Generosity More Than Fairness

Matthew 20: 1-16
Ez 34: 1-11/ Ps 23:1-6

What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Don’t I have the right to do as I please with my money? Why be envious of my generosity?
(Matthew 20:14-15)

What may appear unfair to man
To question it is not our place;
Don’t try to understand God’s plan,
Just trust the wisdom of His ways.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will pay you what is just.’ So they went. He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, “‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those hired first came, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the ones who were hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

Reflection

The laborers who grumbled failed to appreciate the generosity of their employer and show gratitude for their livelihood because they had a misplaced sense of justice. Who knows the landowner might have given them extra pay when they were paid last if they had not grumbled but expressed their gratitude and appreciation instead?

We cannot compare the world’s standard of fairness to God’s brand of justice. This is evident in the benevolent landowner who decided that a living wage must be paid his workers not so much for the length of time rendered, but more importantly for them to be able to support their family’s needs in a way consistent with human dignity.

In this parable, the landowner clearly represents God, and the vineyard as His kingdom. The lesson that our Lord wants to impart here is that it is by grace that He rewards His workers, just as it is by grace that we serve Him in the first place. The question is not how God qualifies or rewards those who work for His kingdom, but how we respond to the challenge to serve Him when His invitation comes. We must all be ready to grasp the opportunity for service, and rejoice in whatever reward is forthcoming. God alone knows the value of every individual’s service for His kingdom. But we can rest assured that when the rewards come from our gracious Lord, they will not only be just, but generous. Try Me in this, says the Lord of hosts: if I do not open the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessings upon you without measure (Malachi 3:10).

Father most provident, we thank You for all the gifts that You bestow on us. We are Your unworthy servants, and we have no right to complain over our lot. We believe that You only have the best interest for us, and so we put our full trust in You. Amen.

The Paradox of Wealth

Matthew 19: 23-30
Ez 28:1-10 / Deut. 32

Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 19:23)

We sometimes pause to wonder why
The lives of the rich are full of stress.
Is it because they never try
To help others who are in distress?

Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:23-30)

Reflection

Jesus was using a figure of speech called hyperbole when He said “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” It was to emphasize the impossibility of entering heaven for one so attached to his wealth. In fact, nothing that man does can qualify him entrance into heaven. Only God’s grace and mercy can. When Peter boldly asked what recompense they could expect after they had left everything to follow Jesus, He said to them, (and to us) “…Every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first” (Mt.19:30). That rich young man who walked away, in spite of his righteousness, would surely be last.

Many have been led astray by the illusion that happiness and fulfillment largely come from wealth. The reality is that in most cases wealth has only brought conflicts and broken relationships where there was once peace and harmony; greed, anxiety and mistrust where there was once kindness, peace of mind and faith. History is full of wealthy, successful men who lived miserable lives, like Howard Hughes, Paul Getty, Charles Lindbergh, etc. who lived happier lives in earlier simpler lifestyles. Our Lord is clearly telling us that wealth IS an obstacle to real life, whether on earth or in heaven. It is a heavy burden and a handicap in our journey to the Father’s kingdom. In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel was sent by God to condemn the prince of Tyre, whose wisdom had helped him acquire great wealth, but whose heart had grown proud because of his riches, and so be killed by his enemies (Ezek.28:5-9).

The other misconception — even in the renewal — is that wealth is a consequence of God’s blessing on a righteous person. If that is so, does it follow that poverty and disease are signs of God’s punishment? We must never evaluate spirituality on the basis of worldly standards. The only measure that would apply is the extent of our own sacrifices and willingness to give of ourselves and our resources, especially to the afflicted and the helpless. In coordinating our community’s Yolanda assistance project for the victims of that typhoon in Tacloban, Leyte, the response from the general membership to share during those difficult times was most encouraging – more than P 80,000 was collected in just a few days. It reflected the genuine concern of the Brotherhood for the least of God’s children.

We thank You, Father, for making us rich, not in material wealth, but in Your grace of generosity. Amen.

