“WHEN THE SON OF MAN COMES IN HIS GLORY…” (Matt. 25:31)
Readings- 1st- Ezk. 34:11-12, 15-17; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 28; Gospel- Matt. 25:31-46
A prominent feature in today’s reading is the image of the shepherd. The shepherd has control over his sheep. The shepherd knows his sheep. The shepherd defends his sheep. Importantly, the shepherd has compassion for the weak ones in his sheepfold. The prophet Ezekiel describes God in those ways, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so I will tend my sheep” (Ezk. 34:11-12).
This image of a good shepherd is found in David in the Old Testament. God said to David, "You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel" (2Sam.5:3). Having rejected Saul, God called Samuel to go and anoint a new king for Israel. He said to Samuel, "Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have found myself a king from among his sons" (1Sam.16:1).
The prominent characteristic for choosing David to be king was, "You shall shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler" (1 Chron. 11:2). As Samuel arrived Bethlehem, his conclusion was to pick any of Jesse's seven sons present beginning with Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. They all looked great and handsome. But God said to Samuel, "God does not see as human beings see; they look at appearances but God looks at the heart" (1Sam.16:6-7). The poor David was tending his father's sheep inside the bush. David's credential, the only resume needed by God was the compassion of a shepherd, one who will shepherd God's flock with tenderness.
That relates to the prophet Ezekiel’s prophecy today, namely, that God was to the Israelites a shepherd. God gathered them and tended to them from wherever they were scattered; “I myself will give them rest. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly”. And he concludes, “As for you my sheep, says the Lord God, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats” (Ezk. 34: 15-17).
This prophecy is obviously fulfilled in Christ as seen in the gospel. Christ assumes his kingship as Lord. He takes his judgement seat. He separates the sheep from the goat, the good from the bad. He says to the sheep, “Come you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
Two things should be noted here: First is that Christ is the King of the universe. As we recite in the Nicene Creed, "He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end". Second is that we are meant to inherit the kingdom because it has been prepared for us. Saint Paul remarks, "For he has brought us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his beloved Son". The Kingdom of Christ is our kingdom, the kingdom of life. Christ’s kingship surpasses the kingship of David. Christ is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation... He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col.1:15, 17-18).
The Feast of Christ the King always reminds us of a few things: 1) To recognize that Christ is the King of the universe. 2)To ascribe to him all power and dominion. 3)To strive to possess this kingdom which is already prepared for us. How do we possess this kingdom? For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me”.
Christ says to us, "...the kingdom of God is already in your midst" (Lk.17:21). The kingdom of Christ is manifested in every human being since we embody God’s presence. Christ says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the one of the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
As King, Christ must reign through our deeds. As Shepherd, he will gather us into his kingdom. Christ wants us to recognize those in need and be compassionate members of his fold. He wants us to be loving and friendly, supportive of the weak sheep in our midst. He wants us to feed the hungry. He wants us to take care of the sick and the needy. He wants us to clothe the naked. He wants us to visit those in prison. He wants us to give water to the thirsty.
Aren’t those acts practical and clear enough? It’s important to recognize that Christ’s Kingship is mostly in the poor. Whenever we perform those acts of charity, we are glorifying God. We are dignifying his kingdom present in his creatures. Whenever we do those good deeds, we are as well enlisting ourselves into his kingdom. And when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will treat us like the sheep, and not the goats. It is in the weakness of the sheep that strength is made visible. It is in service and love for the weak ones in our midst that our strength is manifested. Dear friends, always seek out the hungry, the naked, the strangers, the sick, the prisoners, the lonely. God wants you to care for them.
May Christ the King be exalted in our lives. Amen.
OUR RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Readings: 1st- Prov. 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 2nd- 1 Thes. 5:1-6; Gospel- Matt. 25: 14-30
It is called ROI (Return On Investment), a common terminology in the business circle. A return on investment is the benefit to an investor resulting from an investment of some resource. That’s what we witness in the gospel of today about the parable of the talents. The gospel reads, “A man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, to a third, one- to each according to his ability” (Matt. 25:14). Kindly pay attention to that phrase: “to each according to his ability” used in this parable.
In the context of Paul’s invitation in the second reading, believers are asked to prepare. Preparedness here means putting our talents to good use. Each servant is given some talents. The master also expects the servants to bring dividends just as their talents correspond. This is evident in his words of acknowledgment to the first and second servants. When the first person comes to him and says, “Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more”, the master replies, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. The second servant receives similar commendation when he says, “Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more”. Both are equally commended for their efforts. The master does not frown at the second for not making five more talents out of two. He knows each servant’s ability and gives him his talents accordingly.
