"Life is not so much beginnings and endings as it is middles, middles that don't measure up -- and our happiness depends on how we come to terms with the pale reflections of our dreams. (Paul D. Zimmerman, "Middles and Muddles," review of film "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Newsweek, September 27, 1971, 106)

Gospel Notes

Gospel for the Twenty Fifth Sunday (24 September 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

General

This parable is unique to Matthew. It explicates the preceding verse: “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (19:30). In fact that very saying is repeated at the end of the parable (20:16). This saying indicates a theme common to the Synoptic Gospels: Jesus reaches out to those on the margins. Thus Matthew 11:19 has already told us “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” God’s incalculable and incomprehensible mercy seems to be the focus in this parable. Money and hours and the law pertaining to such things are all calculable and comprehensible. Mercy is of a different order. There is no way of quantifying that. It has a logic of its own. “As the heavens are high above the earth so great is his hesed (mercy, steadfast love) for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).

Specific

the kingdom of heaven is like: The reference is to the dynamic in the story, not just the landowner.

vineyard: Central to the story is the symbol of the vineyard. The symbol is used again by Matthew 21:33-44 in the parable of the wicked husbandman. The symbol is used more than once in the Bible to refer to Israel – for example, Isaiah 5:1-7: “Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes ....” etc. The use of this symbol may be found also in Hosea 10:1, Jeremiah 2:21; 5:10; 6:9 & 12:10, Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:3-10; 19:10-14.

went out early in the morning to hire laborers: This is a statement of accepted practice. Jesus’ listeners would have been very familiar with this practice. Everything in this story is thoroughly comprehensible except the settling of accounts. This landowner represents something very special. Leon Morris reflects on the lesson the disciples might have received here: “Peter and the rest of the Twelve have indeed left all for Christ, but they must not think that their priority in time gives them an overwhelming advantage. The new parable impresses these lessons, but adds an even more important one—God acts toward us in sheer grace. There is no question of salvation being an arithmetical process, adding up the good deeds and the bad ones and coming out with salvation or loss according to whether the balance is on the credit or debit side. That is not the way to understand the dealings of a gracious God.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992, 498-499.)

friend: The landowner addresses the complainant in a very respectful manner. The Greek noun – Hetaire, meaning “friend” or “comrade” – is used similarly by Matthew in the parable of the wedding guests – 22:12 and when Jesus greets Judas in the garden – 26:50.

Reflection

The concept of the “seven deadly sins” is derived from the teachings of one of the great spiritual guides of the fourth century – Evagrius of Pontus (d 399). Certain sins are called “deadly sins” because they tend to undermine and eventually destroy our relationships with God, ourselves, other people and the world at large. In other words, they draw us into a world of unreality and thus tend to destroy our very humanity. One of those “deadly sins” is envy. It is born of comparing ourselves with others.

The landowner asks the man who is grumbling: “Are you envious because I am generous?” The “deadly sin” of envy only arises when the labourer starts comparing himself with the others. Comparison sets him on the path of falsity. It leads him to lie to himself about himself and the whole situation. The truth is, he is getting the wage he has agreed to. He has no basis to grumble. So why is he grumbling? Indeed, why might we feel sympathy for him?

There are occasions when comparisons are useful, even necessary. If, for example, I am hiring someone to do a special job, I will necessarily compare the qualifications of the applicants. But there are also many occasions in life when comparisons are not useful. Comparing myself with others may in fact may lead me into envy and therefore down a path of unreality and eventually destruction. So why do I do it?

There are a number of reasonable responses to this question. Let me suggest one. I compare myself with others – thus disposing myself to the “deadly sin” of envy – because I have not yet begun to experience the truth of who and what I am. I am not at home in my own being. The truth is that I am a unique expression of God’s love. So are you. I am a unique word spoken in time. So are you. I am a unique place for God to become present in the world. So are you. I am loved infinitely as this unique one. So are you. I can be faithful to this or unfaithful. So can you. My refusal to compare myself with you and your refusal to compare yourself with me, helps us both be real.

Thomas Merton sums it up nicely: “We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions, 1962, 31-32)

Gospel for the Twenty Fourth Sunday (17 September 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.

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Gospel for the Twenty Third Sunday (10 September 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Twenty Second Sunday (3 September 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” (Matthew 16:21–27 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Twenty First Sunday (27 August 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-20 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Twentieth Sunday (20 August 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Nineteenth Sunday (13 August 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Feast of the Transfiguration (6 August 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

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Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday (30 July 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-45 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

General

These two parables are unique to Matthew. They form part of the so-called “day of parables” found in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. These parables – and the parable of the dragnet which follows – are not so much concerned with those who reject Jesus but the nature of the kingdom and what happens in the lives of those who embrace it.

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Gospel for the Sixteenth Sunday (23 July 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” (Matthew 13:24-30 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Fifteenth Sunday (17 July 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13:1-10 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Fourteenth Sunday after Easter (9 July 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30, NRSV)

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Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday after Easter (2 July 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. (Matthew 10:37-42 – NRSV)

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Gospel for Twelth Sunday after Easter (25 June 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Responding to fear

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:26-33 – NRSV

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Feast of Corpus Christi (18 June 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58 – NRSV)

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Feast of the Holy Trinity (11 June 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:16-21 – NRSV)

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Gospel for the Feast of Pentecost (4 June 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

(This is the reading for the Vigil)

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’.” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 – NRSV)

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Gospel for Feast of the Ascension (28 May 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

General

The ending is also the beginning. The Christian community is a missionary community:

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Gospel for Sixth Sunday of Easter (21 May 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

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Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (14 May 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

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