Tag Archives: Matthew’s Gospel

Unteachable – no reason to believe Heaven views us differently!

Twenty Seventh Sunday.

It’s a tough one!

Bear in mind that it comes on the back of: “And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (last Sunday’s Gospel, Twenty Sixth Sunday).

Divorce and remarriage are an accepted part of life. To suggest otherwise is to be considered outdated and backward.

Yet here in the proclamation of this Sunday’s Gospel reading we are once again confronted by the teaching of Jesus which says that divorce and remarriage are not, and never were, a part of God’s plan.

Jesus turns to the teaching of Moses and in doing so he must have known that Moses allowed divorce and remarriage.

In keeping Moses in the conversation Jesus is firstly putting the Ten Commandments centre stage; and secondly, he’s taking the opportunity to correct the teaching of Moses which allowed for divorce and remarriage.

Interestingly, he doesn’t blame Moses. Rather, he blames Moses generation, the masses, from Moses right up to his day, about 1600 years of people divorcing and remarrying: “It was because you were so unteachable” that Moses allowed you to divorce and remarry. There’s no reason to believe that Heaven views us any differently!

Just about everybody seems to have expected Jesus to go with Moses teaching allowing divorce and remarriage – as most people do today – as evidenced by the disciples bringing the matter up again in the privacy of the house.

That Jesus turns to the Ten Commandments should not be a surprise.

He guarded the commandments carefully saying that Heaven and earth would disappear before the Ten Commandments. That’s a huge statement. But there’s more: “Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven.” Matt 5:17

In placing divorce and remarriage in the context of breaching the sixth commandment (he actually uses the word “guilty” of adultery), in binding divorce and remarriage to adultery so tightly, and given his understanding of the place of the Ten Commandments in the working out of our salvation, Jesus is raising a red flag 🚩 here about divorce, remarriage and our eternal welfare.

It’s a tough one indeed.

What I haven’t dealt with here is Heaven’s understanding of the purposes of marriage and our everyday understanding – they’re very different and it will go some way to explain our difficulty with Jesus teaching.

But that too is another days work…

He told us it was going to be like this – the parable of the weeds and wheat. Matt 13: 24-30

Jesus compares good people to wheat and bad people to weeds.

The kingdom is like a field of weeds and wheat. The kingdom of God no less. We’re hardly able to cope with the sinfulness of the Church!

Where is this kingdom? It’s already here, it’s in the Church, the Church that contains, and always will contain saint and sinner.

I have a choice; do I give power to the sinner or to the saint? The weeds or the wheat? “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church…” we pray in every Mass.

You’d think that Jesus didn’t teach the parable of the weeds and wheat.

At times you’d be forgiven for thinking that he didn’t teach at all, never said a word.

You’d think he wasn’t betrayed by somebody who shared his table.

You’d think he didn’t die between two thieves.

You’d think he didn’t describe the kingdom for us.

And yet, after all Jesus teaching, we still expect the Church to be different?

You’d think that the incarnation never happened at all!

That’s my point – many people seem to attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Is it any wonder that so many fall away?

You’d never know that He told us it was going to be like this.

Of course weeds are dangerous if they get out of control.

But the best way to deal with weeds is a reminder that in the end there’s judgment. Dare I say it: Hell! The weeds are thrown on the fire and burnt.

How can there be Mercy without Justice? Justice is the very precondition of Mercy. Mercy is undoubtedly God’s greatest attribute but that presupposes Justice.

Do we really think that God bestows Mercy forcibly? Did Jesus?

God will never – never – superimpose Godself or his Mercy on our freedom.

We must use our freedom to receive Mercy, that’s its purpose.

Divine Justice just is, it’s the default position, but Mercy is our choice, always.

Jesus’ reasons for unbelief – the parable of the sower. Matt 13:1-9

We hear all sorts of reasons for unbelief.

But every time I read the parable of the sower I’m struck by its reach. Is there a reason advanced for unbelief that’s not included in the parable?

Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed that falls on the edge of a path.

The seed of the word is sown in the heart but there’s no understanding. Where there is no understanding, abandonment follows.

The heart is simply not receptive – receptivity is the precondition of understanding – the heart is not open, and entry through anything that’s closed solidly is difficult. The word simply bounces off non-receptive hard objects and falls away.

Next, Jesus compares people who hear his teaching to the seed that falls on patches of rock. It lacks both rich soil and deep roots.

When confronted with human suffering and human failure including outrageous scandal – scorching sun – the faith of some people withers because it’s not deeply rooted in the rich soil that is Jesus Christ.

Scorching and withering – apt descriptions of human suffering and failure.

That objections to God using this very argument can attract millions of views on YouTube suggests that many have not taken Jesus and his teaching seriously. The God that many refuse to believe in is not the God found in the teaching of Jesus Christ. They dismiss a God unrelated to Jesus Christ!

Next, Jesus compares people who hear the word to seed falling in thorns; falling in the midst of the worries of this world and the lure of riches the seed is choked to death! A strong image, mind. Choked, and common parlance adds “the living daylights out of!”

It’s dramatic, but for most people the choking happens unconsciously. It’s simply that other stuff – the cares of this world (interests that are good and wholesome in themselves) and the pursuit of wealth – take our hearts. For many the interests become false gods.

Is there a source of unbelief that’s not covered in this parable?

It seems that many people attempt to believe without Jesus Christ and his teaching which means they end up struggling to believe at all.

Thirty-third Sunday: Making a profit for God

Basic theme: If we prove to God that we can be trusted with his interests in this life, indeed with this life itself, then he’ll trust us with the next life.

Our life’s work then is to use everything we’ve got in such a way that God gets the benefit.

In other words life is not about us. Not a single detail of our lives is really about us!

So, to the parable, Matthew 25:14-30

The man entrusting his property is God.

He entrusts his property to servants; we’re the servants. His property is everything we’ve got, this life we’ve been entrusted with, which is not really ours but his; to be used for God’s benefit.

He then goes abroad; that’s how many perceive God, as being abroad!

“Now a long time after” he returns to go through his accounts; “a long time after” is our length

"Now a long time after the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them"

“Now a long time after the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them”

of years, long enough to lose our way! Going through his accounts is our final judgement.

To one he’d given five talents, to another two, to a third one. Two of the three make a profit, the guy with five makes five more, the guy with two makes two more but the guy with one gives back the one.

It’s the guy who made nothing that I’m interested in; what he had was taken from him and given to the guys who’d already proved they could make a return.

This is a common theme in the teaching of Jesus.

Spiritually naive! There's no such thing as the Church dying. There's only the kingdom of God being taken from a people who've failed to produce its fruit and being given to a people who will produce something.

Spiritually naive! There’s no such thing as the Church dying. There’s only the kingdom of God being taken from a people who’ve failed to produce its fruit and being given to a people who will produce something.

Spiritually there is no such thing as the Church dying, there is only the kingdom of God (what else can the Church be about?) being taken from a people who’ve failed to produce its fruit and being given to others who will produce something.

Notice too that this is good business sense and once again Jesus is using something we all understand – good business sense – and using it to teach us about God.

Finally, notice that the guy doesn’t do anything wrong, he keeps his talent safe, afraid to trade, and gives back what he’d received but without gaining anything for God.

His offence? He fails to become God’s missionary!

What on earth do you think life is for?

All Souls: The mystery revealed to “mere children”

Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus is saying that “these things” meaning the mystery of God remains a mystery to the “learned and the clever” but not to “mere children” – to “children” it’s revealed.

Now the first thing I should say is that this is not an argument against learning; it’s about the human heart.

Once again Jesus uses something that we can all understand, in this case a child, and he uses it to teach us about God.