Regarding the third servant, his problem is the lack of vision to invest his talent. That he is given one talent is not the issue. Rather, that he fails to utilize his talent. One talent in the Jewish background is not like one coin, it represents a monetary unit of high value. The master only looks forward to his return on investment no matter how little it is. He didn’t invest. Instead, he hides his one talent. Wrongly, he exclaims; “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter”. “… out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground”. That way he hands it back to the master.
There is no return on investment from this servant, he represents a period of waste for the master. The descriptions for him are terrible: “You wicked, lazy and useless servant!” These are very negative qualities- Wicked, because he intends failure for the master by not investing his talent. Lazy, because he cannot do anything with what he has. Useless, because he doesn’t realize the implications of burying the talent on the relationship with his master. He loses not only the talent but the relationship. He is like the foolish virgins who sleep away their time. He lets fear take the better part of him. The parable of the talent is striking in our various roles and responsibilities. We can easily make out from the parable that the Master is referring to the Lord’s return to judge our actions as servants entrusted with different talents.
The first reading refers to the king Lemuel of Massa in the Book of Proverbs. The mother is the one speaking to the king (Proverbs chapter 31). The king’s mother tells him, “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls…. She brings him good, and not evil… She reaches out her hand to the poor, and extends his arms to the needy. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates”. How does this connect to the gift of talent in question? The phrase in the gospel says, “to each according to his/her ability”.
God gives men according to their masculine ability. God also gives every woman according to your feminine ability. Each has to recognize their ability and not compete with the other’s ability, otherwise you end up burying your talent. Today, we hear the various voices that seem to be competing- women competing with men, and men competing with women regarding roles in the family. The most important thing is that men respect and recognize women’s roles, and women respect and recognize men’s roles. The question of who is the head and who is not does not even solve the problem if there is no love and respect. The worthy wife does not contest with her husband. The worthy wife lets the husband answer the head while she is the neck that turns him around. We know that the head is stiff and powerless without the neck turning it. The neck turns it either left or right and keeps it straight. This is what the wise woman does. She realizes what God has given her according to her ability as mother and wife. The worthy wife recognizes the importance of the home and keeps it secure. She coordinates the home. She moves the husband to doing good works. She initiates charity for the needy. She enables the family to invest wisely the talents given to them by God. The worthy wife does not compete in the family, she completes the family.
Men invest in seeking the worthy wife. Women invest in seeking out the family’s treasures. To each is given different talent according to his/her ability, to the man as man, to the woman as woman. I give you an example here. As we were planning for the archbishop’s visit a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with the committee organizing the liturgy. As I was drawing the list of altar servers for the mass, I needed to confirm from their parents about the availability of their child. I brought out my phone to call the parents. I had both phone numbers for the mom and the dad, and was not sure whom to call first. So, I asked the members of my committee: “Who do you guys think I should call, the mom or the dad?” Unanimously, they echoed, “Call the mom”. I called the mom and immediately it worked. The moms I called only had to look at their calendars and fixed their kids for the altar serving. Women know how to invest their talents as women, in a manner that men cannot. Men do theirs differently. There is no inferior talent, and no superior. The talents only vary according to our abilities, and God knows us.
What does God want from us? It is a positive return on our investment. As Christians, our return on investment is the spiritual benefit from what God has given us. Those love we show, those truths we defend, those cares we express. Those responsibilities we take up in our homes. Those times we commit to impacting positively on the life of others around us. Saint Paul reminds us, “anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well; and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well” (2 Cor. 9:6). A man will give his return on investment as dad, husband, brother or uncle. A woman will give her return on investment as wife, mom, sister, or aunt. A priest will give his return as priest, pastor, preacher; each according to his ability. And the Lord and Master will reward each of us with words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). The Lord has invested in us, let us invest in others according to our abilities.
WHEN WISDOM GUIDES
Readings: 1st- Wis. 6:12-16; 2nd- 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Gospel- Matt. 25: 1-13
The parable of the ten virgins is a popular one in the Scriptures- five are wise while five are foolish. The parable has great apocalyptic features. It invites Christians to be aware of the last things: heaven, hell and judgment at the end of time. It calls our attention to the separation of the good and the bad, the useful and the useless. The parable is set on the ancient Jewish custom whereby the bride goes ahead in procession to meet the bridegroom and to share in the wedding banquet. It therefore foreshadows the wedding feast of the Lamb. Here, Jesus draws the attention of his followers to the implications of being prepared for his coming (Parousia).
