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September 18, 1987     The Message
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7, ' September 18, 1987 Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Mass Readings By FR. DONALD DILGER Sunday's Gospel parable is still applicable in 1987 Gospel for Sunday, Sept. 20, 1987 Matthew 20:1-18 -- Parable of the workers in the vineyard It is helpful to read the text of the Gospel before reading the commentary. To determine the meaning of a text in the gospel we often compare it with its use in another gospel. This cannot be done here since this parable occurs only in Matthew. Another way of determin- ing a meaning is to look at the setting in which a text occurs. This parable follows the question of Peter as to what would be the reward for the Twelve "who have left all and followed you." Jesus answers that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. He ends with a warning that many who are first will be last and the last, first. These are the same words with which this parable ends in 20:16. It is followed by Jesus tak- ing the Twelve aside for the third prediction 0fthe Passion and then the question of who will hold the seats of honor in the Kingdom of Jesus. The em- phasis in this context is on the Twelve, the leadership. Could Matthew be addressing the leaders of the Church again? He had already warned them in C.18 to beware of giving scandal to "the little ones" -- the people in the pew, the ones not in positions of authority. Later, in C. 23, he will warn thin not to covet titles and places of honor -- the "perks" that many take for granted as going with positions of authority. Dangers are inherent in positions of leadership. Against these dangers Mat- thew tries to balance the importance of every member of the Church -- even the "last." The leaders must not expect more than anyone else because in a sense they are first. To be first in the Church which Matthew envisions is to be the slave of all. This is in imitation of Jesus who "did not come to be served but to serve .... " {Mt.20:28) But parables can have different levels of mean- ing. Going beyond a warning to the leaders the parable could have applied to a major problem which the early Church faced -- the admission of non-Jews, the Gentiles, into the Christian com- munity. The first Christians were obviously Jews as was Jesus. They brought into Christianity the practices of the religious community from which they came. That community had practiced careful segregation from Gentiles in the worshipping com- munity. Jewish-Christians could not be expected to turn their backs on the great religions which many of them had zealously practiced and continued to practice even as Christians. The problems of the admission of Gentiles into the Christian community is detailed in the Acts of Apostles, C.10, 11, 15. Not only was there a ques- tion of their admittance, but, if admitted, how much of Judaic practices were they to observe. Galatians 2 gives a very personal account of how the Apostle Paul was involved in this problem, but this was some decades before Matthew wrote. The fact that the Acts of Apostles shows such a concern for this problem indicates that is was still a current problem in the eighties when Matthew also wrote. The question may well have been asked: Can convert Gentiles be on the same level in this com- munity as convert-Jews since they came in later and did not come from the Chosen People? This parable gives a clear answer: There is to be no distinction between early and late converts, and therefore no distinction between Jew and Gentile. In this sense the parable also takes on the nature of an answer to racial prejudice in the early Church -- prejudice between Jew and Gentile. The New Testament leaves no doubt tht there was plenty of this kind of prejudice. Looked at in this way our parable comes close to a meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Matthew may have faced the problem about whether late converts could be chosen for positions of leadership in the Church. This parable puts re- cent converts on the same footing as the "good- old-boys-network" of the Church. A later docu- ment of the New Testament, the First Letter to Timothy, discusses the qualifications of a leader in the Church and disqualifies recent converts. If Mat- thew's parable is directed to this problem then he is in disagreement with 1 Timothy. Such disagreements between parts of the Bible should not surprise or shock us since they originated in different times and places and in answer to differ- ing circumstances Is this parable still applicable today? As a warn- ing to Church leaders that their positions do not entitle them to more either here or hereafter it is certainly relevant. Jesus did not intend for the leaders of his Church to live as or to be regarded as royalty or nobility. In the sense of being directed toward racial pre- judice let us put the application in the form of some questions. How many all-white Christian congregations would welcome with open arms black families into their church? How many such congregations would be willing to accept a black minister or priest? The Gospel, like all inspired literature, never loses its value "to teach," to rebuke, to correct, to train in righteousness." {1 Timothy 3:16) Other readings for Sunday, Sept. 20: Isaiah 55:6-9 Phillipians 1:20-24,27 New Orleans and the pop_e Mardi G ras, serious content mark pope's New Orleans visit By STEPHENIE OVERMAN NC News Service :, NEW ORLEANS {NC) -- Pope John Paul II got a taste of the Mardi Gras parades and parties New Orleans is famous for, but he found time to deliver serious messages on education and morals as well. Education was the major theme of Pope John Paul's visit to New Orleans Sept. 12. The pope told higher education of. ficials that theological research should not stray from church teachings. And he praised , Catholic elementary and secon- dary schools for their academic excellence, community service and devotion to minority students. During his visit to the Cres- cent City the pope also criticiz- ed the continuing discrimina- tion against blacks in U.S. society, condemned "the inef- fectiveness of divorce," told youth that sex must be reserved for marriage, and called for mercy in the international debt question. The New Orleans stop in- cluded a parade down Canal Street, jazz bands and a mini- Mardi Gras party, complete with floats and a mask for the pope, at the youth rally in the Louisiana Superdome. The pope arrived in New Orleans in the late evening Sept. 11 from Columbia, S.C., and he left early Sept. 13 for San Antonio, Texas. It was the third stop in his Sept. 10-19 tour. Twice during Pope John Paul's long day in New Orleans Sept. 12 rain threatened to cancel events. First, heavy rains fell just before the Mass at the Universi- ty of New Orleans' Lakefront Arena, forcing the nearly 200,000 people to find shelter under umbrellas and raincoats. At the last second the clouds moved away, leaving a patch of blue over the Mass site. Archbishop Philip M. Han- nan of New Orleans told the pope the storm was an oppor- tunity to "defy the weather to show you are our father." That evening rain dampened the outdoor ceremony for Catholic higher education of- ficials at Xavier University but the showers did not stop the event. AT XAVIER Pope John Paul told the more than 1,000 educators that bishops must be participants in Catholic univer- sities and the work of theologians must be tested by the church's teaching authori- ty. The pope addressed what he called "the intimate relation- ship between the Catholic university and the teaching of. fice of the church" at Xavier, the only predominantly black Catholic university in the coun- try. Educators at some of the 235 U.S. Catholic colleges and universities have objected to proposed guidelines by the Vatican that would give greater administrative control of Catholic universities to the church hierarchy. In his address Pope John Paul said bishops need the assistance of Catholic theologians, "who perform an inestimable service to the church." "But theologians also need the charism entrusted by Christ to the bishops and, in the first place, to the bishop of Rome," Pope John Paul said as the au- dience applauded. Earlier in the day he had pro- claimed himself a student of U.S. Catholic education. "I have come here first as a student," the pope said follow- ing his address to about 1,800 Catholic elementary, secondary and religious educators. "So as a student I thank you for all you have taught me this morning." In their meeting with the pope, leaders of Catholic elementary and secondary schools and religious education described achievements and problems in Catholic educa- tion. About 2.7 million children are taught in U.S. Catholic elementary and secon- dary schools. The pope praised U.S. Catholic education's reputation for academic excellence and community service, especially its reputation for service to poor and minority students. In his meeting with 11 black bishops and 1,8o0 other black Catholics, Pope John Paul urg- ed: "Keep alive and active your rich cultural gifts" because "your black heritage enriches the church." His speech criticized the con- tinuing discrimination against blacks in society and asked U.S. Catholic leaders to fight to over- come the situation. "The black community suf- fers a disproportionate share of economic deprivation. Far too many of your young people receive less than an equal op- portunity for a quality educa- tion and for gainful employ- ment," the pope said. Pope John Paul also spoke to an estimated 60,oo0 young peo- ple in the Superdome during a youth rally filled with Mardi Gras-style entertainment. The pope stood and clapped through the three-float parade and was given a Mardi Gras mask by the young people. THE PONTIFF reiterated the church's teachings on premarital intercourse. "Jesus and his church hold to God's plan for human love, telling you that sex is a great gift of God that is reserved for mar- riage," he told the youth. Pope John Paul also spoke of marriage during the homily of his Lakefront Arena Mass, say* ing forgiveness is especially im- portant in marriage. Otherwise, worrying about real or perceiv- ed injustices can lead to estrangement and divorce. "The plight of the children alone should make us realize that the refusal to forgive is not in keeping with the true nature of marriage as God established it and as he wants it to be liv- ed." Some people will object that the teaching on indissolubility in marriage lacks compassion, the pope said, but the opposite is true. "What must be seen is the in- effectiveness of divorce, and its ready availability in modern society, to bring mercy and forgiveness and healing to so many couples and their children, in whose troubled lives there remain a brokenness and a suffering that will not go away." In a section of his prepared text which he deleted due to lack of time, Pope John Paul said the international debt question calls for forgiveness. Many developing countries are heavily in debt to industrialized nations. He said that "blind" justice cannot solve the debt crisis equitably. "Merciful love calls for mutual understanding and a recognition of human priorities and needs, above and beyond the 'blind' justice of financial mechanism," he said.