Homily on the Twenty-Sevent Sunday of Year A (Matt 21:33-43)
Oct 2, 2011
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
SINCE the birth of the Philippine republic, no President ever had the political will to change the condition of the majority who are poor. No wonder, when former Joseph Ejercito Estrada ran for President, many people, including some businessmen and even intellectuals, opted to support him, despite what his rivals and critics described as his immoral private life. His image in the cinema that portrayed him as champion of the poor and his campaign slogan, Erap para sa mahirap, captivated them. For the majority who are poor, he was the cornerstone of the new building that would be the pro-poor government. He was then extreme popular. When the 1998 presidential election was through, Estrada got 10.7 million votes, while is closest rival, Jose de Venecia, obtained 4.3 million votes. But on January 20, 2001, after 31 months in office, President Estrada was deposed by the very people who elected him, in a 5-day popular uprising now known as People Power II. On the fourth day, the top generals of the armed forces joined the Edsa crowd to announce their withdrawal of support. On the last day, hundreds of demonstrators marched to the presidential palace to pressure him to resign, even as then Vice-President Arroyo took her oath as President. Shortly after noontime, Estrada hastily left his official residence. What was thought to be the cornerstone was rejected by the builders in the end.
This fate of Estrada somehow illustrates what happened to Israel. In accord with his plan that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), God chose Israel not out of any merit on her part, but on the contrary despite her sinfulness and weakness, and because of his love for her (Ezek 16:4-8). If people overlooked Estrada’s deficiencies and made him their President, so God ignored Israel’s sins and made her his very own people (Isa 1:3), or in the language of the parable in today’s Gospel, his vineyard (Matt 21:28; Isa 5:7). He gave her the law to distinguish Israel from other nations. If the Filipino people wanted Estrada to become the champion of the poor, God wanted Israel to become a light of all nations, through whom all peoples will be saved. Thus Isaiah: “All nations shall come and say, ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob’” (Isa 2:3a). God wanted her to become the model community in which God dwells, a community where justice, peace and righteousness prevail (Isa 2:4). Israel, therefore, does not belong simply to the political history of humanity; rather, by divine election, she was constituted the center of the history of salvation.
But just as Estrada failed the presidency, so Israel failed in the mission God gave her. If the impeachment trial revealed the bribery and corruption of the presidency, so the first reading makes an account of Israel’s failure: God looked for judgment, but he found bloodshed; he searched for justice, but discovered the cry of the poor (Isa 5:7). In the view of the prophet Isaiah, the land of Israel was full of land grabbers (5:8-9), bribery and violation of human rights (5:23). God sent prophets to bring Israel to faithfulness and make her listen to his will (Jer 7:3), even as journalists, academicians, technocrats and businessmen criticized the way the President governed the country, but Israel, like Estrada, did not respond accordingly. On the contrary, Israel killed the prophets that were sent to her (2 Chr 24:21; Luke 13:34). She even rejected and killed God’s only Son. Because the nation did not live up to the covenant, God took away the vineyard from her and gave her to a new people, the Church, even as Estrada was booted out from office and a new President was installed. The new people in the parable are none other than the Church. This is what the “others” who received the vineyard mentioned in the parable (Matt 21:41) meant. Which is why, in the last supper, Jesus spoke of the new covenant (Luke 22:20), to signify that a new partner has been chosen to renew Israel.
Of course, just as Gloria Arroyo came to know that she was installed in order not to repeat the failed presidency of Estrada, so the early Christians gradually realized that their call was to be the renewed people of Israel. This is implicit, for instance, in Jesus’ final words to Peter: “In the new age when the Son of Man takes his seat upon a throne befitting his glory, you who have followed me shall likewise take your places on the twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). But in Paul, this is explicit, because the apostle already addresses the community as the renewed Israel: “Peace and mercy on all who follow this rule of life and on the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). As a renewed people, the Church is not to repeat the mistakes of Israel; hence, she has to realize that she is given a big responsibility to embody the features of the Kingdom of God in her life and mission. This is the reason why in the parable, the Gospel makes a loose quotation from Isa 5:1-7 to compare the Christian community with the people of Israel. A similar point is stressed in the 2nd Reading: the Church must live what she has received from God; she must have Christ as the center of her life. “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (Phil 4:8-9).
