Whose Got Talent?

The Gospel for Sunday was about the master who was going on a journey and give one servant 5 talents, another 2 talents and a third 1 talent. First, remember a talent was a large sum of money. The servants with 5 and 2 talents doubled their talents while the servant with 1 buried his and gave it back and the master threw him out. This parable has troubled me as I have read several commentaries, some lauding the ambitious servants who doubled their money while others noted the master and the two servants who doubled their money were greedy and may have taken from the less fortunate. Today a read another reflection which I share below. I read this in my favorite prayer book on the readings for each day “Give Us This Day” https://giveusthisday.org

Who’s Got Talent?

You have no doubt heard it said about Sunday’s parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) that we must use the personal gifts we have been given (our talents) and develop them to increase their effectiveness. What could be simpler? A parable with an obvious meaning!

Not so fast. A talent (Greek talanton) was originally a measure by which very heavy objects—often gold or silver—were weighed (see Exod 25:39 and 38:27; 1 Kgs 20:39). From there it acquired the meaning of a very large amount of money. In 2 Maccabees 8:11, one talent is the price for ninety slaves.

In an earlier parable, Matthew tells of a debtor who owed 10,000 talents (18:23-35; the New American Bible’s “a huge amount”). Such an outrageous amount tells everyone that this is exaggeration to make a point. One estimate is that it would take a day laborer about one thousand years to pay it back! By contrast, a denarius was usually one day’s wage (see Matt 20:2, the NAB’s “usual daily wage”). So the one hundred denarii that a fellow slave owes him could probably be saved in a few years (Matt 18:24, 28). In Sunday’s parable, the slaves are given amounts of five, two, and one talent, far more money than they would otherwise ever hope to see. A talent—or two talents or five talents—is a big deal!

On Wednesday of this week, we hear Luke’s version of the same story line (Luke 19:11-28). But rather than talents, Luke speaks of the mina, a Semitic word adopted into business Greek, equal to one hundred drachmas (“gold coins”). Like the denarius, each drachma is roughly equivalent to one day’s wage. Luke’s story lacks the clean lines of Matthew’s version, however. He attempts to blend it in with another about a nobleman who imposes his rule on unwilling residents. Though the nobleman gives ten coins to ten slaves, only three report back: one with ten more coins, one with five more, and another with just one.

Before we assume that the master in these parables stands in for God, notice that in both Matthew and Luke, the master/nobleman harvests where he did not plant and gathers where he did not scatter, an admission of abuse of power. Luke’s character commands that those who did not want him to be king should be slain in his presence. What kind of a God figure is this?

Moreover, we should question whether a God figure would willfully ignore the biblical injunction against charging interest on a loan (cf. Exod 22:24; Lev 25:36-37; Ps 15:5; Ezek 18:13; and many other examples). Both masters praise their slaves who have invested the money and gained more. Both condemn the slave who carefully guarded what was entrusted to him, lest it be lost. The Matthean master explicitly asks why this slave did not invest the money to earn interest with the bankers, who were considered exploiters of the poor. There is a natural storytelling structure of three examples, with focus meant to be on the third (“a priest, a minister, and a rabbi . . .”). If the slave who made the most money did the right thing, why is he first and not last? If the first and second slaves, who invested at interest, are examples of doing right, then this is the only biblical passage that approves of charging interest, this on behalf of a man who admits he is unjust and rewards his slaves for further enriching him.

Not such a simple and obvious parable after all.

—Sr. Carolyn Osiek

Carolyn Osiek, RSCJ, is Charles Fischer Professor of New Testament Emerita at Brite Divinity School and archivist for the Society of the Sacrd Heart, United States-Canada Province

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today, November 9, we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica also known as the Basilica of St John Lateran, which is the Cathedral for the City of Rome and is therefore, the Cathedral for the Bishop of Rome who is also the Pope. Here is a reflection from the “Give Us this Day” on this feast and on the cross.

