Talents

Enter Into the Lord’s Joy

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Our Gospel reading for today comes from Matt 25. Paired as it is with the passages from Zephaniah and 1Thessalonians, it seems to paint a rather stark and uncomfortable picture of judgment. This is the sort of thing that is easily caricatured by those throughout the ages who have thought of Christianity as little more than a religion whose adherents’ faith is based on the fearful desire to avoid some future judgment by God.

Although Christians have from time to time evangelized the world by calling people to believe in order to be saved from God’s coming judgment, these passages cannot easily be enlisted in such a project. Strikingly, the readings from Zephaniah and Matthew speak about God’s judgment of believers, not unbelievers.

In fact, the gospel reading for this Sunday is part of a series of parables that Jesus tells in quick succession. Each one builds upon the theme of God’s coming judgment of believers at the end of the ages. These three stories themselves build on Jesus’ response to a question from his followers about when God’s coming judgment will happen. Jesus’ answer takes up all of Matthew 24 and is filled with a wide variety of confusing images and symbols. These do little to answer the disciples’ question. In fact, they seem designed to short circuit this question of when all these things will happen. Instead they focus on being ready at all times. Read more

The Quality of Mercy

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16:2-15 OR Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

There are Sundays when it seems that God simply can’t catch a break. In one Old Testament reading, the people of God grumble and complain because they don’t have enough; they are worried about where their next meal will come from; they do not believe that Moses or God can provide; they are uncomfortable with having to rely on God.

Alternatively, if you opt for the reading from Jonah, God gets slammed by Jonah for being merciful to the Ninevites; for treating them better than they deserve; for being steadfast in love: Complaints for not providing enough, complaints for providing too much. Jonah is probably tied more directly to the gospel reading, but before that, we should talk about Paul.

From the depths of a Roman prison Paul writes to his friends in Philippi. His friends are under some pressure from hostile forces because of their faith in Christ. Later in the epistle he worries that this hostility may lead them to start grumbling against God and each other. He subtly notes that this is not the first time that that people of God had “grumbled,” and he urges them to avoid this (Phil 2:12-14).

Grumbling, however, is not Paul’s primary focus. The thing he is most concerned with, the thing is asks them to do first and foremost is this: “Order your life together in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). Paul’s plea is not directed to individuals, but to a whole community. Ordering a community’s life together is, at its most basic level, the work of politics. The politics Paul urges on the Philippians is one that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. Read more