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

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Matthew 13:24-43

Jesus put a parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”‘

He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’

He told them another parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’

In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfill the prophecy:

I will speak to you in parables and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.

Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Like Jesus’ disciples many of us struggle to fully understand the meaning of the Parables. They do however convey a message that is both universal and ageless. For this message to be fully discerned they require reflection, best achieved through Lectio Divina. In this way Jesus speaks to us as he did to his disciples two thousand years ago.

Of the three parables presented we are most familiar with that of the mustard seed. Commonly found in the Middle East, the Mustard Tree is a huge tree with sprawling branches, providing a great canopy of shade. Ironically, it grows from the smallest of seeds. In a sense it can be paralleled to our own faith, for even with a small measure of faith great things can be achieved. Many will be familiar of course with the saying “faith moves mountains”. Jesus was fully aware of the doubts that often beset his friends and disciples and so he wanted to assure them that even with the smallest seed of faith they could endure hardship and persecution.

The World Youth Day celebrations can also be paralleled to this parable. Today we belong to a Church that has spread the Good News to all of the world’s continents; a Church community that has in excess of a billion members. And yet this great community of believers started out so small in fact, as small as a mustard seed.

Within our world and within the Church we have both the darnel and the wheat. Like the farmer however we should not remove the darnel until the time of harvest. That is, we should not remove, isolate or marginalize those who fail in our eyes, only God can do this. We must leave their ultimate judgement to God. We should not stand by however as people live idle and at times evil lives. Rather we should pray for them; challenge them to live a life of commitment, truth and goodness and be witnesses to this ourselves.

If we seek to convert others by our own example the darnel will die a natural death; the wheat will flourish and the harvest will be rich.

Anthony Cleary: Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

This Gospel account reveals the intimate relationship between Jesus and his Father in heaven. “Abba“, he called him, and throughout the Gospels he encourages us to do the same; to see God through the lens of a loving and familial relationship.

To the consternation of many, Jesus broke with Jewish custom and practice calling, not on Yahweh, but “Abba“. God is not a distant deity, whose name is to be uttered and revered only in formal prayer or Temple Worship. Rather he is a loving and forgiving father of great beneficence who even knows the number of hairs on our head (Matt 10:30) such is the depths of his intimate knowledge of each of us. This knowledge extends first and foremost of course to his only begotten Son, Jesus. In turn only Jesus has the most complete knowledge of his Father and it is only through him that we can ultimately come to the Father (John 14:6).

As revealed in Matthew’s Gospel, a true knowledge of God was hidden from “the learned and the clever” for the Scribes and the Pharisees were preoccupied with hollow worship and a rigid and uncompromising interpretation of the Law. In sharp contrast the disciples were like “mere children” who although uneducated in religious matters opened their hearts and minds to Jesus. Throughout the Gospels Jesus implores us to be the same, to remain like children, innocent and open to the Spirit. For those who work with children this is a timely reminder not to complicate their relationship with God or to stifle their innate sense of wonder and awe. Rather we must let the children come to him (Mk 10:14).

Many of Jesus’ contemporaries laboured under the “yoke of the Law” imposed upon them by the Pharisees and religious elders. Strict religious observance became an end in itself rather than a pathway to God. Alternatively, Jesus offered the way to the Father and true rest for souls. While Christian discipleship was challenging and demanding it was not a burden. Rather it was emancipating. People were freed from hollow worship and empty ritual and were drawn into a deeply personal relationship with God.

Today Jesus calls to us “come to me“. An invitation to a life of Christian discipleship lifts rather than imposes a burden, and it enables us to know and love God and call him “Father“.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation