrast, felt secure in their own righteous observance of the Law. Believing that they had no need of repentance, they rejected first John, and then Jesus, whose coming John had foretold. With this parable, Jesus challenges the leaders of the people. God looks at our actions, and not our words – God is pleased when we repent and live our lives in accordance with his will. The challenge that Jesus offered to the “righteous” people of his own time is a challenge to us, too – are we truly seeking to do our Father’s will?
The labourers stand in the marketplace, waiting to be hired. If they do a day’s work, they can expect to earn one denarius – just enough to support a family for a day. If they don’t find work, they and their families will go hungry today. When the landowner hires the men to work in his vineyard, he is offering them dignity and purpose, as well as a wage.
This parable of the kingdom is a parable of God’s generosity to us. God calls each one of us to work in the vineyard as disciples of Christ, helping to build the kingdom of heaven. Some disciples respond quickly and eagerly, others take longer to hear God’s call. But we don’t ‘earn’ our place in the kingdom– it’s always God’s gift. The reward is the same for every disciple, because God gives to each one the greatest gift that he could possibly give – eternal life with him. When God is so generous to us, how can we possibly be envious of one another?
Jesus’ teaching continues to challenge his disciples. Last Sunday, we heard him put into their hands the power to forgive sins – to bind and to loose. Peter’s reaction is a typically human one. How many times do I have to forgive my brother? Surely there has to be a limit? But Jesus wants to move the disciples on from a human way of thinking. The sum of money owed by the king’s servant in the parable is unimaginably large – impossible to repay. And yet the king releases him from his debt. This is how God’s mercy works. But the servant goes on to pursue one of his fellow servants, over a trivial sum. He hasn’t learned the lesson of forgiveness, but is stuck in human ways, demanding the last penny.
We can never pay back our debts to God. Every time we celebrate Mass, we remind ourselves that we are sinners, utterly dependent on God’s forgiveness. Having received mercy, we are challenged to become merciful ourselves; to allow God’s grace to transform us and to convert our hearts from hardness to compassion. Knowing that God has forgiven us, how can we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives guidance to his disciples on dealing with a dispute within the ekklesia – the church community. If a member of the community has done something wrong, the duty of his or her fellow disciples is to challenge the offender – but always in love and mutual respect. The aim is to bring about reconciliation. Even if a Christian has to be “excommunicated” from the community, this should always be done in a way that offers them a road back. These rules, set out by Jesus, probably reflect what was happening in the community for which Matthew wrote his Gospel.
If we feel that we have a grievance against someone, it may not be easy to challenge them directly. It may be easier to grumble and gossip behind their back – but such gossip can be terribly destructive. Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel challenges us to address difficulties and conflicts in a responsible way. This is what it means to love our neighbour. Jesus adds, “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” If Christ is truly among us, then our Christian communities should be places of welcome and acceptance.
Last week, Peter recognised Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, and Jesus gave him the mission of leading the Church. But in today’s Gospel, Peter is harshly rebuked as “Satan,” a stumbling block in the path of Christ. Why? Because Jesus has begun to spell out to his disciples what lies ahead of him. He knows that his betrayal, suffering and death will be the price of our salvation. Peter, like any friend, is horrified at the thought of Jesus suffering in this way. He loves Jesus and is ready to follow him anywhere – but he hesitates when he is faced with the death that Jesus must suffer. Jesus makes it very clear. This is God’s way.
Peter hesitated again when he faced suffering himself, but in the end, he did take up his own cross. Like Peter, we feel drawn to Jesus, and the hope that he offers us – but we may hesitate when we have to pay a price for our faith in Christ. But where else will we go?
Jesus’ disciples have seen him walk on water, and feed five thousand people. They have seen the crowds respond joyfully to his teaching. Perhaps they have also felt challenged and disturbed by the radical nature of Jesus’ mission – welcoming sinners and pagans, as in last Sunday’s Gospel, when he praised the Canaanite woman for her great faith (after having reproached Peter as a ‘man of little faith.’)
They must be wondering who it really is that they are following – perhaps discussing it among themselves. And now, Jesus asks them: who do you say I am? Simon gives the right answer. Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah, God’s anointed one. And he is the Son of God.
Simon is able to give this answer, not because of human wisdom, but because God has revealed the truth to him. And the consequences of his profession of faith are dramatic. Jesus gives Simon a new name – Peter, the rock. With the new name comes a new calling. Peter is being called to a role of leadership in the Church, which will continue Christ’s mission after his death and resurrection.
Jesus calls disciples, and not admirers. When we recognise him as the Son of God, he calls us to a life-changing response. Peter ultimately gave his life for Christ. We are asked to do the same.
Today, Jesus tells two parables about people who find something precious: a treasure hidden in a field, and a beautiful pearl hidden inside an oyster’s shell. Each is so valuable that the finder is prepared to “sell everything he owns” in order to have it.
The parable prompts us to ask ourselves what is precious to us. When Solomon became king of Israel, he might have asked God for wealth, or for victory in battle. Instead, Solomon asked for wisdom to lead God’s people with justice and discernment. That was the kind of king that he wanted to be. Wisdom was the treasure that Solomon desired.
Jesus wants his disciples to see that the kingdom of heaven – the truth and wisdom that he is teaching them – is more precious than anything in the world. But the kingdom comes at a price. We may be too attached to the things of the world: money, possessions, status, reputation. Christ calls us to let go of our attachments, so that we can be free to follow him, and have real treasure.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers three parables about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who finds weeds sown in his wheat field. Instead of pulling up the weeds straight away, the man tells his servants to wait and see: wait for the crops to grow, before making a judgement. There is both good and evil in the world, and Jesus tells his disciples to wait patiently, to observe with a discerning eye, and to leave the judgement to God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a strong, vigorous plant. Or the kingdom of heaven is like a small measure of yeast, that is enough to make a whole batch of bread rise. A small number of believers in a community, living out the values of the kingdom of heaven, committed to love of God and love of neighbour, can make a big difference. The Lord calls his disciples to be that tiny seed, or that small measure – living in the world, and building God’s kingdom.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus likens the “word of the kingdom” to seed sown on the ground. Some of the seeds never take root and are eaten by birds. Some fall on rocky ground, spring up too quickly and then wither away, while others are choked by thorns. But some seeds take root in good soil and produce precious crops. This would be a familiar picture to many of Jesus’ disciples, who lived by farming, and knew how much work was involved in getting their food from the soil.
The word of God’s kingdom is good news, but there are many reasons why it can fail to take root in our hearts. We can be distracted by the things of the world, or discouraged by the opposition that we face. As disciples, we are all called to sow the seed – to spread the good news of God’s kingdom, by witnessing to our faith with our lives. Sometimes our witness will be fruitful, sometimes the seed will fall on stony ground. The parable of the sower tells us not to be discouraged, but to persevere in sowing generously, as Christ himself did.
Life is not easy. We all have our “yoke” to carry: the daily challenge of earning a living or caring for a family; the struggles of illness or disability. We all, sometimes, feel weary and “overburdened,” as Jesus says in today’s Gospel.
God doesn’t watch our struggles from a distance. Jesus, the Son of God, was truly human, and he shared in all that we experience. He felt hungry, tired and discouraged. He wept at the loss of friends. The life of Jesus reveals God’s compassion for us. God is closest to us at the saddest and most difficult times in our lives, and God has a special love for the poor and powerless.
Jesus calls us to live our lives by his law of love: love of God and love of neighbour. His “yoke” is easy to carry, because he calls us to be free, truly alive and truly ourselves. His invitation is offered to everyone: Come to me.
It can be difficult to witness to our Christian faith. We may feel afraid that if others – friends, work colleagues or strangers – know that we are Christians, they will jump to conclusions about who we are and what we believe. We fear being labelled as strange or eccentric.
Jesus knew that it wouldn’t be easy for his apostles to witness to him in the world. They would face persecution and martyrdom, just as the prophet Jeremiah did, for faithfully proclaiming the word of God. But Jesus reassures the Twelve. They are loved and cherished by God. Every hair on their heads has been counted.
We witness to our faith, above all, by our lives. Christians should be known as people who act justly, and who show care and compassion to their neighbours. The Lord calls us to trust in him, to let our faith be known, and to take the risk of living bravely and generously. He is with us every step of the way.
As we move through Eastertide, we begin to look forward towards Jesus’ return to his Father, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will come as an Advocate, or champion, to strengthen and guide the Christian community. The Spirit will be the driving force of the early Church, in the face of difficulty and persecution. Jesus draws believers to share in the love that he himself shares with God the Father; “I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you.” This is the love that sustains us as Christians. But even in difficult times, the Church cannot only look inwards. Today’s first reading describes Philip going to preach among the Samaritans – the age-old enemies of the Jews – and receiving a joyful welcome, while, in the second reading, Peter urges the first Christians to be witnesses to their neighbours. The Church is a community of believers who are strengthened by the love of God to look both inwards and outwards: to love and support one another, and to bring the Good News to the whole world.
We seem to live in unsettled and troubling times. Many people struggle to find steady work and a secure home for their families. Our country, and our world, seem unstable and divided. In the Church, too, it’s a time of uncertainty and uncomfortable change. We might be tempted to try to ignore the changing world around us, or to hark back nostalgically to a past that seems better.
At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples are troubled because they know that change is coming. Judas has already gone out into the night, to betray Jesus. Peter’s denial of Christ has been foretold. The disciples realise that the Lord will not be with them for much longer, and they fear for the future.
Jesus’ response to their fears is to tell them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He will suffer and die, but his Father will raise him up, and his Resurrection will bring salvation to the world. Only by putting our trust in Jesus can we find our way through a world that seems strange and confusing. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The life of a shepherd probably isn’t very different today from what it was in the time of Christ. We might have a romantic idea of the shepherd strolling through the fields with his flock, but in reality, it’s a hard and exhausting job. The shepherd is out in all weathers, caring for the sheep and keeping them safe from danger.
Jesus describes himself as a good shepherd, who knows his sheep, and calls them one by one. Unlike the leaders of Israel in his own time, who exploited their positions for their own power and advantage, Jesus’ concern is for the sheep – his disciples. His desire is for the sheep to have life to the full.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when the Church prays for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Pope Francis says in his message for today, “The People of God need to be guided by pastors whose lives are spent in service to the Gospel.” The pastors and ministers of the Church are called to model themselves on Christ, the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and keeps them safe. Let us pray for many young people to respond to the challenging call of Christ.