First Sunday in Advent – Year A

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

Mt 24:37-44

The Church has always believed and taught that Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead”, a profession made in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. In this discourse Jesus is emphasising the need to be spiritually prepared for this time of judgement. No one knows the exact ‘hour’ when Jesus will return, however, it could occur at any time.

There is an obvious need to avoid extremes when contemplating matters relating to the ‘end times.’ The first extreme is to assert with certainly that ‘the end is nigh.’ To hold such a belief could lead one to develop a ‘bunker mentality’ that results in withdrawing from the world or neglecting necessary duties. The second extreme is to believe that Christ is never returning or that his return is in the far and distant future.

In Matthew’s Gospel Christ is warning us specifically against this second attitude. To believe that there will never be a parousia or second coming or that Jesus’ return is only a remote possibility in a distant future could cause some to become spiritually self-serving.  Only by ‘staying awake’ can we be truly ready for Christ’s eventual return. Those not ready will be “taken,” that is, swept away, while the righteous will be mercifully spared.

There is a further dimension to Jesus’ warnings. Jesus will not only return at the end of the world, but he also ‘returns’ to each person at the moment of death. Therefore the warning to be ready for Christ’s return is equally as applicable in relation to being ready for our own death. Death, like Jesus’ return, is very much like a ‘thief in the night’ that strikes when we are most unaware. It is important therefore to take heed and remember that while one may not know the time and place of death, for such knowledge rests only with God the Father (Mat 24:36) we should remain awake for this inevitable moment and be spiritually prepared.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & identity

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – YrC

Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached Jesus and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well, then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’

Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

Lk 20:27-38

The Sadducees make brief but memorable appearances in the New Testament. Their name is derived from the High Priest Zadok, who served under King Solomon (1 Kings 2:35) and whose descendants were granted exclusive rights to minister in Jerusalem (Ezek. 40:46). Mostly from wealthy and powerful families, the Sadducees only accepted the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and even then, with a very strict interpretation.

The Sadducees rejected any notion of angels, life after death, the resurrection and the immortality of the soul (Mark 12:18) and thus in this account they challenge Jesus about his teaching on the afterlife. Convinced that Mosaic Law is silent about a future resurrection they attempt to trap Jesus with a dilemma: if Moses permits a woman to remarry every time her husband dies (Deut 25:5), will this not lead to confusion in the next life? Who will be the widow’s legitimate husband if all seven of them are raised?

Jesus responds unexpectedly to the Sadducees: first, by declaring that marriage does not exist in the next life and, second, by quoting the Law of Moses against them. The burning bush episode shows that Yahweh identified himself with the patriarchs long after their death (Ex 3:6). If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still with God, then life must endure beyond death and a future resurrection is implied in the Pentateuch. In effect, Jesus uses the example of Moses to validate his argument over that of the Sadducees, who themselves were the strict followers of Moses and adherents of Mosaic Law.
This Sunday’s Gospel affirms that the Resurrection is central to Christian teaching and belief (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds). Irrespective of our life’s circumstances we live in the hope of enjoying a new and eternal life, one free of earthly and human limitations.

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission & identity

31st Sunday in ordinary Time – YrC

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

Lk 19:1-10

Unique to Luke’s Gospel the story of Zacchaeus is one of the most popular and well known within the Christian Scriptures, revealing the transformative and healing power of God’s love.

An outcast by virtue of his occupation as a tax collector, Zacchaeus is embraced by Jesus and thus his relationship with the community is restored. Positioning himself high in a sycamore tree Zacchaeus seeks a safe vantage point in which he can catch a glimpse of Jesus. Ironically, it is Jesus who seeks out Zacchaeus.

Once again we see an example of Jesus’ inclusiveness, embracing someone rejected and reviled by Jewish society. Befriending a tax collector, let alone visiting the home of one, would have been considered scandalous. Tax collectors were a reviled lot, considered traitors for collaborating with the Romans. But Zacchaeus was deserving of double scorn, for he not only collected taxes for the empire of occupation but also, as the chief tax collector, defrauded people by extorting more than the scheduled tax, keeping the excess for himself.

By visiting Zacchaeus, Jesus shows that no-one is beyond redemption. Even the greatest sinner is capable of responding to Christ’s invitation to repent and hence become eligible to ‘eat at the table of forgiveness.’

Zacchaeus’ repentance is comprehensive for he not only promises to refrain from exploitation in the future but he sincerely offers to return more than the amount that he has defrauded.  Zacchaeus complies with the fourfold restitution referred to in the Old Testament (Exod. 22:1). This promise to restore illustrates the nature of penance, which, inter alia (among others), is aimed at repairing the damage caused by sin and targeting our personal vices; in the case of Zacchaeus, greed.

The story of Zacchaeus illuminates our own relationship with Christ. Although we may at times want a relationship that is at a safe distance he wants something more profound and more intimate. Jesus seeks us out so that we may be restored into right relationship with him and that we might have life to the full.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity

30th Sunday in ordinary Time – Year C

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Lk 18:9-14

Like so many of his parables, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector to challenge the attitudes of those who gathered to hear his preaching, in this instance the self-righteous. Throughout the Gospels, the Pharisees are often presented as uncompromising, hypocritical and extremely judgemental of others; they view themselves as being the custodians of the Law, considering that outward piety will earn them God’s blessing and favour. Such was the cultural milieu of the time. To this end, Jesus presents a parable that is counter-cultural in its message, highlighting that the Pharisees were not in fact righteous, but rather it is a tax-collector, a profession deemed sinful, that is worthy of this affirmation.

Within the Parable, the Pharisee (meaning ‘separated one’) exalts himself, declaring “I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous” and he engages in proud self-righteousness by claiming not only to be better than a tax collector but the “rest of mankind”. He is also presumptuous, believing that simple adherence to traditional forms of piety such as fasting and the payment of tithes is an automatic guarantee of divine blessing. What is noticeable is his failure to mention a love of God or others, which are in fact the bedrock principles that underpin Jewish religious beliefs and practices.

In contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector places himself humbly before God, seeking both forgiveness and mercy. Rather than listing ‘shallow credentials’ he acknowledges the weakness of his human condition. In spite of his deficiencies God will hear his prayer and comfort him. As with his other parables Jesus concludes with a line that is both powerful and poignant, one which can be applied universally as a guiding principle to the way we live; “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Anthony Cleary,
Director, Mission and Identity

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Yr C

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said, ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

Lk 18:1-8

The parable of the widow and the unjust judge is relatively unknown to most people. It is a parable that primarily reinforces the need for one to persevere in their prayer life and not to become disheartened but rather to maintain a steadfast view that God will always respond to our needs, but in his time not our own.

The judge, whose reputation preceded him, had “neither fear of God nor respect for man” and thus he was incapable of dispensing justice. This is revealed in his indifference to the suffering of the widow. This is a violation of the Torah which obliges one to help those who are less fortunate (Deut 10:18, 26:12-13). The widow, a common figure in the Scriptures, epitomizes what it means to be less fortunate. At the time of Jesus widows were often powerless and vulnerable and many only survived because of support received from friends and relatives. Exacerbating the plight of their social circumstances was that widows were not permitted to speak on their own behalf or to publicly seek help. They were without a voice, expected to suffer in silence.

Like so many other figures from the parables this widow is counter-cultural, breaking the social impositions that were placed upon her. Not only did the widow want for justice, she was insistent in her demands for such. This persistence, labelled “pestering” by the judge, eventually moves him from indifference to action. Just as the widow was insistent in her pleas for justice, we too should persevere in our petitions to God through prayer. But unlike the unjust judge who was slow to compassion, “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalms 145:8).

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity