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Parable of the Workers – The Unmerited Grace of God

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Ezekiel 34:1–11 • Psalm 22(23) • Matthew 20:1–16

We do not earn salvation by our good deeds; rather we are saved by reliance on God’s grace.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew words hen and hesed are used to describe this generosity of God. Hen is the quality of benevolence of one who is highly placed turning to help one in need; hesed is steadfast love and spontaneous, faithful goodness in a relationship.  These words were later translated as ‘grace’.

God revealed himself to Moses as ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love...’ (Exod. 34:6).  The Jews gradually came to understand and rely on this gracious love of God: his goodness in choosing them from all other people to be his own, his gift of the land of Canaan – their whole history was proof to them. The prophets came to realise that the deepest demonstration of God’s grace was his promise of interior renewal, the gift of a new heart and the forgiveness of sins that he would accomplish by the Messiah.

Paul constantly preached the truth that we are saved not by our own righteousness but through faith in Jesus. ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, . . . even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith . . . not because of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:4–5, 8–9).

This attitude of rejoicing in the unmerited grace of God is in contrast with the jealousy and resentment of the workers in Jesus’s parable who have laboured throughout the day: though they have earned a just wage, they demand a share in the generosity of their employer (God) as a right. They forget the initial gratitude they had in finding employment.

Jesus is warning us not to fall into this self—righteous trap, thinking our own moral efforts are more important than God’s grace. As we remind ourselves of how much God has done for us, our hearts will begin to fill with gratitude. Then we shall not care so much who is last or first, or how long we have been working, because we shall know the Father’s faithful love for us.

‘Every day I will bless thee, and praise thy name for ever.’  (P5. 145:2)

Chris
 
 
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Have Mercy on me, O God

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Psalms 51 (NIV)
 

From: https://heathercking.org/2016/01/20/the-grace-god-gives-for-the-wearied-soul/

 

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

 

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

 

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquity.

 

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

 

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Saviour,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is51:17 Or The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise.

 

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,

to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,

in burnt offerings offered whole;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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Speak the truth in love

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Matthew 18:15–20
 
We do not have to learn how to sin and to hurt other people.  For most of us, the ability comes all too naturally.  The number of ways that we can sin against others and they can sin against us is so great that a web of suffering is created.  Yet we are called to live in the world relating to one another as brothers and sisters. There is plenty of opportunity for disharmony.  Jesus knew this and gave practical advice on how to resolve conflict and maintain discipline in the church.

Firstly, he tells us to deal with problems individually if possible.  This course of action could be described as ‘speaking the truth in love’.  But there are pitfalls even at this stage.  Resentments that we harbour against others may be due more to our pride, jealousy and sensitivity than to the faults of others.  Sometimes we can find ourselves being irritated easily.  It is said that we should make a list of things about other people that irritate us and then study that list, because it contains all the features in our own character that we most despise about ourselves.  Still, other people do sometimes hurt us, and the remedy that Jesus prescribes is not a display of intimidating anger or an attempt to manipulate or retaliate, but simply to speak the truth.

Next, Jesus describes situations where the offender is unrepentant.  Once again it is the truth, supported by witnesses, that underpins the course of action to be taken.  If the offender is ultimately recalcitrant, he or she is to be shunned as if a ‘tax collector’.

Finally, Jesus makes promises that speak of his closeness to his disciples through the ages.  Any group of people meeting together in his name have the assurance that God will listen to and grant their requests.  And Jesus himself will be present among them.  It is a truth that we should remember when we struggle, as we may so often, with distractions in prayer and feel that our prayers go unheard by a God who seems to be far away from us.  The Lord is always with us.  He is always listening.

Lord, you call as to love one another.  Help me to be more aware of my own faults than those of others.  But give me the courage and the love to speak the truth to others when I need to do so.

Chris
 

 

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Jesus and Peter walk on the water

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1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 • Psalm 85: 9–14 • Romans 9:1–5 • Matthew 14:22–33

Jesus rescues Peter as he sinks

Both Jesus and Peter are  recorded by the Gospel-writers Matthew, Mark and John as having walked on water.

In Dei Verbum the bishops of the Second Vatican Council explain this important and profound truth by saying: ‘The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus’ (para. 19).