The Gospel, like the 1st and 2nd Readings, calls for our self-examination as a new people of God, even as the Arroyo Administration should have closed examined itself whether it remained faithful to the people power that had installed her. As a community that has been called to embody the values of the Kingdom of God, the Church, like every Christian community, is to take seriously her vocation, and the responsibility given her for the salvation of mankind. In this self-examination, she could raise, for a start, the following questions: Has she progressed in her journey as a people, or is she simply repeating in her life the sins of Israel? If today God visits her, will he find wild grapes in his vineyard? Will he discover in the Christian community land grabbing, bribery, violations of human rights, bloodshed? Instead of peace, will he find violence and war? Instead of justice for the poor, will he unearth exploitation and marginalization? Instead of care and sharing, will he find greed and corruption? These and similar questions could be raised today by the Christian community in her self-examination, as well as by the current administration that replaced the Arroyo experiment.
Homily on the Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Year A (Matt 21:28-35)
Sept 25, 2011
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
IF NOYNOY AQUINO was catapulted into the Presidency, it was not so much because of what his party had done; rather, it was because people had had enough of the litany of the alleged corruptions under the previous administration. For many, his election slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” accurately described the state of the nation. The immorality and the amount of money involved in various allegations were simply mind-boggling: NBN-ZTE scandal, Hello Garci scandal, P738M fertilizer scam, P532M overprice of Macapagal Bvld, Nani Perez Power Plant deal, P1.38 poll automation contract, Northrail project, Garcia and other AFP Generals scandal, the results of the 2007Mindanao elections, Mindanao Massacre, and many others. One hopes that the new President will succeed in pursuit of the “matuwid na landas” (right path)! And yet, early this year, an SWS survey showed that his net satisfaction rating plummeted. This could be an indication that in the perception of those surveyed, the President has yet to show tangible results. Sen. Francis Pangilinan himself said that the Palace should match campaign promises with concrete accomplishments.
That words have to be substantiated—this is the main point of today’s parable of the two sons. The story is extremely short. When their father asked them to go and work in his vineyard, the first one objected, but eventually changed his mind and obeyed. The second one said yes but never went. To the question of Jesus, “who of the two did the father’s will?” the answer of course is the first son. There are various ways of understanding the parable, depending on the level of interpretation one wants to focus on As told by Jesus, the story seems to have been originally linked with the question of who was a true Israelite. The first son portrays the tax collectors and sinners. Because they were unable to follow the law, they were treated as outside the pale of the true Israelite community. The second represents the scribes and the Pharisees, those who know the law. They claimed to represent the true Israelite community because they were faithful in its observance. Because of their claim, they became so secure in their position that when God revealed himself not through the law but through a person named Jesus, he refused to respond to him. That is why they are compared with the second son because they said yes to God, but in actual fact, they did not obey his word spoken through Jesus. On the other hand, the tax collectors and sinners, who were regarded as transgressors of the law, now said yes to the revelation in Jesus. Hence, they are identified with the first son.
It is even possible that the parable was applied first not to the ministry of Jesus but to that of John the Baptist. In his case, the poor who did not know the law accepted his teaching, but the religious establishment did not. But at the level of Christian life, the parable is about discipleship. In particular, it has to do with the importance of practical response to God’s invitation in Jesus. No doubt, the first son is held up as an example of discipleship. It does not matter whether one was born to a pagan family, or to morally questionable parents; what matters is that, in the ultimate analysis, one accepts God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. Just as the tax collectors and sinners repented and believed in Jesus (Matt 21:32), so any person, whatever might be the beginnings of his life, has only to respond to the offer of discipleship by changing his life and putting on the life of Christ. Such a person is God’s son, Jesus’s disciple, heir to the kingdom of God : “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me” (Matt 12:30 ). One of the bitterest criticisms of Jesus against the Pharisees precisely consisted in this—that they merely talk, but their deeds are scarce: “Do not follow their [the Pharisees’] example. Their words are bold, but their deeds are few” (Matt 23:3). They are like the second son who said yes to his father, but failed him.