Addiction to Wealth

Matthew 19:16-22
Ez 24:15-23 / Deut 32

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
(Matthew 19:21)

There is poverty in wisdom,
Power, talent, beauty or health;
But if it keeps us from God’s kingdom,
The greatest poverty is wealth.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Reflection

He was a very rich man, owning vast real estate. A man shrewd in all things, he also wanted to ensure his “accomplishment” of winning eternal life. That was why he was also an obedient Jew, following all the laws and decrees in the Torah. But keen that he was on all matters that he set his heart to, he approached Jesus for advice. “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” When our Lord told him the one thing that he lacked – freedom from his material attachments – “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me,” his face fell, and he went away sad, because he was totally addicted to his possessions.

Like the rich man asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, how often do we wonder if we are doing enough to ensure the salvation of our soul? I have been fortunate to have finished my high school and college in a school where the principle of “being a man for others” was emphasized as key to finding fulfillment in life. When I joined the Knights of Columbus, I learned an apt reminder in the Latin words, “Tempus fugit, memento mori” – which means, “Life is short, remember death”. One can only wonder therefore why so many intelligent people, Christians at heart, forget their eternal goal once they have reached the pinnacle of their earthly success.

With these thoughts in mind, there are times when I pray to God, “Thank You, Lord that You have not allowed me to become rich and powerful.” I remember a passage in the Bible that says, “Man in his prosperity is like cattle led to slaughter.” At 66, I have realized that true wealth lies in having genuine friends, being physically fit, enjoying the love of wife, children, grandchildren and in-laws, and being active in my renewal community. With these, why should I envy the rich and well-off, who have as much as a camel’s chance of entering the eye of a needle as entering the kingdom of heaven? (Luke 10:25) Are we willing to share our wealth and resources with the poor in order to follow Jesus?

Thank You, Lord for revealing this wisdom to me, and enriching my faith. Amen.

God’s Love is in Children

Matthew 19: 13-15
Ez 18: 1-10. 13b. 30-32 / Ps 51: 12-15,18-19

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
(Matthew 19: 14)

Faith has led us all to believe
That of all the gifts God has given,
Including this life that we live,
We feel God’s love most in our children.

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there. (Matthew 19: 13-15)

Reflection

Instead of preventing the children from going to Jesus, His disciples should have tried to emulate them, as their Master had taught them in the previous chapter: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18:3). He took the occasion to remind His obtuse followers again that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

In what ways do we prevent our children from going to Jesus? First of all, when we are not doing a good job at being role models of true Christian living. Like when they see us indulge in harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco, or in pornographic magazines or videos. When they hear us use foul language, especially in heated arguments with our spouse. When they see us eat like a glutton (probably why diabetes runs in the family?) Children are by nature imitative, and their earliest influences begin at home. Parents, therefore, have a great responsibility in bringing to or preventing their children from going to Jesus.

Secondly, we can also be obstacles to our children’s spiritual growth by omission, if we are not always there to discipline them and teach them at least the basic doctrines of our faith and our Lord’s Gospel values. By our teaching and example, our children can learn how to handle their emotions and temperament, and develop their self-worth. This process can take time and patience, and there are no short-cut methods. Some parents make up for their absence by being too strict in disciplining their children, which only strains all the more their relationship with them. St. Paul advises, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. But raise your children with the training and teaching of the Lord” (Eph.6: 4).

In this age of hyperspeed communications, it is ironic that we find an ever-widening gap in effective dialogue between parents and their children. Mainly because of economic necessity both parents are finding less time with their children, consequently leaving them vulnerable to dangerous influences outside the home. The incidences of premarital sex and unwanted pregnancies becoming common occurrences in some high schools should alarm parents to be more circumspect in the formation of our Lord’s values in their children. We cannot always be there to guard our children, but their proper upbringing in our homes, our example in the Christian way of life, and above all, our constant prayers for them will surely count a lot in bringing them closer to Jesus.

Father in heaven, Source of love and Life, protect all our children, especially those who are vulnerable to the evil influences of drugs, alcohol, and pornography. Grant that all parents may be guided by Your Holy Spirit to be vigilant and discerning in the proper upbringing of their children. Grant them the grace to be patient, strong and compassionate, O Lord, for their sake, and for Your gifts of their children. Amen.

