As we listen to the lessons today, one of the first things we might notice is how the different books of the Scriptures, the letters of Paul, Matthew, John, Luke and so on were all written at a different time. They bring forth lessons for the people then, but for us, too, that change over the period of time. What I'm thinking of is the second lesson today from St. Paul. That was the earliest of all the Christian Scriptures. It was written around the year 50, and at that point the Christian community was still expecting the return of Jesus at any moment.
The Peace Pulpit
Now as we try to listen for a few moments within the depths of our hearts to what God is speaking to us today, there are a number of things that we can reflect on. The first thing, I think, comes from that passage, St. Paul's letter to the Church at Thessalonica, where Paul reminded the people that God's message that they had received, they accepted it, not as some human thinking, but rather as a living power among them because they accepted what God spoke not as a human word, but as God's word.
Now as we continue our reflection on this part of Matthew's Gospel that we've been considering for the last three or four Sundays, we find once more that through a confrontation with the religious leaders, Jesus is teaching us something very important about ourselves, about God and about our relationship with God. Today, probably, it's the most fundamental part of the teaching of Jesus that we really need to take to heart because this has to do with the most basic of our relationships: our relationship with God and then with our brothers and sisters in the human family.
These words of Jesus at the end of today's Gospel are perhaps among the most misunderstood words of Jesus in all the Scriptures, in all the Gospels because many, many people, and perhaps some of us, interpret these words as Jesus declaring there are two totally separate realms. There is Caesar's, the political, human realm, and then there is God's. There are two separate forms of our existence, what we might call in current terms the religious and the political, and they should never be brought together. They are totally separate.
When we reflect on the Scriptures today, especially the Gospel lesson, it will not be very helpful for us unless we remind ourselves of the context in which this Gospel lesson, this parable, is told by Jesus.
As we begin our reflection on the sacred Scriptures today, it seems very clear first of all that these lessons are lessons about conversion, about changing the direction of our lives in some minor ways, perhaps, but as always with Jesus, it means radical conversion -- a profound change.
I have an idea that almost every one of us who hears this Gospel, and we've heard it before, feels more in touch with the workers who worked that whole day and then watched as others who worked only an hour received the same thing they did.
We are all very much aware, of course, that today is the 10th anniversary of the terrible act of terrorism perpetrated against us 10 years ago. Isn't it very challenging to try to hear what God is speaking to us today?
In fact, I think we might be most surprised by the passage from the Book of Sirach because don't we often think of the Old Testament as a testament where God is revealed as being a very harsh God almost, a warrior God. He acts against enemies and allows the Chosen People to do that.
In order to draw deeply from the Scriptures today, especially the Gospel, it's important for us to connect it with what we've heard in the Gospel on the last couple of Sundays, and I think you'll remember very readily a couple of Sundays ago when Jesus challenged his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They were fumbling around until Peter stepped up and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus praises him.
I’m sure we remember last Sunday’s gospel because it was so dramatic, where Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” and they were fumbling around trying to come up with an answer. They said, well, one of the prophets, maybe Jeremiah, Elijah. Then Peter steps up and says, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” Jesus was very excited about that, that Peter recognized who he was, but then at the end of the gospel, Jesus says something quite strange for the disciples -- and for all of us -- because he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.