If we approach the sacred text in this way, we open ourselves up to being taught, informed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit about the meaning of this event in Jesus’ life.

Jesus's walking on the water is certainly a miracle but it is also a sign. A sign of what? A sign of Jesus's divinity. Who else could walk on water? Who else could calm the wind and the waves? Only God. Only God can truly say: 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid' (v 27 NIV), because only God can promise true and everlasting peace.

Lord Jesus, you invite me to step out with you on the storm waters in the furious squalls of life.  I do indeed take courage from your promises, because it is you who invite me not to be afraid and with your Holy Spirit all things are possible.

Chris
 

 

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Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed

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Matthew 17:14–20
 
A mustard seed held between two finger tips.
 

After glimpsing Jesus’s glory in his Transfiguration, the disciples had to come down from the mountain. They were truly brought back to earth by the failure of others to exorcise a demon. Though they had seen the glory of God, they still had to operate, as we all do, in a world where Satan has power because of human sin. Our encounters with God in prayer can give us the faith to be able to combat evil in our daily lives.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. Unlike them, the father of the possessed boy was a model of faith: he knelt before Jesus and addressed him as Lord. He knew who Jesus was and that he had the power to set his son free. The disciples had some faith, but it was weak and needed strengthening. Jesus stressed the power of faith in a vivid way in his statement that even faith the size of a mustard seed could move a mountain. In the world’s perspective faith is something insignificant and powerless; yet it can achieve amazing results. If we only believe, God can do great things through us, and bring about what we think impossible.

Most of us would say we have faith and believe in God, but our challenge is to apply this faith in our daily lives. It is in times of trial and suffering that we are called to live by faith, and it is then that our faith can grow most. We need to exercise our faith, and work to make it grow — otherwise it may wither away and fail to reach its potential. We can nourish our faith by regular prayer, Scripture reading and celebrating the Eucharist. In these ways we allow God to speak to us and strengthen us with his grace.

We should not be content with a wavering faith. If we expect great things from God, he can do great things for us. Jesus’s saying about the grain of faith should not depress us and make us think ourselves inadequate, but inspire us with a vision of the wonderful work God can do if we truly have a firm faith in him and try to live it out every day.

Lord Jesus, I believe in you, but my faith is often weak. Strengthen my faith so that I may allow you to work through me in ways more wonderful than I can imagine.

Chris
 
 
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Come and Eat

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Matthew 14:13—21
 
Jesus feeds the 5,000, from https://www.hearthymn.com/jesus-feeding-5000-men.html
This is a familiar story from the gospels, but it is well not to become blasé about it, not to switch off because we have heard it many times before.  There is much to learn from the story.
 
First we see Jesus's very human reaction to the news of his cousin's death, withdrawing to a lonely place to ponder and grieve. However, even before he can reach this lonely place, the crowds have got there first. Of course, he responds at once to their needs and heals the sick.

The main focus is Matthew's version of the feeding miracle — or rather his first version, as another occurs in 15:32-39. A number of key points emerge. As is so often the case, the ever-human disciples do not respond fully to the challenge that confronts them, and therefore Jesus instructs them: ‘you give them something to eat’ (v. 16). In so doing, he trains them to be more confident, to become the leaders they will have to be after he has gone.

Next Jesus blesses, breaks and gives out the bread. lrnplicitly, Matthew evokes for his contemporary readers and listeners the ritual of the Jewish meal.  At the same time, the formula anticipates the Last Supper, and therefore the Eucharist of the New Covenant. We should also pay close attention to the words ‘five thousand men, besides women and children’ (v. 21). This addition raises the total of people fed by Jesus to between 20,000 and 30,000 — a very sizeable portion of the Jewish population of Palestine at that time, estimated to have been about half a million.

We see, then, a precise chain reaction. Jesus, for all his own personal loss, is touched by the needs of the people. He reaches out to touch them, to heal and to feed them. These same actions anticipate the Eucharist. Today, through that very feast we too can join in spirit the tens of thousands of people we have heard about in today’s Gospel: we too Will be fed by the Good Shepherd. So we do well not to drift away!

And from the first reading of today, Isaiah 55: 1–3, we have the lesson that God will provide us with what we need:
 
Thus said the Lord: Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come!  Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk.  Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?  Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy.  Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.  With you I will make an everlasting covenant out of the favours promised to David.
 
Chris
 
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