Monday, April 25, 2016

Matthew 20:10-16 (NRSV): Entitlement and God’s Grace

Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructs his disciples about God’s immeasurable love. The parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) is one of Jesus’ lessons that solidifies his teachings on personal faith and God’s generosity.

The parable symbolically presents three primary characters: the landowner/employer (God), the early laborers (Israel), and the late laborers (Gentiles). Jesus points out that God is generous with his love, forgiveness, and grace to all who turn to him in faith. Duration, personal merit, and lineage (all attributes of the Old Covenant) hold no sway under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Entitlement to God’s saving grace, which many first-century Jews claimed, is denounced when the landowner pays the last first and gives each laborer the same pay, whether for one hour’s labor or ten.

Jesus is generous to all sinners who turn to him in faith, whether it is when we are ten-years-old or ninety. His love, forgiveness, and mercy are boundless, and no matter what we do to try to merit his love, our efforts for earnings, as is seen in this parable, cannot achieve a higher place in heaven or “more” grace.  All in faith are paid the same, and our reward is revealed in John 3:16-17:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
I pray and hope to always remember God’s loving generosity. I hope, moreover, to appreciate and lovingly welcome the laborer who is last, like me, who deserves the least, but, instead, is given an inestimable amount of God’s love.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Romans 5:8 (NLT): God’s Love is Unconditional

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Sometimes I just need to reflect on Paul’s words regarding God’s limitless love. Faith in Jesus is such a gift of grace, knowing that even when we fall (and I fall a lot), he is there to hear our complaints, receive our pleas, offer forgiveness, and love us back to our feet. We serve such an awesome God!

I pray that we always remember that God loves us despite our imperfections. And in this realization, we go forth as prisms of Christ’s light in a world that needs his love.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Mark 12: 31: Loving Self and Neighbor

“...The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

We all know the two great commandments: Love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.  They are, in many ways, the hinge of our faith in Christ.  He commands us to put God first, others second, and ourselves last.  But the second commandment requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is problematic, especially if we struggle with self value and self forgiveness. How can we be vessels of God’s love if we lack in self love? Our love for neighbor, then, would be flawed and lacking.  We must love, forgive, and nourish ourselves as God loves, forgives, and nourishes us. Only then are we prepared to love others like Jesus.

In his essay “Put on Your Own Mask First: The Safety of Self Care,” Omid Safi, a columnist for On Being, illustrates a compelling metaphor regarding the safety instructions given at the start of an airplane flight. In the time of an in-flight crisis, the unnerving directions require that parents first put on their own oxygen masks before they put on their children’s. This metaphor reminds us of the abrasiveness we feel when self love has to come first, since it goes against everything we are taught as Christians and the very fabric of what makes us human. Or does it? The following is what Safi says about self love and neighborly love:
Somewhere there has to be a balance of loving sacrifice for those we love, and providing loving care for our own selves. . . . May we live up to the commandment to balance tender, loving care for those most vulnerable with the realization that sometimes it is our own selves who are also vulnerable and in need of (self)care.

I pray that our daily tasks include loving God above all things and loving/valuing/forgiving ourselves so that we can fully love our neighbor.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Matthew 12:25, 30: Christian Unity

Jesus said to [the Pharisees], “Any country that divides itself into groups which fight each other will not last very long. And any town or family that divides itself into groups which fight each other will fall apart . . . .  Anyone who is not for me is really against me; anyone who does not help me gather is really scattering.” (Good News Translation)

The Pharisees cause disunity in the Jewish community by condemning Jesus’ healings, attributing them as not coming from God. Jesus’ reply points out the collapse caused by disunity, a kingdom divided into groups will fall apart. And there are several important lessons here. Israel, at the time of Matthew's narrative, was divided into four main factions of Jews: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. In addition, there were the Samaritans who, although they worshipped the God of Abraham and Moses, were not even considered Jews by the Israelites.  Finally, there was the division of those who believed in Jesus as the Messianic fulfillment, God’s Christ, and there were those who, like these Pharisee’s in this text, rejected and condemned Jesus. Israel, God’s chosen people, were divided.

The same message holds true to Christians in today’s church. Unfortunately, many ultra-conservative, traditionalist Catholics and Protestants focus on doctrinal, historical, and political issues as a means of division and disunity. This rift, as a result, causes those faithful to Jesus Christ to sometimes resent and condemn each other because of their divided worldviews.

Recently, I was drawn into an argument by a distant relative. She was excited to see that I had surrendered my life to Christ since she, too, recently discovered Christ’s love in her life.  However, once she found out that I was a Roman Catholic, she denounced me as a non-Christian. Out of curiosity, I asked why she thought this. Through her response, I discerned the following: Misinformed by media outlets and anti-Catholic rhetoric from those in her church, she, as an emerging Christian, received poor catechesis in our ecumenical Christian faith. My initial reaction was to be offended and upset; instead, God gave me the grace to pray.  After all, that is what Jesus teaches in John 17:21 when he prays the high priestly prayer: “I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you.” At the end of it all, we agreed on one beautiful thing that bonds us together -- Christ’s love and mercy.

As Christians, whether Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or non-denominational, we all follow the teachings and way of Jesus Christ, are grafted into Christ through Baptism, hold the Bible as sacred, and aim to love God and neighbor. Our hope, then, in Christ, is to unite and not divide. Jesus says, “Anyone who is not for me is really against me; anyone who does not help me gather is really scattering” (Matthew 12:30). Let us join together and be gatherers for Christ!

Please join me in prayer:
Lord Jesus, let us all, united in you, be gatherers. Let our lives be a reflection of Christian unity and love brought together in you. Let our arms, hands, feet, and hearts work as one body gathering all in unity into your love. Amen.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.