How can God be so unfair? 25th Sunday in ordinary time  – Matthew 20: 1-16
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard is unique to the Gospel of Matthew, found in no other Gospel.  Matthew, who follows the narrative of the Gospel of Saint Mark, breaks the flow of Saint Mark to insert this parable. What then did Matthew want to communicate that the other Gospels did not seem to be too interested in?
We have to constantly place the Gospel of Matthew in its historical and social context. Written in approximately 80 to 90 AD, the Gospel is principally addressed to the Jewish Christian community who lived in some proximity to Jerusalem.  However, the Jewish Christians were not the only ones attracted to the message of Jesus.
Paul, by this time, had already crisscrossed the Roman world. He had evangelized in Antioch, Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor and finally in Rome. It is rather possible that by the time Matthew had written the Gospel, Paul was already martyred under Emperor Nero. From the Acts of the Apostles, we can safely surmise that the message of Christ found appeal in both Jewish Christians and even more among Gentile Christians. Here in lies the problem.
Central to the council of Jerusalem, which took place in about 49-51 AD (Gal 2:1-10; Acts 15), was the contentious issue of the Gentile converts as a result of Paul’s missionary activity.   Some sections of the Jewish Christians felt that these converts needed to be catechised in the Jewish traditions of circumcision, ethics and dietary habits. The council, however, swung in Paul’s favour, albeit with a couple of riders. The Church now began to open its doors to the Gentiles.
The Gospel of Matthew, while keeping its focus on its principal audience of Jewish Christians would have been confronted by the reality of an emerging cosmopolitan Church. By the time Matthew wrote the Gospel, Galilee was more Gentile than Jewish. The Gentile congregation perhaps wanted more say in Matthews’s community; a wish that would certainly be resented by the Jewish Christians.
Look again now at the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. The vineyard was always understood as a symbol of Israel. Ironically, the owner of the vineyard would never go looking for labourers at six in the morning; that was the job of the manager. But not this owner, for He is Jesus.  That leaves us with the labourers; who might they be?
Through the parable, we get a glimpse of the situation that Matthew’s volatile community finds itself in. While the Jewish Christians were the first to answer the call to work in the vineyard they were not the only ones. In time, and perhaps much later, the Gentile Christians were made welcome to labour in the vineyard. The irony is that all are paid the same, even though the Jewish Christians laboured much more. This was a brewing labour problem no modern-day union would want to be drawn into.
There is one thought that must cross our minds on reading this parable; how can God be so unfair? We are not alone with such thoughts for the Jewish Christians must have felt the same. But Matthew wants us to see Jesus as he did and not as we would like Him to be and act.  The problem is often in our heads, especially when we think we deserve more than others because we came to serve the Lord before they did.
The JBC well describes the labourers and perhaps us, as ‘victims of the revolution of rising expectation’. The parable focuses on a magnanimous God who is not to be evaluated by our levels of human pettiness.  He is generous by His standards; for if He followed our measures of generosity, how poorer the world would be. Be thankful that God does not play by our rules.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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How many demons are within you?  – Luke 8:1-3
How many demons are within you? That may seem a strange question considering the belief that many of us think that there are those around us who could be possessed but we are not. Could I have a demon within me and not know it?
The first miracle in the Gospel of Mark (1:21-28) tells us that on the sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and there was a man there in the congregation with an unclean spirit. Demons do not spare you because you are in the presence of the Most High God or in his temple. In the text of today’s Gospel, (Luke 8:1-3 ) we are told that Mary who is called Magdala had seven demons that Jesus cast out of her; not one but seven!
While we should not fear Satan nor should we be constantly looking for him in the ordinary happenings of our life, to deny his presence and his working is foolishness. We live in a world where popular satanic music, satanic street gangs, satanic games and even an increase in satanic worship are prevalent and blatantly spoken of.
In spite of this, many people do not take the occult seriously. They laugh off the notion of the power of evil as actually being a part of the “real” world in which we live. They entirely deny the possibility of demonic possession, either on the supposition, that there are no evil spirits in existence, or that they are powerless to influence us.
When given an opening, demons will therefore try to enter and possess. They can possess an object, such as a cursed occult artefact. They can also possess a place, especially if sinful or occult behaviour has occurred there. It is necessary to clarify that the devil is not able to take possession of the soul of a man (unless the person expressly consents to it), but only his body. The Evil One can tempt us, but he cannot touch us directly unless we open the door for him.