Lateran Basilica or Basilica of St. John Lateran

Walking the Cross of Christ in St. John Lateran

Among Flannery O’Connor’s memorable remarks was her assertion about faith: “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” O’Connor would probably have enjoyed a walk inside the Basilica of St. John’s Lateran.

Although most ancient Roman churches have retained their basilica shape (rectangular with the semi-circular apse at one end), the Church of St. John Lateran is in the form of a cross—made so by Pope Leo XIII. Walking into the pope’s cathedral in Rome, we step into the cross of Christ—the cost of our faith. Above our heads, a statue of Christ rises over the Lateran’s façade. His right arm is extended to welcome us; his left arm embraces the cross. “Come inside” the cross-bearing Jesus bids us, “walk around inside my cross, my church.” Dare we enter? Dare we walk into the cross of Christ? Would a big electric blanket be preferable?

Stanley Hauerwas, in his Unleashing the Scriptures, tells the story of two brothers, Clarence and Robert Jordan. In 1942 Clarence founded the Koinonia Farm, an interracial community near Americus, Georgia. He sought his brother Robert’s legal talents to help protect his controversial community. Robert refused: “I follow Jesus . . . up to a point,” he explained. “Could that point . . . be the cross?” Clarence inquired. “Yes,” Robert confessed, arguing that if everyone followed Jesus to the cross, “we wouldn’t have a church would we?” To which Clarence pithily responded, “The question is, ‘Do you have a church?’ ” Clarence Jordan, Flannery O’Connor, and Pope Leo XIII understood that to have faith and to build a church means walking in the cross of Christ.

On the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, we hear from the prophet Ezekiel. Six centuries before Christ, Ezekiel preached to a community of exiles in Babylon. Early in his prophecy Ezekiel slams the religious practices in the Jerusalem Temple: “see the evil abominations they are doing here” (Ezek 8:9). The Temple rituals did not reflect God’s hope for humanity. So Ezekiel visualizes the dawn of a new Temple from which issue forth the rivers that flowed from the garden of Eden and gave life to the earth at the dawn of creation (Gen 2:10). These rivers will give life even to the famous Dead Sea (what Ezekiel calls the “arabah”), filling its once lifeless waters with abundant fish.

In the Gospel, Jesus enters the Temple area and notices people changing Roman coins to pay the Temple tax and selling animals for sacrifice. Such services were an added convenience for pilgrims who otherwise would have had to drag an animal from home. Lost in the bustle was the sacrality of Ezekiel’s life-giving Temple that, in Johannine language, becomes Jesus own body, crucified, raised, and giving life to the world. Jesus’ interlocutors are baffled (joining Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, and Peter at the Last Supper), so the Gospel writer intervenes to ensure that we get it: “He was speaking about the Temple of his own body.”

From Ezekiel’s new Temple flows the waters that give life to the people of Israel. From the Temple of Jesus’ body, crucified and raised, flow the life-giving waters of baptism. The cruciform design of St. John Lateran reminds us of the cost of that baptism. So let’s accept Jesus’ invitation to enter the pope’s cathedral and marvel at its beauty, knowing that with each step we travel deeper into the cross of Christ.

—Fr. Craig E. Morrison

Craig E. Morrison, O.Carm., teaches at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and lives at the ancient Roman parish dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.

All Saints Day

Here are two reflections I ran across while praying today. The first is taken from “Give Us This Day” a monthly pamphlet with the readings and reflections for each day of the week. This one is by Pope Francis and was found on the reflection for November 1. The second is taken from the Midwestern Jesuit’s prayer site which can be found at: https://jesuitprayer.org

Welcome the Light of God

The Solemnity of All Saints is “our” celebration: not because we are good, but because the sanctity of God has touched our life. The saints are not perfect models, but people through whom God has passed. We can compare them to the Church windows which allow light to enter in different shades of color. The saints are our brothers and sisters who have welcomed the light of God in their heart and have passed it on to the world, each according to his or her own “hue.” But they were all transparent; they fought to remove the stains and the darkness of sin, so as to enable the gentle light of God to pass through. . . .