Holding hands 2Think of the child-parent relationship. A child spends so much time with his or her parent(s); all day and all night at first, gradually the child is weaned but for years it’ll be there first thing in the morning, many times during the day, then in the evening and last thing at night.

Many of these times correspond to the times when the Church encourages us to pray.

In the child-parent relationship the whole foundation of the child’s future life is laid and as the child matures, provided the child-parent relationship has itself matured, the child will be trusted with virtually everything, even the family secrets! Eventually the child will be trusted with the family business. Remember this is not really about a child-parent relationship but about our relationship with God.

There’s so much in this image of a child; there’s the difference between the child (son or daughter), the servant (employee) and the biblical-historical understanding of a slave, words full of spiritual meaning. It’s the son or the daughter who will inherit, not the employee! The sons place is assured.

And if the child doesn’t want the inheritance or can’t be trusted with it, what’ll happen? It’ll probably be given to someone who can be trusted. Remember the passages where the kingdom is taken from people who fail to produce its fruit and given to others who will produce something?

Only when our relationship with God resembles the very best child-parent relationship will God reveal “these things” to us.

So here in just one image, in that of a child, Jesus teaches us almost everything we need to know about God and our relationship with God.

Twenty-sixth Sunday: The compassion of God didn’t leave sinners where they were

God is at work because tax collectors (extortionists) and prostitutes are changing their way of life.

Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus compares the people he’s speaking to – the Jewish religious leaders – to a son who says he’ll go and work in his father’s vineyard but then doesn’t go. Jesus accuses them of partaking in religion but in a way that doesn’t lead them into the kingdom of God (the kingdom of God is nothing more than God ruling your heart).

So here Jesus reveals the purpose of religion; that our hearts are ruled by God. This is the most important detail about every person’s existence; that each enters the kingdom of God.

On the other hand Jesus compares the tax collectors and prostitutes to a son who says to his father; “no, I will not go and work in your vineyard” but afterwards thinks better of it and goes, and the proof is clear for the Jewish religious leaders to see – the very public sinners were changing their lives; Zacchaeus declares to Jesus that he’ll pay back those he’s cheated four times the amount (Luke 19:8) and the woman “who had a bad name” sat weeping at his feet before kissing and anointing them with oil (Luke 7:36-38).

Jesus says this alone should have been enough to convince the Jewish leaders that God was working through him and indeed through John.

Here Jesus gives us the ultimate test to establish if God is present or not in a person’s life – “you will be able to tell them (true disciples) by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Where God is present certain types of behaviour follow, where God is not present other types of behaviour follow. But who decides what’s in and what’s out?

The present generation has great difficulty with some of this and wants to change it – much of it a sure sign of living outside the kingdom. Changing this is the spiritual equivalent of changing the laws of physics! It’s impossible.

When a man (or woman) begins to enter Gods kingdom (remember the definition – God ruling our hearts) he discovers the reality of sin, he doesn’t need convincing, more importantly his own sin begins to bother him, and if he continues to make his way into Gods kingdom he will change and be changed. It’s actually entry into the kingdom of God that decides what’s in and what’s out. The more you enter the more the Catechism makes sense.

This is what happened to the tax collectors and prostitutes. The compassion of God didn’t leave them where they were – and it didn’t want to leave the religious leaders where they were either. Too often today people understand the compassion of God to mean the acceptance of sin!

The compassion of God is grace or graces that change us inside (interior) and as we are changed inside we are changed outside (exterior) – our behaviour changes from the inside out. It’s precisely because we’re becoming a new person that our lifestyle choices change.

The religious leaders should have known this, they should have known that wherever the kingdom of God is present, there you find repentance and conversion. That they didn’t recognize this means that they had not entered the kingdom of God themselves.

This is a problem that persists to this day – too many speak of religion and God from a position outside the kingdom of God. The result is the blind leading the blind!

Twenty-fifth Sunday: God is generous, tolerant, merciful… but always with a purpose.

Philippians 1:20-24,27

Matthew 20:1-16

The landowner is God. He goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. The vineyard is Gods domain, where God rules, his territory.