Jesus begins the parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). The narrative of a wedding preparation is important because of the level of investment (time and energy) that goes with it. Meeting with the bridegroom goes with excitement, but importantly it demands wisdom because all who await the coming of the bridegroom are expected to be well prepared. They should have sufficient oil which in this case is a symbol of good works. As Christians awaiting the coming of Christ, we need to have the oil of love, mercy, justice and faith all the time.
In the parable of the ten virgins, we see some puzzles that seem to contradict the idea of love and sharing. First, we see that all ten virgins “fall asleep”. They are only awakened at the invitation that the Bridegroom is approaching. Five of them are called “wise”; they have got enough oil for their lamps; five are called “foolish” because they have no oil. These five who have no oil attempt to borrow oil from the others, but they are refused. The five foolish ones then attempt to rush to the market to purchase oil, but it is too late. Unfortunately, the bridegroom comes when they are away. They are locked outside of his doors. They request to enter, but he says, “Truly, truly, I do not know you.” Doesn’t that sound a bit harsh to these ladies who spend their time waiting for his arrival?
The image of falling asleep here can be pictured in the second reading where Saint Paul remarks, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep”. Saint John Chrysostom helps us with a better understanding of the parable of the ten virgins in his teaching on Matthew’s gospel. The ten virgins have all fallen asleep. It implies that the virgins have passed away. They are awakened with the sudden announcement that all of us will hear one day: “Behold the Bridegroom (the King and the Judge of all mankind)! Come out to meet him!” Saint John Chrysostom explains that there are five maidens who have much oil, but no money. There are another five who have money, but no oil. The virgins who have money but no oil are those who do not fully invest their “talent” that the Master gives them.
The five maidens who are lacking oil either think that they can take their worldly goods with them or they think, “I’ll have time to repent and do good later.” Their lack of oil is that they procrastinate and, without warning, “fell asleep” until the sudden announcement of the bridegroom’s arrival. They lack sufficient good deeds, oil for keeping their lamps burning. They attempt to borrow the good deeds of others, to compensate for their lack at the last minute, but that is late and impossible. Christ warns, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
Wisdom is that “resplendent (radiant), unfading virtue that we all need to possess. The book of Wisdom portrays Wisdom as a woman, caring and affectionate. She is attractive. Sometimes she seems hidden and can only be found by those who seek after her. To possess wisdom demands constancy and commitment. It is an ongoing engagement because to possess wisdom implies setting one’s heart on her. Think about a man who falls in love with a woman and how he applies every skill into making her love and cherish him back. Such a man must be consistent in whatever attracts the woman of his love. He must keep searching and must stretch himself to acquire his heartthrob. That’s how it is with wisdom. We must seek wisdom and not be like the foolish virgins.
Today, Christ invites us to be awake. What does that mean? It means that we need to have our lamps of good works constantly lit and burning. We need to be awake in charity. We need to be awake to the demands of the poor around us. Charity is the oil that ignites our faith as Saint James reminds us, “Faith without good deeds is dead” (James 2:17). The words of Saint Paul in the second reading are, “Indeed we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thes. 4:15-16). That’s true because what matters is not whether someone is alive or dead. Rather, what matters is whether the oil is available at the coming of the “bridegroom”. As in the case of the parable of the ten virgins, everyone will be awakened.
Let us not be like the foolish virgins possessing the unnecessary in place of the essential. Let us not acquire wealth that won’t help us on the last day. Let us invest our wealth wisely in charity and in good deeds. Let us be wise and ready for the wedding feast always.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT HUMILITY?
Readings: 1st- Mal. 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; 2nd- 1Thes. 2:7b-9, 13; Gospel Matt. 23:1-12
Sometimes, we might be wondering, what it is about humility that it is so much stressed in the Bible. Jesus remarks today, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt.23:12). The life and teachings of Jesus demonstrate that he does not only teach humility, rather he invites us to his own life which epitomizes humility. Right from my seminary days, two ejaculatory prayers have remained fresh in my heart: One says, “Jesus meek and humble of heart. Make our hearts like unto yours”. The other one says, “Heart of Mary so closely united with the Heart of Jesus: Come to our assistance”. Both prayers remind us of the TWO HEARTS fused together in a loving humble relationship. Each time you lose it, use the mantra: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart: Make my heart like unto yours”.