[T]oday in the Gospel, Jesus addresses his followers, all of us, telling us we are “Blessed” (Matt 5:3). It is the word with which he begins his sermon, which is the “Gospel,” Good News, because it is the path of happiness. Those who are with Jesus are blessed; they are happy. Happiness is not in having something or in becoming someone, no. True happiness is being with the Lord and living for love. . . . [The] ingredients for a happy life are called Beatitudes: blessed are the simple, the humble who make room for God, who are able to weep for others and for their own mistakes, who remain meek, fight for justice, are merciful to all, safeguard purity of heart, always work for peace and abide in joy, do not hate and, even when suffering, respond to evil with good. . . .

This is how the saints are: like everyone, they breathe air polluted by the evil there is in the world, but on the journey they never lose sight of Jesus’ roadmap.

Pope Francis, Angelus, November 01, 2017

Prior to being elected pope on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Life in the Kingdome of God

The saints were all happy people. Jesus promises us that we too will be “blessed,” or “happy,” if we remain poor in spirit, meek, merciful and hungering for righteousness. Righteousness means being what God has made us to be, for “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph 2:10).

The will of God is near at hand each moment. We need only remain “pure of heart,” attentive to God’s Spirit within us, ready to do what good we can, and we will be at peace, living in the kingdom of God even in this life. 

—Fr. Jack Zupez, SJ, is a member of the Jesuits Central and Southern Province. He lives at Jesuit Hall in St. Louis and has served in full-time prison ministry. 

What Belongs to God

A MESSAGE FROM FR. PETER“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, 
and to God what belongs to God.” (Mt 22:21)

The readings this Sunday speak of a God who is active in history and desirous of our salvation. The Jewish people experienced God’s presence in the benevolence of a foreign king who had no knowledge of Yahweh, while the early Christian community came to know God’s presence through the working of the Holy Spirit.

The Prophet Isaiah (45:1, 4-6) describes God acting through Cyrus of Persia. His victories have been part of God’s plan to return the Jewish people from exile in Babylon to the land of their ancestors. While Cyrus did not know Yahweh, the source of all goodness, he was an instrument of God’s salvific plan for history.

In Mathew’s gospel (Mt 22:15-21), the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to entrap Jesus about the census tax of the Roman Empire. If he favors paying it, he will lose the support of the Jewish people. if he opposes it, he will run the risk of antagonizing Caesar’s representatives in Israel. Jesus answers without fear. Those whose lives have been given over to God can love even their enemies. Therefore, to give to Caesar what is of this world is of little concern to Jesus who has given his life in service to the kingdom of God.

Paul (Thess 1:1-5) greets the Thessalonian community, recalling the Holy Spirit’s presence among them through their faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ. He praises them for their witness to other churches through the suffering they have endured for the gospel. In doing so, they have imitated not only Paul, but the risen Christ, whose salvific offer they seek to embrace. 

God acts to create and redeem humanity anew each day in the ongoing flow of history. While God’s salvific plan exceeds our understanding, we are called to participate in it by offering the gifts of our lives on behalf of the common good of all. We may never see the fruit of our labor. Nevertheless, we are instruments in God’s hands, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit help to move this world little by little towards its ultimate end in the fulness of God’s love.

Let us live not just as hearers of God’s word, but as contributors to a new world order that gives to God what is truly of importance to God. In doing so, may our faith in God’s salvific plan for all be proclaimed; may our hope be nourished by the signs we experience of the coming kingdom of God; and let our love extend to all God’s people, regardless of race, religion, color, or sexual orientation.