The blessing of our home is not just some sentimental act that we perform. While Catholic tradition has been watered down to suit the ‘climate of change’ and accommodate all, the older ritual for the blessing of homes calls upon the power of God to drive away satan and every evil force in the home. A house, an apartment, or another building can be “infested” with demons if someone invites them in, even unknowingly. Or sometimes it can be a person who has an “open door” to the demonic.
Furthermore, satan (that’s not his name but his title) is a deceiver; that’s what satan means. He will not stop deceiving us into believing whatever he wants us to believe. When the new ritual for exorcism was released, Cardinal Medina, then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, stated very poignantly, “I would like to stress that the evil influence of the devil and his followers is usually exercised through deceit and confusion. Just as Jesus is the Truth, so the devil is the liar par excellence. He deceives human beings by making them believe that happiness is found in money, power or carnal desire. He deceives them into thinking that they do not need God and that grace and salvation are unnecessary. He even deceives them by diminishing the sense of sin or even suppressing it altogether, replacing God’s law as the criterion of morality with the habits or conventions of the majority.”
It would be foolish to assume that satan will stop his mission to destroy the ministry of Christ. Yet it is also important to know that satan is a defeated enemy; defeated on the cross by our Lord. Yet, this is a shameless enemy who having been defeated never gives up. The battle against satan is real and happening in real-time,
Fix therefore your eyes and your faith upon Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are saved by Jesus Christ alone, through prayer, our adherence to the Word of God in the Bible, and through the sacraments, especially through the presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
In our prayer, we should not forget to involve Mary, the Mother of God, who has crushed the head of the ancient serpent (Gen. 3:15). Devotion to Mary is a powerful means of protection in our daily lives.
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Who said a Catholic has to be good?
It has been a while since I have felt this call to holiness. Every attempt to move in that direction has left me found woefully failing. So, I began to settle with second best, telling myself that I am a good person and God will understand.
How often have we justified so many failings in our moral life by telling ourselves that we are good people who do good? We revel in the fact that second place is someplace and if we are to slip into heaven as Catholics then we can parade our ‘goodness certificate’ at the pearly gates. But that is a fatal mistake if not a hellish one.
A rich young ruler once addressed Jesus as a ‘good master.’ In his response, Jesus said, “No one is good but God himself.” But while only God is good, the Bible tells us in Leviticus 20:26 that ‘God is holy’ and not just good and that we are called to be ‘holy’ just as God is. Leviticus also tells us that we are commanded to be holy because God has ‘separated us from other people.’ God has separated us not so that we may run around with a chip on our shoulder but we have been separated so that we will ‘be his.’
The Greek word ‘hagios’ translated as holy, does not indicate that we are ‘sanctified’ but rather as Leviticus tells us, holiness means to be separated or to be different. So, a Catholic, by his or her very calling, must be holy, must be different and must be separated, in order to serve God. Christ has called those who want to be His disciples to be “in the world, but not of the world.”
So, let us address the malaise of many Catholics who give themselves ‘goodness certifications’ because the call to holiness is way too challenging for them. Goodness won’t get you into heaven because heaven is not merely some ‘good place’ but heaven is ‘holy’ and nothing unholy can be in the presence of Almighty God. So quit certifying yourself, quit consoling yourself. God wants us to be Holy, not just goody two shoes who contributed to building a Church.
The movement to holiness begins with addressing our sins. Remember that heaven has a dress code (even if our Churches are too afraid to enforce one) and those invited to the banquet must be dressed in the right robes of holiness. Addressing our sin begins at the confessional and this must be frequent even if some clergyman dissuades you from coming every week or tells you it’s okay not to confess your trivial sins. Every sin is a sin, no matter what any clergyman may say.
Holiness is not just an intention in your heart. It needs physical acts that may seem superficial at first but lead us eventually to a habit. Habits are formed and the habit of daily mass, daily rosary, morning and night prayers, confession, pious practices, pilgrimages, reading and imitating the lives of saints and the daily reading of the sacred scriptures; these and many more begin the life of holiness.
For those who argue that you live busy lives, guess what! These demands that holiness calls us to, these acts of piety and prayer will just make your life even more demanding. But that is the price that holiness demands; to drop everything in order to embrace the pearl of great price.
Some may argue that holiness is a matter of the heart and that is true but what is in the heart is always manifested in the action and if the actions do not reflect the heart, then this argument rings hollow.
I am making a case for holiness in thought, word and deed so that we may encourage each other to live for heaven. Being good may be good for some but not for God, for he has made it clear that he is Holy and his dwelling place is holy and if heaven is what we truly desire then there is no way in unless we live that call to holiness.