Humility is at the core of our Christian theology. Christ warns us, “You know that among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt. Among you this is not to happen. No, anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave” (Matt. 20:25-27). And that’s exactly what he did- he became slave for our sake.
In the gospel (Matthew 11: 28-30), Jesus invites us with the words, “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and gentle in heart”. At the introduction of his Christological hymn, Paul echoes, “Make your own the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5). The Blessed Virgin Mary declares at the annunciation, “For he has looked on the humility of his handmaid. Yes, from onwards all generation shall call me blessed” (Lk.1:48). Christ became humble till death. His humility gave birth to our redemption. Mary’s humility gave birth to Christ the savior who died for the world.
Christ reminds his disciples, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matt.11:30). This is what he contrasts with the life of the Pharisees in the gospel of today. The life of the Pharisees is all about ostentation. They brandish themselves as with authority, they show off. They widen their prayer boxes (phylacteries) and lengthen their tassels so that everyone might notice their devotion to the law. The Pharisees love high places of honor in the synagogue. They love to be seen as rabbis and teachers. The Pharisees see others as sinners. They present the publicans and tax collectors as unworthy of God’s love and attention. But they don’t do the things they promote. Christ debunks such attitude. He warns his disciples against such prideful hypocrisy.
The proud person cannot do authentic charity because for him, giving is about showing off. Such person’s actions are aimed at attracting praises. Think about the narcissist who struggles constantly with self-esteem. That’s pride. The proud person usually struggles with internal self-identity and lacks the sense of remorse. Such person does not conceive of mistakes and never uses the word “sorry”, even in error. The pride lacks a sense of service. Ironically, for proud people, their need of others is deep, but their real love for people is shallow. Their relationships become quite troubling and problematic because only those who agree to be under them stay, sometimes in grumbling fashion. The Pharisees and Scribes are that way. They love using people. They need obedience and loyalty. They need recognition and endorsement. They need people to validate their ego. Some men are that way too, so also some women. Some husbands are like that. They always want to be on top, the wife is only a subject that must affirm their ego. Christ condemns such behaviors, “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example”. This is like his previous injunction to his disciples to be wise as the serpent and as innocent as dove (Matt.10:16). It is one thing to keep the law, another to emulate those who make the law. Christ doesn’t want us to pick fight with proud, arrogant persons, else we be like them.
Christ concludes, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted”. Humility is the secret of every relationship. Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, “Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal” (Thoughts for Daily Living). Think about that, “self-surrender to the highest goal”. Humility is emptying of the self, offering up what others think is most valuable. The humble might look weak but humility is the secret of strength. It is the key to all friendships. Marriages, for instance, crash mostly because of lack of humility. When couples recognize the need to be humble, they become more accommodating of each other’s weaknesses. They become more available and willing to support genuinely. And because humility goes with service, the humble becomes the one who receives acknowledgement in the end.
Let’s remind ourselves again today of the need to be humble. Parents, must be humble to serve as role model. The husband must be humble to love his wife and respect her. The wife must be humble to appreciate and respect her husband. Children must be humble to obey their parents and teachers. Political leaders must be humble to serve those who elected them. Church leaders must be humble to guide and direct their flock. Everyone must look unto Christ and learn from him. Without humility, your relationships crash. Without humility, it becomes difficult to keep other virtues.
Always remember this prayer, perhaps make it personal: Jesus, meek and humble of heart. Make my heart like unto yours.
THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE
Readings:1st- Ex. 22:20-26; 2nd- 1 Thess. 1:5-10; Gospel- Matt. 22:34-40
Love of neighbor- brother, sister, husband, wife, colleague, etc, is the visible sign of the expression of our love for God. Saint John says, “Anyone who says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, is a liar, since whoever does not love the brother whom he can see, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 3:20). And Paul stresses this point in his letter to the Romans, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for to love the other person is to fulfill the law” (Rom. 13:8). The Jews placed so much emphasis on the law. That’s why the Lawyer approached Jesus with the question in the gospel, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”. Record has it that the Jews had about six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Law, and so this young man was perhaps looking to see if Jesus would negate any of them or acknowledge some better than others. That way they could fault him. Like last Sunday on payment of taxes, the Pharisees ended up being disappointed and even committing themselves to the real demands of love.