Reflection on the Readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Like the Tendrils of a Vine

Throughout the Scriptures the Lord continually likens human souls to vines. He says for instance: My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; and again: I planted a vineyard and put a hedge round itClearly it is human souls that he calls his vineyard, and the hedge he has put round them is the security of his commandments and the protection of the angels; for the angel of the Lord will encamp around those who fear himMoreover, by establishing in the Church apostles in the first place, prophets in the second, and teachers in the third, he has surrounded us as though by a firmly planted palisade.

In addition, the Lord has raised our thoughts to heaven by the example of saints of past ages. . . . [And] he wills that the bonds of love, like the tendrils of a vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that always climbing upward like vines growing on trees, we may reach the loftiest heights.

He also requires that we allow ourselves to be weeded. To be spiritually weeded means to have renounced the worldly ambitions that burdened our hearts. . . . Freed from the profitless burden of profitless aspirations, that person can breathe again.

Finally, following the implications of the comparison, we must not run to wood, or, in other words, show off or seek the praise of outsiders. Instead, we must bear fruit by reserving the display of our good works for the true vinedresser.

St. Basil the Great, Homily (5) on the Hexameron

Basil the Great (ca. 329–379) was bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). He came from a family of saints that included his sister, St. Macrina, and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa. One of the three “Cappadocian Fathers,” Basil is also a Doctor of the Church.

God’s Justice

A MESSAGE FROM FR. PETER

“You say, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair.’

Is it my way that is unfair, 

or rather, are not your ways unfair?” (Ezek. 18:25)

The readings this Sunday speak of God’s justice, one that looks into the depths of our hearts and reads our motivations. The truly righteous will be rewarded while the unrepentant will be held accountable when their days upon this earth reach their end.

The Prophet Ezekiel (18:25-28) makes clear that God loves a repentant sinner. The wicked who forsake evil and live righteously will be forgiven, while the righteous who sin and do not repent will die with their sinfulness.

In Mathew’s gospel (Mt 21:28-32), we hear the parable of a father and his two sons in response to the chief priests and elders challenging Jesus’ authority to heal and teach independent of temple authorities. Jesus points out they are like the son who accepted the father’s will but did not do it. They claim to shepherd God’s people but have refused to acknowledge John the Baptist as the one who prepared the way of the Lord (Mt 3:3). Their hypocrisy will be exposed, while tax collectors and prostitutes who have sinned and repented will be like the son who first refused but later accepted the father’s will. These repentant outcasts will be justified in the kingdom of God.

Paul (Philippians 2:1-11) exhorts the Philippians to live as Christian citizens. That is, he asks them to live with the love of Christ within a community whose solidarity is being threatened by petty jealousies. Their difficulties and suffering, he tells them, ought to serve as an opportunity to imitate the humble Christ they profess and to walk in his way. Paul’s Christological hymn that follows sums up their quest. Christ humbled himself by taking on our humanity and was obedient to the point of death on a cross. In response, God exalted him and bestowed upon him the Lordship of all of creation.

God does not judge by appearances, but by a knowledge of our deepest desires. We are sinners, but beloved sinners in the eyes of God who calls us to repentance and the acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Our response to God’s goodness is verifiable through the actions of our lives and we will be judged according to those actions.

Let us accept God’s offer of salvation and may it lead us beyond ourselves and into the midst of human suffering. There, may we experience Jesus’ love and compassion for those in need. And may our actions in his name lead to a justice that reaches out to the ends of the earth.

God’s Ways are Not Our Ways

This Land Is God’ Vineyard 

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16a

The parable we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel is hard to understand and brings a certain amount of consternation to most readers.  It is the story about the land owner who goes to the marketplace at 6am to hire workers to go into his vineyard and harvest the grapes.  He goes back at noon, then 3pm and finally at 5pm  In the evening, around 6pm he tells the foreman to pay the workers starting with those hired last and to pay all the workers the same wage.  This hardly seems fair and I’m sure any good union boss would file a complaint with the owner.  However, as with all parables one must look much deeper into the story, then try to apply it to the world today.