NB Your comments are most welcome. Please keep the discussion civil. Do share this article with others even if you think they will disagree. You just might be the agent that God is using to touch and transform a life.

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Matthew the sinner, now a saint – your past does not define your future. (Matthew 9:9-13)
On reading today’s Gospel text, you will notice that the Pharisees do not say, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors who are sinners” but rather they say, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors AND sinners.” While both groups are abhorred by the Jewish religious establishment, it is not clear that tax collectors were considered sinners; perhaps they were considered social outcasts because they connived with the Romans.
Scholars have long debated precisely whom the term sinners designated in the ancient world: most regard sinners as people who habitually behaved in immoral ways or in ways that contradicted widely shared religious observance. We never encounter a clear definition of sinners, a term that almost surely expresses general social disapproval.
Whatever the case, here was Jesus sitting while these tax collectors and sinners who were ‘reclining’ with him and his disciples. The very posture of the tax collectors and sinners, at the table with Jesus, indicates a certain comfort level that they shared with this Jewish Rabbi; a comfort level that makes the ‘self-righteous’ both then, and now, uncomfortable enough.
But should we be uncomfortable with what is happening around us our attitude cannot be one of the Pharisees who lack the grace to speak directly with the one whose actions they have taken umbrage with; in this case, Jesus.
What do we do when we disagree with those we find hard to agree with? The Pharisees resorted to a low blow. They took up their issue, not with Jesus but with his disciples. So often this is exactly what we do. We lack the grace to address our differences with the person concerned and rather resort to backbiting. Both calumny and slander are sins so don’t go about justifying your actions.
Christ disapproves of such behaviour. Scripture tells us that he “heard of this” (verse 12). We often think that our gossiping and heinous verbal attacks on those we do not like go unnoticed. Well, Christ heard what the Pharisees said and he certainly gets to hear what we say.
The response of Jesus was twofold. It announced his plan of salvation and a criticism of the self-righteous. While the Church has got distracted with many issues, the core of our faith rests in the salvific plan of God. He sent his son to save us from our sins. Now, sitting amid sinners and tax collectors he makes that plan clear once again. “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick.”
Clearly, sin is a sickness and only those who are sick know how much they wish to be well and rid of illness. Just as sickness destroys the body, sin destroys the soul. Jesus has come to take away our sickness of sin. But many of us refuse to acknowledge sin in our lives. We refuse the sacrament of confession consoling ourselves that we are good people. God did not call us to goodness, he called us to holiness.
The fact is that all of us have sinned (Rom 3:10-11, 23), but only those who acknowledge their sins can be forgiven. How can God ever forgive someone who doesn’t think they need it?
The response of Jesus also consisted of a criticism of the self-righteous. The Pharisees reviled their religious superiority. Yet, those who could parrot the scriptures seemed to have forgotten the ones that spoke of mercy. To them and us Christ says, “Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
To some, this may seem like a carte blanche; complete freedom to act as one wishes. Scripture must be read in its entirety and not selectively. To the adulterous woman, Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” The disease and the poison that sin is needs the attention of the physician and Jesus is the divine physician. Having been healed by Jesus, we must shun sin vigorously or else we become like the dog in Proverbs 26:11 who returns to its vomit.