From the Old Testament book in Deuteronomy, the Jews had great emphasis on the Shema which says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). The Mosaic Law in the book of Leviticus also says, “You will not exact vengeance on, or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). So, if they knew all these laws, why then did the young man still ask Jesus about which is the greatest of the commandments? The answer Jesus gave to him was surprising because it still took him to what he knew but summarized the point that was really important thus, “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matt.22:40). The two commandments are the Commandments of Love.
Love is a very simple word which carries with it great commitments. Ordinarily, we use the word love almost carelessly in our daily lives. We usually say, “I love you”, countless times in a day. Yet the world records hatred in high capacity. Ironically, the English language has one word for love. We say, “I love my dog”, “I love my cat”. “I love food”. “I love soccer” “I love cookies”. “I love peanuts”. “I love traveling”. “I love music”. “I love traveling”. “I love party”, etc. These are different things we can love. But the categorization of these various things which we love can only come from our attitude towards them. Love is a great emotion. Yes, we love food, fish, meat. We love drink, maybe wine or soda, too, yet we consume them by either eating or drinking. But we don’t love them the same way as we love human beings, say, our son, daughter, parents, etc. We can’t eat our son or daughter as we eat food, but we love each of them in their category. Rather, we preserve the persons in our lives that we love. That is why the Greek word uses different expressions for the word “Love” to make us understand the various ways we could appreciate the different things we love, or the ways to express our love in the various senses that we may desire- “Agape (unconditional, consuming passion for the well-being of others), Phileo (compassionable love, fondness, affection or liking), Storge (natural affection or obligation- close to Philos) and Eros (erotic love or love of passion).
The love of God is supreme. Christ says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your soul, strength, mind and heart”. God is love, so we have to love him. He is the reason for love. We have to worship him, adore him and honor him. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He deserves the highest form of love. We must also love our fellow human beings created in the image of God who is Love. The commandments command us not to kill, not to tell lies, not to covet, not steal. To not do those negative things to others means to show them love. Obviously, it is easier to claim to love our fellow human beings but to say we love them as ourselves would be a tough one.
And to love our neighbor as ourselves is another tough one. Remember the question posited to Christ, “Who is my neighbor?” For us, the neighbor is the one who responds to our gestures of friendship and affection. The neighbor can also be the one on the same social and economic strata with us. Our human love often becomes lopsided and negatively categorized. The first reading calls our attention to that, to the persons who need love from us but rarely find it. They are the poor and the needy in the society. These have few or no neighbors.
In the first reading, God warns against exploiting the weak and the poor. He commands us to treat such people with love. Think about the stranger who lacks assistance. Think of the widow who lacks marital comfort. Think of the orphans who are exposed to hardship for lack of parental care. They all need to be loved. It is always easier to associate with the rich and the big than to recognize and cherish the poor. Christ says today, “You must love your neighbor as yourself”. That is why we need to appreciate what the Saint Vincent de Paul in the parish does. They take the very difficult calls and cases. They go after people who are ejected and have no hope. They go to the homes of those who have no relationships with them at all, and provide what they need. That is the depth of love.
Love is a debt we all owe. It is love of God and neighbor that Christ commands, not love or God only. It seems quite easier to say we love God. We go to church. We pray at Mass. We are spiritual and do things for the church. But we are always unwilling to show deep love for those in need.
Let’s just do simple things for others. Give smile and laughter to those around you. Give joy and peace. Give hope. That’s love. Think of how many people you encounter each week. Think of how better or worse you leave them at the end of your encounter. Think of those you speak to on the phone. Think of your physical contacts at work. Think of those you encounter as you drive. Think of those you meet at the places you shop. Those are your neighbors.
Then think of your marriage. One of my friends told me a funny and nasty story of a man who was married and kept fighting with his wife. At some point, both of them couldn’t take the pressure anymore. They decided to divorce. A few years after, the woman died but this guy couldn’t attend her funeral. He and his friends were playing gulf when he sighted the horse and the long motorcade in a funeral procession. He quickly asked his friends to stop and pay some respect for the dead while the procession passed by. One of the fellow players was shocked and queried why the game should stop for a funeral procession. The man called them and said, “The person that is being taken to the cemetery for burial is my wife”. Every member of the gulf team was surprised.
My friends, we better show love to people when they are alive. It doesn’t matter if we stopped the gulf game or any other thing for the dead if we didn’t respect the person when she was alive. Christ wants us to balance our love- Love God and love your neighbor.
May the love of God lead us to love others as we love ourselves.