To understand this parable we might start with the first reading from today’s Mass which is taken from Isaiah 55:6-9 which includes the text “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”  If the land owner in the parable is God then clearly he is not thinking the way we think nor acting the way we would act.  So, what’s up?  The big question is why do those hired at 3pm and even more so those hired at 5pm get the same wage.  Biblical scholars have struggled with this for years with no final resolution.  One way to look at it is that the wage was enough to feed a family for one day.  If those coming late received only a part of the wage they would not be able to feed their families so they would be wasting their time.  Another thought is the late hires were people that no one else wanted to hire, they may have had some disability that would make it hard for them to be as productive as the others.  We don’t know, all we do know is that the landowner wanted to treat each worker equally by giving them what they would need to live another day.

This created a certain amount of friction with those workers who had worked nearly 12 hours in the heat of the day.  Needless to say they grumbled when the heard that the late comers received the normal daily wage they believed they should receive more, but didn’t.  They accuse the land owner of making the late comers equal to them who bore the heat of the day.  They felt a certain entitlement to better pay.  One might consider that this was a fair complaint, but the land owner did pay them what they all had agreed to, a deal is a deal.

On reflecting on this parable I was drawn to the idea of how it would apply to the history of immigration to the United States.  Before the US became the US and before Europeans starting coming to North America the land was not heavily populated, it had huge forests, fertile land and many mineral resources.  After discovering America many people came to the land, most were escaping religious persecution or political oppression.  The new land promised a new life free of those hinderances.  Yet settling in the new land was not easy.  We know that the Pilgrims who settled in Massachusetts suffered numerous deaths as the land did not produce food as quickly as needed.  Their survival was greatly helped by the natives who taught them how to farm.  Many others who arrived suffered similar and other set backs, yet they persevered and eventually created a livable country.  Subsequent settlers didn’t have to suffer as much as those first settlers.  As the population moved westward they, too, suffered casualties crossing the planes and the mountains yet were able to establish communities along the  Pacific coast.  They felt a sense of pride in what they had accomplished despite the losses they experienced.  They felt a certain entitlement to what they had created.

In the 19th and 20th century we saw several more waves of immigrants coming from Ireland, Germany, Lithuania and many other European countries.  Most were living in poverty with little hope of improving their lives.  They looked to the new world as place where they could start over and build a better life for themselves and more importantly for their children.  They came in droves.  Many were able to take up jobs offered by the growing industrial revolution.  Yet, they also met with resentment from the established population, particularly if their religion was different from the majority in the new world.  The early settlers did have a sense of entitlement as their families had struggled so hard to create the cities, farms and industry in America.  Nevertheless, the newcomers eventually were assimilated into the new world.  

As the United States offered hope for so many people the immigration flow did not stop and today we see more people coming to the US, most from south of our border but many coming from Asia.  They are being met with hostility as it is believed they will benefit from the blood and sweat that flowed to create the US.  The US citizens feel a certain entitlement to what they have and don’t want to share it with late comers.

God created the earth and all that is in it, including the North American continent and encouraged humans to go forth and take dominion over the land.  God did not limit that dominion to a few people but to all mankind.  Therefore, like those coming late to the vineyard yet received a full days wage, immigrants should be able to come to a land of opportunity to benefit themselves and their children.  Studies also show that their arrival also benefits all who are here already.

© 2020

The Nature of God’s Forgiveness

A MESSAGE FROM FR. PETER

“Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” (Sir 28:2)

The readings this Sunday speak of the infinite nature of God’s forgiveness. God loves us, continually offers restored relationship to the contrite and humble of heart and calls us to the salvation we have been so gratuitously offered. In return, we are called to treat others with the same spirit of God’s love and forgiveness so that they might also experience all that God desires of them.

The Book of Sirach (27:30-28:7) speaks of good and evil and their consequences. The vengeful will suffer God’s vengeance, while the good will know God’s gracious reward. For this reason, Sirach counsels the people of Israel to forgive their neighbor’s sinfulness, so that their own waywardness will be forgiven in return.