Discipleship is thus a matter of deeds. In much the same way that the real test of “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” is whether the current administration has made tangible results in its war against corruption, so the real test of discipleship is whether the words are backed up by deeds. Because discipleship is what makes one a child of the kingdom, Jesus could say: “None of those who cry out, “Lord, lord,’ will enter the kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). On the basis of this, one can only be amused that peripatetic preachers and born-again Christian could be so zealous in their attack against the Catholic Church, convinced as they are they have the truth, but are intolerant of those who happen to disagree with them. How often they forget that they have to love in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18 ). The final test that one is a disciple is not the ability to quote the appropriate biblical text to prove that one’s argument is rooted in the Bible, but the fleshing out of that belief in love.
The parable is a big challenge to us, Catholics. The center of our lives is the Eucharist, where we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes (1 Cor 11:26 ). In Christian life, To borrow the words of the Second Vatican Council, it is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows. For the goal of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in her sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper”(Sacrosanctum concilium, 10). But there looms the danger that the Eucharistic celebration may be reduced to a mere ritual celebration, divorced from our daily life. It could happen that though we are faithful in celebrating it, we do not make an effort to live the life patterned after Jesus’, which is a life of self-giving (Phil 2:9; Second Reading). In that sense, we could be like the Pharisees whose words are bold, but whose deeds are few and far between. To make the Eucharist the real center of our life, it must also affect our very life—all our thoughts and actions come from it and lead toward it. For a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to action on behalf of others is simply empty; it does not exhibit a response to the offer of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Homily on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Year A (Matt 20:1-16)
Sept 18, 2011
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
SERIALIZED ON GMA-7, Sana Ikaw Na Nga was a prime-time soap that told the story of the love between Carlos Miguel and Cecilia. In one of its episodes, there was a scene in which the family of Don Juan Salvador was gathered to listen to the lawyer read the last will and testament of the old man. One of his sons, Leroy, was to inherit part of the wealth, but with the stipulation that he had to finish his schooling first. His brother, Gilbert, who was legally married to Cecilia, was given an even greater inheritance, and without condition. But the surprise of the last will and testament was the wealth to be inherited by the young Juan Salvador, the legal son of Gilbert and Cecilia, although televiewers very well know that the baby was not Gilbert’s—he was Carlos Miguel’s—his inheritance simply boggles the mind, it was fabulously enormous. One could always sympathize with Leroy; he was after all a legal son, and yet he could not even have his inheritance, since conditions were attached. On the other hand, the young Salvador, who did not even have the blood of his father, bagged the biggest part of their family wealth!! If one looks at the last will and testament through the eyes of Leroy, he can easily see some injustice in the distribution of wealth. But one can always argue that their father was simply generous to his grandchild—the young Juan Salvador!
Almost exactly the same point is being stressed in today’s parable popularly known as the Parable of the Laborers of the Vineyard. It tells the story of a vineyard owner who hired from a labor pool at various hours of the day. When evening drew on, all the hired men, including those who were hired at five in the afternoon, received the same payment. If one looks at the parable in terms of labor relations, he can always sympathize with those who labored all day, beginning at nine in the morning, but nonetheless received a wage that was exactly the same as those who came at five in the afternoon. It is not difficult to see the injustice done to them, if by justice is meant the giving of what is due to everyone. Obviously, it is a gross injustice for the estate owner to give the same wage to those who came to work early in the day and those who came late in the afternoon. That would be a case of unfair labor practice. But the parable is not about labor relations. For the focus of the story is not on the laborers who came to the vineyard, but on the owner who was extremely gracious to those who came last—he was extremely generous!
