In order to listen deeply to the lessons today, it's important to remind ourselves once more that we have begun the season of Advent. The word Advent, as you know, means, "coming." So we're celebrating a season in which we're expecting someone or something to come into our lives. Of course, the someone is God who comes into our lives. In this season of Advent, we expect God to come in different ways.
The Peace Pulpit
When we listen to this Gospel message today and the other Scripture lessons, it will be helpful if we remember the context within which these lessons are proclaimed to us. We're beginning a new year. We're used to new years. With our calendar year, we celebrate the beginning of every new year, or we know how we have a fiscal year, and we know how we have an academic year, but we also have a church year, a liturgical year.
Some years ago, a Dominican priest named Albert Nolan wrote and published a book that was entitled Jesus before Christianity. That might seem like a puzzling title to you because we would say that Jesus and Christianity are the same, but what Fr. Nolan was writing about very convincingly was that Jesus, when He lived among His disciples here on earth and then when He first began to live within the community disciples, proclaimed a very radical, even revolutionary message, a message that is very hard to hear and to really take in and understand, and then to follow.
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.
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.