In Mathew’s gospel (Mt 18:21-35) Jesus offers compassion to those who have sinned. It is a compassion that originates from God’s love and desire for the salvation of all that God has created. As we forgive others from the heart, we will in-turn be forgiven by God.

Paul (Romans 14:7-9) makes clear that in following Jesus we take on his values. Moreover, in professing his name, both Jew and Gentile alike stand on equal footing before the divine. For they both live and die in Jesus and will be held accountable for their witness to his mission on behalf of the kingdom of God.

Forgiveness is a difficult human gesture. Yet it is at the heart of the Christian life. Jesus forgave his disciples, his adversaries, and even those who killed him. His life was a loving testimony to the God he called Abba. In forgiving others, he opened a way for all to participate in God’s forgiveness of humanity and to share in the fulness of God’s love for all eternity.

We are all beloved sinners in God’s eyes. Let us model our lives after Jesus, forgiving with a generous heart all those who trespass against us so that we might also be forgiven. In doing so, may we be set free and find our way to the kingdom of God where love abounds and relationships that were once broken can be restored anew.

Watchmen/Women 2

Acting Franciscan

Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Associate Director, Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF

This reflection was originally posted in our August 31st newsletter


The 2019 HBO miniseries “The Watchmen” has received 26 Emmy nominations. I do not have HBO so have not viewed the highly acclaimed series, but I’ve read that from the original graphic novel of the 1980s, to the 2009 movie, to the 2019 TV miniseries, the core element has a group of “superheroes” or investigators who must uncover evil plots that threaten destruction of a people. The HBO series opens with the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, a horrific racist chapter in US history that only recently has become widely known by most White Americans, including me. So I was intrigued by God’s announcement to Ezechiel in this week’s First Reading: “I have appointed (you) watchman for the House of Israel” whose charge is…

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith Does Justice

Fr. Peter

A MESSAGE FROM FR. Peter W. Gyves, SJ, MD

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,  take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16:24)

This Sunday’s readings challenge us to accept the hardships that come with doing the will of God. Jeremiah discovers the people of Israel would rather eliminate him than listen to him. Jesus predicts it will cost him his life, while bringing a great cross to bear upon those who walk in discipleship with him. Paul then puts it all in perspective as he encourages his followers to look beyond the present to the fullness of life in the presence of God’s love at the end of time.

The Prophet Jeremiah (20:7-9) complains to God about the misery his prophetic call has brought him. He claims to have been duped by Yahweh into becoming a laughingstock and the subject of derision by all. But Jeremiah cannot contain himself. He must speak God’s words of the coming demise of Israel. It is a message the people do not accept as they turn their anger upon him.

In Mathew’s gospel (Mt 16:21-27), Jesus offers his first passion prediction to his disciples. He will suffer and be killed in Jerusalem, before being raised after three days. While Peter rebukes Jesus for his words, Jesus points out Peter’s lack of understanding of God’s ways. He then speaks of the cost of discipleship. Yes, there will be suffering for those who choose to follow Jesus in this life. However, the final judgment will vindicate them for their fidelity to him and the work of the kingdom of God.

Paul (Romans 12:1-2) exhorts his community to offer their lives on behalf of what is holy and pleasing to God. That is, he encourages them to keep their eyes on the prize, looking beyond the lures of this world in order to discern the will of God and thereby encounter all that God desires for them.

God’s salvific plan for history is available to all God’s people regardless of race, religion, color and sexual orientation. For Christians, Jesus offers the way to salvation and a challenge to make it available to others.

Let us take up our cross on behalf of a new world order. May it lead us to do God’s will and follow Jesus in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God. In doing so, let us accept the suffering that comes from our efforts, all the while keeping our eyes fixed on the prize of one-day experiencing, as Paul says, what is good and pleasing and perfect from having offered our very selves on behalf of the common good of all.

A Faith That Does Justice