Tag Archives: lectionary

Not contracted

I never really understood the parable of the vineyard owner and his hired hands until I spent a few days in Houston in 1990.

Several times a day I passed a corner where a number of Latin American men were standing around. I had no idea why they were there, wasting their time – in my eyes. They were there not just in the morning, but also at noon, and in the afternoon. Where they just a bunch of lazy bums?

Then I saw a pick up drive up and stop. The driver was besieged by the men, all seeking a job. Some got into the pickup and went to work. The others would have to say, “No one has hired us.” (Matthew 20: 7)

Now here in Honduras I understand it even more. Though I don’t see people hanging out on street corners seeking work, I do see trucks and pickups crammed with people going to work on the coffee fields, especially during the coffee harvest. They are jornaleros, day laborers.

For many day laborers, the coffee harvest is one of the few ways they can earn cash. It’s not easy work; I’ve helped harvest coffee in the parish coffee fields. And it doesn’t pay all that much – maybe 30 lempiras, about $1.28, for every five-gallons picked. The really good harvesters can pick up to twelve of these, whereas most pick between five and eight.

In the days of Jesus, many of the day laborers were not paid by what they harvested but were paid a certain amount every day. A denarius was probably enough to pay for basics for a family for a day. If you didn’t get work, your family had little or nothing to eat.

I think of the men at the last hour. They have been waiting all day for work. They have almost given up hope when the owner arrives and offers a job. I think they must have thought, “Well, at least he’ll give us a few coins so we can buy a few eggs for the family.”

But when he gives them a day’s wage! I wonder how they felt. I would feel so grateful that I could now give my family some food for the next day. They wouldn’t starve.

And I would pause in wonder – and gratitude – at this owner who thinks more of the good of his workers than of his profits.



Jesus was a class warrior

“Woe to you who are rich,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel – Luke 6:24.

“St. Paul, in today’s first ready, identified greed as idolatry – Colossians 3:5.

St. John Chrysostom, whose feast is celebrated today preached against the rich:

“It is not possible for one to be wealthy and just at the same time. Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?”

“Even though you are rich, if you spend more than you need to, you shall have to render an account of the money entrusted to you. . . . You have received more than others not that you may use it for yourself alone, but that you may be a good steward for those others.”

But I need to remember that my monthly Social Security check is more than twice the minimum wage for the best paid Honduras workers, in a country where many survive, without minimum-wage jobs, for less than $2.00 per day.

I am rich.

The first quote from St. John Chrysostom comes from Robert Ellsberg’s Blessed Among Us: Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses.

Mercy in the midst of conflict

This morning in Plan Grande I’ll be baptizing a young man who will be married this coming Saturday. As I planned my homily I began to ask what it means to be incorporated into the Church, the People of God at this time and place.

To be baptized is not to join the church, to change one’s religion. It’s to be made – perhaps better, re-made – into a member of a People, a community, God’s people.

But what does this mean in light of today’s readings?

“Have no debt except to love one another,” Paul wrote to the Romans (13:8).

But love does not mean a life without conflicts. It means living in conflicts with love, maintaining relationships. Within the People of God, Jesus is present – where two or three are gathered together. (Matthew 18:15-20)

Within this community in Jesus, we are called approach problems, conflicts, sin – also remembering that Jesus is present and seeks reconciliation.

There are two aspects of the Gospel reading that struck me this morning.

First, the Greek manuscripts have two different readings. In some, the Greek says, “If anyone sins.” In others, it reads, “If anyone sins against me.” Quite different. But still, the message is maintain the conversation within the framework of the People of God.

Secondly, the text says that if someone doesn’t listen to the church, the People of God, we are to treat that person as the pagan and the tax-collector.

At first, this seems to say that we must reject the one who refuses to be reconciled or who refuses to give up his or her sin. But, in a footnote to a new Spanish translation of the New Testament (prepared under the auspices of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops Conference,, the editors remind us that we must look at how Jesus treated the pagans (Matthew 8: 5-13 and 9: 18-26) and the tax collectors (Matthew 9: 9-13) – with mercy!

We are called to always maintain the mutual love which we owe to all – even if they don’t want to be reconciled with us or if they persist in sin.

Within the People of God – Mercy, mercy, mercy.

To all – Mercy, mercy, mercy.

Owe no one nothing but mercy.


Good news for the poor

Last Thursday I gave a presentation on Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium to those who will be going on mission in our parish in October. I had recently met with a group of confirmation catechists where I asked the catechists what is the meaning the word Gospel – evangelio in Spanish. She hemmed and hawed. And so I decided to talk about the word.

Gospel, Evangelio, means good news. But I think we always need to talk about the Good News of the Kingdom of God in the light of the bad news around us.

In today’s Gospel, Luke 4: 16-30, we find Jesus taking as his own mission the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring Good News to the poor.”