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary

Luke 1: 39-56
Rev 11: 19; 12: 1-6, 10 / Ps 45: 10-12, 16/ 1 Cor 15: 20-27

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
(Luke 1:48)

My soul proclaims the Lord’s greatness,
In God my spirit rejoices;
He looks upon my lowliness,
And fills my life with His graces.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as He said to our fathers.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1: 39-56)

Reflection

Today, August 15, our Church celebrates the Feast of our Lady’s Assumption into heaven. Although Catholics have been observing the feast for hundreds of years, it was only in 1950 that Rome finally declared the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven as dogma of the Catholic Church. On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared that by the grace of God, “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven.”

We have no account in the Bible depicting the assumption of our Mother Mary into heaven, unlike the Ascension of our Lord Jesus which is related in the Gospel of Mark and Luke. We only have it as our Church’s tradition that Mary supposedly died in the presence of all the Apostles, and that after her burial, they discovered that her tomb was empty, thus concluding that her body had been taken up into heaven. However, the inspired masterpieces of paintings from the late sixteenth century onwards depicting Mary’s assumption into heaven, appearing as “a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, with twelve stars on her head for a crown” (first reading in Rev.12:1), attest to this great devotion, and are manifestations of the divine grace bestowed on the Mother of God. Besides, if Christ the First Fruits, Who ascended into heaven would raise at His coming those who belong to Him, (2nd reading, 1 Cor.15) surely He would bestow upon His earthly mother this priority above all of His disciples. After all, we have it on record in the Bible that two Old Testament prophets were bodily taken up into heaven (Enoch and Elijah).

Heavenly Father, we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven because it gives us great hope that someday we too will “glorify You, Lord, and our spirit will rejoice in You, dear God, our Savior” in Your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

Forgive to be Forgiven


Matthew 18: 21- 19:1
Ez 12: 1-12 / Ps 78: 56-59, 61-62

‘I canceled your debts because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
(Matthew 18: 32-33)


We forget what forgiveness means
When we feel offended or betrayed;
Lord, remind us of our own sins,
And Your mercy in times when we strayed.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive a brother who offends him (Up to seven times?”) Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Thereupon, Jesus gave a parable about an unforgiving servant who owed his king ten thousand talents. Unable to pay, the king ordered that he and his whole family be sold as slaves to repay the debt. Falling on his knees, the servant begged for more time to pay. Instead, the servant’s master took pity on him and canceled his debt. But when that servant went out and found another servant who owed him a much smaller amount, he seized him, started to choke him, and demanded payment. His fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused, and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they reported the matter to their master. The master called the servant. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled your debts because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-19:1)

Reflection

It strikes me as strange how a mere servant could run up a debt of ten thousand talents, which in today’s currency would be equivalent to millions of dollars. Perhaps our Lord was simply emphasizing two points in this parable: first, the “seventy-seven times” does not only refer to the indefinite number of times we must forgive, but to the amount of the debt or the severity of the sin committed against us; and second, the enormous amount owed by the servant is like the debt of Christ’s own passion and death for our salvation, which we can never repay. Which points to the absurdity of those who have received the full gift of forgiveness from God but cannot find it in their hearts to forgive the mere “one hundred denarii” owed them by their neighbors. Jesus said in an earlier chapter: ‘If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions’ (Mt.6:14-15).

Like many of the parables of Jesus, the characterization of the unforgiving servant is so typical of our human nature. How easily we take God’s forgiveness for granted once we are the ones offended and we demand recompense or apologies. It only shows our lack of appreciation for all of God’s mercies and compassion. Our readiness to condemn or feel bitter for the wrongs done to us is a mark of impenitence and ingratitude. How easily we forget the words we pray so often when we recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt.6:12).

True forgiveness means cancelling the debt, wiping the record clean. How can we say we have forgiven our spouse or friend if we still keep in our heart a record of past offenses that we recall at the next transgression? Can we say this is forgiveness from the heart?

Father God, as our Lord Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel, You forgive us in grace, and not because of anything we do to earn or deserve it. Remind us always that the offenses we endure are nothing compared to those Your Son endured on the cross for the payment of our debts. Amen.