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September 25, 1987     The Message
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September 25, 1987

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September 25, 1987 Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana I I 5 Mass Readings By FR. DONALD DILGER Sunday's Gospel parable can apply to everyone of us Gospel [or Sunday, Sept. 27, 1987 Matthew 21:28-32 -- The Parable o[ the Two Sons Behind the idea of this parable lies the wisdom of the great Jewish teacher, Ben Sirach, who wrote about the year 190 before Christian times. His writing is called either Sirach or Ec- clesiasticus in our Bibles. This saying is found in 3:8: "Respect your father in deed as well as in word, so that blessing may come on you from him." In its context in the Gospel of Matthew our lit- tle parable continues Matthew's accusations against the Jewish leadership of the time of Jesus and his own time some fifty years later. In this chapter the leaders have been depicted as objecting to the praise of Jesus by the children in the Tem- ple. Their failure as leaders was symbolized by the fig tree which was cursed by Jesus and withered. Next Jesus puts them to shame by their inability or fear to answer a question about the mission or bap- tism of John the Baptizer. Today's parable will be followed by the longer parable of the wicked tenants to a vineyard who murder the son and heir of the owner of the vineyard. From this context we must judge what message Matthew is writing. Before going on to the use of the parable by Matthew in this setting let us see how the parable might have been used by Jesus during his public ministry. Let it not come as a shock to the reader that Mattew is not writing the biography of Jesus nor is his gospel written down while Jesus is preaching. Thus we can have the use of the parable by Jesus and much later another use of the parable by the" evangelist Matthew. The parable as spoken by Jesus is one in a number of Good News Parables -- that is, a story expressing God's love for sinners. That is the Good News -- that God cares about the despised, the outcasts, the sinners. Mentioned here specifically are the standard classes of sinners in this gospell first the tax collectors, then the prosititutes. Because of the occurence of this theme of Jesus association with these groups there can be no doubt that this association is an historical fact. Jesus sought them out and welcomed their com- pany. He is pointing out to the Jewish leaders that they were first to be called but rejected the messenger. They were too proud to recognize that the love of God reached out even to those classes of people whom they so despised. They the leaders, seemed to do the will of God and did not, while those who to them had no claim on God were the recipients of God's love and mercy. At the same time that Jesus is pointing out to them how they have failed he is also trying to win them over by getting them to see themselves in the first son who did not do the will of his father yet ap- peared to do so. Then they would "respect their father in deed as well as in word so that blessing may come from hi:n" upon them. (Sir. 3:8) As to Matthew's use of this parable: Matthew is writing for his church community which would have consisted of some converts from Judaism but by this time the majority of the members were pro- bably of Gentile origin. They would have posed the question: How did this happen? Wasn't Jesus sent to his own people? We must note that Mat- thew gives a prominent role to the Gentiles in his Gospel. The first ones to adore Jesus are the Gen- tile Magi in Chapter Two. The Gospel builds up to a grand climax in the command of Jesus to go teach ALL the nations -- the Gentiles. This parable, in the context in which Matthew sets it is another point emphasizing to his community how the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and thus the love and mercy of God passed over them to those whom the Jewish leaders considered sinners -- the Gen- tiles, represented in this parable by the tax col- lecters and prositutes. Next Sunday's Gospel will be an even stronger indictment of those leaders. How can this parable apply to our own time and to ourselves? There is no lack of religious leaders today who are so certain that God speaks to them while at the same time He ignores those who are addressed by that leader. Recent experience with TV evangelism demonstrates to what ridiculous lenghts one can carry the idea of direct communication with God -- a hotline to heaven. Whether a, leader is self-appointed to chosen by others this parable can be a warning that the wisdom of God will not necessarily rest upon him but through arrogance or spiritual deafness may be found rather in those to whom he is sent. Every Christian leader is whatever office in Church lite can become deaf to God's word by closing his mind to wisdom so amply found in the'common sense judgement and experience of the ordinary Christian. The Holy Spirit does not limit herself to the leadership of a Christian community. There is always the danger of the first becoming the last. On the other hand, the parable can apply to everyone of us. It would be rare indeed if each one of us does not have someone or some class of peo- ple we regard with contempt. As Catholics we may find traces of contempt for non-Catholic Christians and their religious practices. As Christians we may look down upon non-Christians as being less than ourselves. We may still find traces of bigotry toward our Jewish sisters and brothers. As certain as we may be that we and we alone have the whole truth and nothing but the truth, let us remember this story about St. Plus X. As he was driven past a Jewish cemetery he prayed for those who were there laid to rest. His secretary said, "But Holy Father, those are Jews buried there." The pope replied, "My son, God is" not bound by our theology." Other readings for Sept. 2Y: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Philippians 2:1-11 Pope receives musical instrument Pope John Paul II admires a musical instrument presented to him by a student at the home of the president of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. --Photo by Associated Press Pope is stern lecturer, compassionate pastor By AGOSTINO BONe NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) -- Dur- ing the 10 days 'of his hectic visit to the United States, Pope John Paul II showed American Catholics that he is a stern moral lecturer and a compas- sionate pastor. In 45 speeches and in meetings with groups in nine dioceses representing the diver- sity of American Catholicism, the pope was exemplifying the old Christian adage: hate the , sin, but love the sinner. His tough frontal attacks on Catholics who dissent from church teachings were tempered by the daily hugging, kissing and touching of people, including victims of AIDS. The underlying theme of his actions and words during the Sept. 10-19 visit was simple: U.S. Catholics need to be united through strong adherence to church teachings. Symbolic of the pope's at- titude was his approach to homosexuality and homosex- uals. He strongly reaffirmed church teachings that homosex- ual acts are always immoral and told the U.S. bishops to clearly announce this teaching although it is "unpopular." Yet he also met a group of homosexuals, all AIDS victims, in San Francisco, chatted with them briefly and touched them. In informal remarks to jour- nalists he also said homosex- uals are not "outcasts" and their place is "in the heart" of the church. "To understand the pope you cannot just look at what he says. You have to look at his gestures, what he does," said Vatican press spokesman Joa- quin Navarre-Vails on the final day of the pope's visit. Taken in context, the pope's strong statements are not harsh criticisms but "moral challenges" to overcome pro- blems, Navarre-Vails said. "The pope's strongest attack on dissenting Catholics came in a Sept. 16 talk to the U.S. bishops when he criticized "a tendency on the part of some Catholics to be selective in the adherence to the church's moral teachings." 1T IS A "GRAVE error" to think a person can be a good Catholic and still dissent from church teachings and to think that this dissension "poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments," he added. The pope's concerns were ex- pressed against the backdrop of polls showing disagreement among many Catholics with papal teachings on birth con- tro], abortion, women priests and married priests.