Every Saint has a past and every sinner a future. 

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What a young Muslim girl taught me

I won’t be entirely wrong if I am to assume that you opened this link just out of curiosity. What on earth could a young Muslim girl teach a catholic priest? While I do want to assure you that you are not a victim of ‘clickbait,’ a mechanism employed by social media to get you to click on their link using some scandalous or super, super exciting title to accompany what we would call in Indian slang a ‘faltu’ post; this post is really about what I truly learnt from a young Muslim Girl.

Again, I did not need to title this article by highlighting the faith of the girl. I could have said that I learned something from ‘a girl’ and yet I want to stick with this title for a purpose. We can learn just about anything from anyone provided we learn to be open. Sadly, even I find myself prejudiced at times. The charged political rhetoric has set us all off on an edge elevating our unspoken prejudices to openly hateful comments. This is the reality we have now come to experience especially in India today.

Muskan is true to her name. She must have been born smiling for her to be given that name. Muskan’s eyebrows never furrow even when she gets an overdose of my well-meaning teasing. I met Muskan thanks to Naomi (the daughter of Lenny and Nadia Soares). Muskan and Naomi hang around as if they were joined at the hip at birth. There is a constant joyful camaraderie and that would explain her regular visits to our home in Goa and my endless opportunities to give her a good ribbing.

Quite recently I suffered another Bell’s Palsy episode; this time on my left face. For me and for my doctors, this unusual recurrence has truly made this idiopathic illness more of a mystery to this never-ending saga of my medical history. My face was left like it was wrecked and while I continue to trust in God some part of me left me deflated and angry.

Wallowing in self-pity I saw Muskan as she rode her bike to the house. I waved out to her and did what most decent human being would do, enquire how the other is. “How are you?” I asked. This is a question I get asked a million times and I am sure you do too. “How are you,” can either stall your day for the next fifteen minutes, listening to the medical woes or personal troubles of the other or could get you a quick if not dismissive, “I am fine” or “I am good.” I usually answer people with one of the two cursory responses especially if I don’t want to engage in a conversation. Muskan however did not say either of the two. To my, “How are you,” she shot back, “I am blessed.” She was not fine, she was not good, she was blessed!

“I am blessed!” What an amazing answer. I call it amazing not because she uttered these words for the first time in human history but I was amazed because a girl, all of sixteen could feel the blessedness in her life enough to express it loudly for all to hear. Here is a teenager who understood the meaning of life. I have no illusions that this girl is dancing every day on a cloud for I am sure she faces all the challenges that a teenager does, yet her maturity is reflected in her approach to life. She sees her life with all its challenges as blessed.

I had to sit down to internalise this one. I too am blessed, but I could not see it. Sure, I could have done without this round of my facial paralysis but then again it could have been a lot worse. The MRI could have indicated a brain tumor but it did not. The medical tests could have read like a rap sheet of bad news but it did not. A young girl taught me that day to acknowledge the blessedness that God gives us, even when the storm clouds roll in and the cloud burst does not seem to end.

Being blessed does not mean that life is a song and a dance. Our Blessed Mother Mary was hailed by her cousin Elizabeth as ‘blessed among women’ and yet that blessedness entailed seven sorrows that could have broken Mary. Being #Blessed is not just some social media announcement that you got a new car or returned from a great holiday. Being #Blessed means that you can feel the presence of God in the midst of everything life throws at you.

Muskan knows she is blessed and she shared that learning with me. Does it matter what here faith is? Does it matter how old she is? What matters is openness, for God speaks to all of us, all the time. We on the other hand let our prejudices block out the voice of God.


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