The workers are called into the vineyard and do the work required of them but when they realize that those who worked only one hour are paid the same wage as those who worked a full day they start to complain.

Here’s where it gets messy! We need to remember that the purpose of this parable is to teach us about God and his kingdom.

Obviously it means God is very generous… but God is generous for a purpose. Likewise God is tolerant but tolerant for a purpose, merciful for a purpose.

Tolerance is not the paramount value in God’s kingdom, no more than generosity or mercy. Conversion is the paramount value, entering into God’s employment and becoming the person God intended you to be is the paramount value.

It’s not ‘when’ you start working for God that’s important but that you do actually start. It’s not ‘when’ you enter Gods domain (as in early or late in life) but that you do actually enter.

Our typical response is to throw a tantrum. it’s not fair, we say. It’s articulated in various forms that all run something like ‘he can spend his life having a good time (which usually means living a life of sin) and then at the last hour convert and receive the same wage!’ Or sometimes it goes, ‘I’ve worked hard all my life, always tried to be faithful and what do I get?’

It’s often said with envy… that’s the give-away indicating how little we know of Gods kingdom. If we knew this much (as in a pinch of salt between your fingers) of Gods domain we’d also now that nothing compares to living in Gods grace (in a state of grace as the old theologians used to say), certainly not a life of self-indulgence. Have a read of the second reading to capture something of what it means to Paul to live in God’s grace and its absolute dominance over everything the world has to offer. It really is startling.

Finally, let’s equate those working in the vineyard with those who practice religion and we’ll notice something important.

The workers in the vineyard are just doing a job for a wage, they have not assumed their employers heart, they have not become like their employer, they have failed to push on to the next level… a common enough problem among those who practice religion!

The problem with the practice of religion is that it’s only a tool and like every tool it’s only as good as the man or woman using it!

Twenty-third Sunday Year A: We judge acts, not people!

Matthew 18:15-20

Here we’ve got one of the most troublesome passages you’ll encounter in the course of reading the Gospels Sunday after Sunday. The modern mind will find this passage particularly difficult.

From this piece we can establish that Jesus never intended anybody to follow him in isolation. In fact, as we’ll see Jesus intended the very opposite – so much so that it makes us very uncomfortable.

This piece outlines disciplinary procedures in the early Church. But much more problematic for us is that Matthew places these guidelines on the lips of Jesus and there is no good reason to doubt that Jesus actually said these things.

Obviously they clash with “do not judge” which is the popular image of Jesus (Mr. nice guy) but if we exclude these disciplinary procedures from the repertoire of Jesus why not exclude “do not judge” too?

We simply must judge acts. If we fail to judge acts nothing can stand.

So, let’s look at Christ’s advice. It’s a series of steps, each a little more serious than the previous step.

“If your brother does something wrong go and have it out with him, between your two selves.”

We are to “have it out with him” (her) privately. There’s to be no gossip! Gossip is much too easy… and lazy! It’s the mark of the non-disciple. We’re called to a much higher standard, to step up to a mark that terrifies most people. We are to assume responsibility for Jesus missionary outreach acting in his name to win back our brothers and sisters.

The purpose of this engagement is to win back… think about what’s not said there. It’s not quite the same as our modern understanding of tolerance. Jesus tolerates to win back.

If private personal engagement fails, we are to bring one or two others because “the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge”. That’s a long way from gossip.

If that fails, we are to report the matter to the “community” which has been given power to bind and loose on earth. Most people have no problem with that; it’s Heaven’s ratification of that power that makes us uncomfortable! Clearly Jesus means an organized “community” of believers with people in positions of authority – otherwise to whom would you report it? He means the Church.

Between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: They are inseparable, despite the sins of the people who make up the Church. Pope Benedict XVI

Between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: They are inseparable, despite the sins of the people who make up the Church. Pope Benedict XVI

If the intervention of the Church fails we are to “treat him like a pagan or a tax collector” which effectively means exclusion.