In trying to understand the lesson of the parable, it may be helpful to point out that at Jesus’ time, the market place was some kind of a labor exchange. Men went there in the morning and waited for an employer to come along. And in the normal course of things, any employer would always hire the skilled or the competent workers. Consequently, if there were any workers standing idle in the marketplace from morning to afternoon, they were certainly the leftovers whom no one hired. The lesson of the parable lies here, for it is in connection with these leftovers that the extreme generosity of the owner is shown. For one thing, in spite of the fact that they were unskilled, the owner was generous enough to take them in. For another, he gave each of them a wage that was more than commensurate with their work. One wonders, of course, whether this could be practiced in a business corporation. It is easy to imagine a company eventually folding up because of the extreme generosity of the owner—being exceptionally gracious would send the company into bankruptcy! But that is how human thinking goes. Nonetheless, the first reading reminds us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:5-6).
Linked with the parable, this Isaianic saying merely indicates that God does not deal with men in the same way that men deal with their fellow men. To curb greed and inequality, men like to appeal to justice—give each one his due, they say! But one wonders whether justice is enough. Law brings justice, but one can easily recognize that something is lacking—it lacks compassion, magnanimity and similar values! Dura lex sed lex, the law may be harsh, but it is the law! Obviously, the world cannot be ruled by law alone, and it would be unfortunately to leave the world only to lawyers or justices! Love is to be added, for it is love that enables us to share with those who are marginal and abandoned members of the community. “The Lord is good to all, and compassionate towards his work” (Ps 145:9), says the Responsorial Psalm, but that is because God is first of all love. Equality may express justice, but it does not convey the compassion and love of God. It may be difficult to fathom, but one can understand why God’s thought is unlike human thought.
But if God does not deal with us in the way men do, it is because if he does, no one would probably survive: “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered” (Ps 130:3-4). Since no one can stand if God deals with us like we do, he deals with us in his mercy and forgiveness. God remains good to humans, even if the latter are not good to him. He deals with us in his generosity. God is good to us not because we are good, but because he is good. This is the way the parable answers the murmuring of the Pharisees. When Jesus accepted the prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners to table fellowship, the Pharisees complained that he was thereby making sinners on par with them who were perfect observers of the law. For the Pharisees, they stand above transgressors of the law, and they deserve a reward that was much higher than sinners’. But Jesus answered that that God is extremely generous that he could even give equal pay for unequal work. What counts, in other words, is the mercy of God, not our own merits! What does this imply for the community? This means that since all are recipients of his mercy, members should rejoice whenever they receive gifts from God. Gifts are not earned; they are simply given! There is therefore no reason to be envious, when someone receives more than the others. The Christian community has no room for people who cannot bear to see others surpass them in gifts or talents. On the contrary, all have to rejoice in that, despite their unworthiness, God remains generous to them with his gifts!
Homily on the Twenty-Fouth Sunday of Year A (Matt 18:21-35)
Sept 11, 2011
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
IN a mid-section of a daily, a report is told of a husband named Rosendo, 24, who locked her wife Joanna, 22, in a room and did not give her any food for a whole day just because she failed to wash her pants. But Joanna had had enough of it. Reporting to a police station in Cubao, Quezon City, she claimed that her hubby, a security guard, punched her after she failed to wash the pants that he was supposed to wear to work. She claimed that when Rosendo came home at about 9 pm one evening, she asked him money for food because she was so hungry; instead, her husband beat her up. The report does not tell us what happened afterward, but one can surmise that their case having gone to the police blotter, their marriage is on the rocks, if not on the verge of being destroyed. It is far cry from the ideal, which is a community of life and love. Human weakness that shows itself in the inability to love and care for each other and to be responsible for one another, destroys the unity that binds them. For what the man does to the woman ultimately affects the covenant of life and love.