There’s lots of bad news – hurricane in Texas, land slide in Sierra Leone, deadly flooding in India and other south Asian countries. But there is also the threat to end a program, DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and place maybe 800,000 young immigrants in danger of deportation. These young people came to the US as minors, live in the US as good, law-abiding persons. Yet, they may be the latest victims of anti-immigrant sentiments that have no place in the lives of people of faith.

In the face of this, how will we followers of Christ be “Good News for the poor,” for the outcasts, the strangers, the despised and rejected?

I am far from the US at this point. I often try to persuade young people not to go to the US. But, as one said to me, “What does my country have to offer me?” But what can I do to help them see hope here? And what can any of us do to provide a place of love and safety for all God’s people.

Here’s the text of the Catholic bishops’ of Iowa to Iowa’s Congressional delegation

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports DACA youth. DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.

Since 2012, nearly 800,000 of these young people have come forward, passed background checks, paid a fee, and received permission to live and work in America. With DACA they have advanced their education, started small businesses and more fully established themselves as integral members of our society.

We urge you to publicly support DACA youth here in Iowa. We also call upon you to move forward in a bipartisan manner and find a permanent legislative solution to ensure that DACA youth can remain in the United States and can continue to reach their God-given potential. One such existing proposal is the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017, which we support. We promise to work with lawmakers from all parties to ensure that DACA youth are able to stay in this country and live without fear.

Lastly, to DACA youth and their families here in Iowa, we note the words of the USCCB Migration Committee Chair, Bishop Joe Vasquez: “Please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you. We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God. We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country.”

Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque
Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City
Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines
Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport


Brambles as rulers

In the Jewish scriptures there are clearly at least two approaches to kingship. The king is God’s chosen one, his anointed; the king is an abomination – if not a disaster.*

Today’s first reading, Judges 9: 6-15, belongs to the second strand. The people want a king but Jotham, as he looks upon them making his half-brother Abimelech their king, provides a critical parable.

The trees want to anoint a king but the olive trees, the fig trees, and even the lowly grape wine refuse. Why should we give up the gifts that we offer the people – oil, figs, and wine. We are serving the people by offering what we have.

But then the trees approach the thorn bus, the bramble for protection and shelter. But the bramble gives little protection from the sun and, as the Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests, is “a ground cover of the sort that propagates forest fires.”

Abimelech had already proven how fiery he was – killing seventy half-brothers. Now he is the one chosen as king, accepting a kingship which his father, the judge Gideon, had refused.

Should I draw any conclusions or should I leave all to your imaginations?

* Note the difference between 1 Samuel 9-10 and 1 Samuel 8.


When demands press in on me

Numbers 11: 4b-15
Matthew 14:13-21

Some days I feel like Moses in today’s first reading. The people are pressing in on him, demanding he give them meat. Manna is just too yucky and they people are tired.

How often when I feel people pressing in on me to do something, or when people keep asking the same question or ask a question that I had answered ten minutes before, do I want to say, “Get me out of here.”

Moses tells God just about the same thing. If you can’t fix this, then just kill me – get me out of here.

As I prayed over this reading, I immediately thought of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes when Jesus tells his disciples, “Give them something to eat.”

Then I turned the page and discovered that Matthew’s account of the feeding of the multitudes is today’s Gospel.

Jesus had been pressed upon on all sides by the sick seeking to be healed. His disciples, seeing the crowds, asks Jesus to send the people away. Feeding all these folks would be too much.

“Send them away” is their response to the pressing demands of the people.

But Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Don’t complain; don’t pass the buck; don’t try to get rid of the need by telling the people to take care of themselves. Do something.

But we only have five loaves and two fish, they offer as an excuse.

I can almost hear Jesus mumbling, “Don’t you get it. It doesn’t matter how little you have. You have the opportunity to respond. Respond as you can and give what you have. I – and my Father – will take care of the rest.”

How often I feel my limitations, my lack of personal resources to respond to needs. But in and through my limitations, God can work. God will provide – not me.

I have been reading some of Caryll Houselander recently and this quote – together with today’s readings helps me reflect on how to respond to pressing demands, in the spirit of Christ:

That is the eucharistic life— giving our littleness to God and rejoicing in Him, through our littleness giving Him to the world.

Fear of the other

Today’s first reading from Exodus (1: 8-14.22) reminded me of the politics of refugees and migrants which seems to be overtaking parts of Europe and the United States.

A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his people, “Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in the event of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so escape from our land.”

The fear of the “other” and the assumption that they are bent on our downfall are so ingrained in much of the public discourse that I wonder if there is something else going on. Rulers and powerful countries seem to be unsure of themselves and so anything different is a threat.

But most of all they forget the good things that the “other” has done and is doing, just as the new Pharaoh forget Joseph. They look at the negative, fearful of their own downfall. The attitude is that it is either “us” or “them.”

But where is God?

On the side of the other.

As we will hear later this week (Exodus 3) God hears their cries:

“The cry of the children of Israel has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

Where are we?