This exclusion has a number of faces in the Church today, the exclusion of some people from receiving Holy Communion up to complete excommunication.

I told you this Gospel was going to be troublesome but we can’t get away from it… the Church we have today is not “made up” – even the hard bits. It’s got heavenly roots.

Here’s a link to Scott Hahn’s reflection:


Here’s a link to Pope Francis reflection during his Angelus address, Twenty-third Sunday, September 07th 2014


A link to Pope Benedict’s Lenten Message 2012 in which Benedict discusses “fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation” – well worth a read


Twenty-second Sunday Year A: Anyone who loses his life for my sake…

Matthew 16:21-27

Peter’s reaction is the standard human reaction, “Heaven preserve you, Lord. This (suffering and death) must not happen to you”.

Jesus uses the prophecy of his own grievous suffering and death (described as put to death) to teach his followers something that’s completely counter cultural. We just don’t think in these terms.

“… anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The use of “saving” here is interesting – it means keeping life for yourself, hoarding, accumulating, because you’re afraid to give it away, to give it to Christ.

“Saving your life” then means placing yourself and your own ‘kingdom’ at the centre of your existence which inevitably leads to materialism and consumerism. Most of us do this to some degree – herein lies the fundamental difference between the average Catholic (you and I) and someone like Padre Pio.

We do this because we want to be happy.. we’ve bought the belief that happiness is attained through consuming the material. But who told us that?

Actually, we must believe this in a society where the economy is “God” – although a false god.

The ultimate victory of this belief is to win the whole world – a point Jesus makes – but he then subverts the idea asking what good is it to win the whole world but ruin your life? He means ruin your eternal life; to possess everything the world can offer but have nowhere to go! But we don’t think like that because we’ve been conditioned to think that winning the whole world is life at its very best. But that’s not your life. Your life is your pulse!

Anyway, the inner dynamic is much the same; we give to receive…

However, Jesus is arguing that the secret to happiness is in placing not yourself and your own kingdom but rather Jesus Christ and his kingdom at the centre of your existence.

The inner dynamic remains; we give to receive which is what Jesus argues, “… anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”. The loss here is to one way of life, a worldly way of life, but in return we enter into (find) the kingdom of God, the life of God, which is so much greater.

Indeed, only when a man can see something greater (when seduced as in the First Reading) will he begin to let go of what he already has…

An after-thought:
We can use these terms to understand much about the Christian life including a vocation to the priesthood.

Twentieth Sunday Year A: It’s not fair to throw the children’s food to the house-dogs!

Matthew 16:13-20

Everything about Matthew’s description of this woman’s approach to Jesus suggests that she’s coming from somewhere that’s distant from God.

Notice Matthew’s words; “out” comes a woman (“out” as though from a foreign place or somewhere different). She’s shouting after Jesus. Shouting so loudly that she’s creating a scene that embarrasses the disciples, unnerves them, makes them uneasy.

She describes her daughter as being “tormented by a devil” – her daughter is held captive to some degree by the very enemy of God.

Jesus actions (“he answered her not a word”) and eventually his words (he compares her spiritual status to that of “house dogs” at the children’s table! Read spiritual maturity or state of soul before God) merely confirm Matthew’s description of the woman.

Here again we glimpse something that makes many Christians uncomfortable – there’s order in the spiritual realm. We’re not all equal – what’s equal is our opportunity to progress spiritually. We’re measured against an objective moral order that’s also a loving heart.

Secondly, we glimpse that anybody who wants to can progress in the spiritual life, all that’s needed is determination, the ability to take God’s knock-backs on the chin, to bear correction and even humiliation if necessary, to know your place before God, to know your misery (read sinfulness) and to keep approaching him.

The word approach here means daily prayer, active participation in Mass (activity that’s essentially interior before it’s exterior), constant unfailing knocking, talking, demanding, reading the Gospels.