Like marriage, the Church has also an ideal. If we limit ourselves to the second reading today, we learn that for Paul, the Church, having been freed from law, sin and death, ought to be a community that lives for God: “None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord and when we die, we die as his servants. Both in life and in death, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7). This means that the existence of the Christian is bound to the risen Christ as his Lord; he shares in his life. In everything he does, his purpose is to be of service to God in Christ. At the same time, he is bound to the other members of the Christian community because these share in the life of the risen Lord. They serve the risen Lord through service to the fellowship. In other words, the evidence that one belongs to the community is exhibited by one’s attitude toward the other members in the fellowship. In the Christian community, then, every Christian is bound to the other. This is why St Paul says: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members shall its joy” (1 Cor 12:24). The whole community is involved in anything that a member does, whether good or bad.
Consequently, when a member sins against another, the persons affected are not just the two of them. When Joanna reported the maltreatment by Rosendo to the police, the husband and the wife were not the only ones involved in the scandal. Their children surely suffered public ridicule. When a wife commits adultery, it is not only her husband who is affected; the children live through the hell of it all, and the whole family is in a mess. The same is true of the Christian fellowship. When a member sins against another, the Christian community experiences cracks in its unity and the whole body suffers. Too often, even among Catholics, this dimension of sin is missed. Many think that when they sin, it is God alone whom the offended, or the brother directly involved. Because of this misunderstanding about the nature of sin, the sacrament of reconciliation is little understood. A little appreciation of this sacrament indicates that when someone sins, he sins not only against God and the person involved, but against the whole Christian community, to which the sinning member and the offended party are closely bound spiritually, theologically and sociologically. In the Church, every sin has a social dimension that always involves the whole body, even though it is not personally felt by every member.
Precisely because the members suffer from the sin committed by a single member, the cracks in the unity of the community must be repaired. But in order to preserve the unity and restore the fellowship, what is necessary? Vengeance, of course, is out of question. In the fellowship of mind and heart, only forgiveness can restore the broken relationship. Of course, here we are not dealing with infractions that are very serious. We are concerned here with infractions that are committed every day, most of them trivial and unintentional. Those that are serious were the subject of the Gospel last Sunday. This Sunday’s has to do with trespasses that are commonly encountered in Christian living with others, but that have to be resolved because they affect the fellowship. One cannot but be concerned with them especially once they are repeated. Which explains the question of Peter: “Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him? Seven times?” (Matt 18:21). Peter, of course, knows that the infraction must be repaired by forgiveness. The sense of the question, however, seems to suppose that the sin of the brother has been repeatedly committed despite admonition by community members, and therefore have become a straining factor in the relationship and fellowship of love.
For Jesus, to the forgiveness of such infractions, there cannot be any limitations: “’No,’ Jesus replied, ‘not seven times; I say, seventy times seven times” (Matt 18:22). Because they are disruptive of the fellowship, such sins must be forgiven without limit, because to do otherwise would deprive the community of its wholeness. In forgiving the brother, the offended party not only frees the offender from the bondage of sin; the injured member is himself given freedom, for without forgiveness, his heart will be filled with resentment and bitterness, which may even take a permanent home in it. And once they pollute the mind and poison the heart, it is possible that resentment and bitter will irreparably destroy the relationship and the fellowship. But this is not to say that it would be easy to forgive. There is no problem if the infraction is repeatedly only once. But if it is repeated say fifty times, that certainly calls for a really Christian disposition—much like forgiving one’s enemies, or turning the other cheek to one who slaps the right one.
Because it is difficult to forgive without limit, Matthew holds up the forgiveness of God as a model to imitate by telling us the parable of the merciless official (Matt 18:21-35). To forgive once is human, but to forgive without limit is divine. Human nature sets limits to forgiveness, but what is distinctively Christian is to remove them. God is always lavish in his forgiveness. This is the main point of the parable, well illustrated by the king who easily cancelled the debt of his servant who owed him ten thousand talents, something like fifty billion pesos in today’s currency exchange. Indeed, even when we do not ask for it, God already gives us. “While we were still sinners, God died for us” (Rom 5:8).