Sunday Word

God’s grace is for the taking

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Sept. 24
Is 55:6-9; Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a

Father Guerric DeBona wrote a Scripture commentary, “Between the Ambo and the Altar.” He cited the teacher of homiletics, David Buttrick, who always insisted that preachers in their preparation should not simply ask what a Scripture passage means. The preacher’s task is not to explain Scripture. The preacher’s task is to do what the Scripture is doing. They should ask what the passage is doing.

Jesus told a parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner” who had hired laborers to work in his vineyard. He hired day laborers at dawn, midmorning, noon, midday, and quitting time. At the end of the workday the landowner had his foreman pay all the day laborers the same whether they had worked one hour or the full eight hours.

What is the Gospel from Matthew, Chapter 20, doing? It is upsetting us. It’s not fair! Our sense of fairness does not like the idea that the landowner pays everyone the same whether they worked one hour or eight. What happened to “an hour’s pay for an hour’s work”?

In the story, the landowner says to the grumbling hardworkers, “I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?”

Is God saying, you made a bargain and I am simply holding it up? Have we been bargaining with God, seeing ourselves in a contract with God?

If so, we’re in good company. When the rich young man went away sad after Jesus had told him to give his wealth to the poor and then follow him, Peter pointed out that in contrast to the rich young man, the disciples left everything — family, friends, livelihood. “What will there be for us?” (Mt 19:27).
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine Jesus doing the same. “If you people do X, Y and Z, I will suffer and die on the cross.”

Nope, doesn’t sound like Jesus.

In the kingdom of heaven, the sun shines on the good and the bad alike. God’s grace is for the taking. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that this grace is free but not cheap. There is always the cross.

The parable upsets the idea that God is our boss where we perform and he rewards. Jesus did not teach us to pray, “Our Boss, who art in heaven.” No, he taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

God is our Father. The Father welcomed his prodigal son home with a robe, ring and feast, even though his bum son didn’t do anything but turn up one day, broke. (The resentful elder son could well relate to the grumbling day laborers.)

“An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” is completely inadequate to describe our relationship with God.

Can we deserve Christ’s death on the cross? No. Can we lay away points to heaven? No. Can we earn God’s love? No.

We are freed from having to try to earn a gift, God’s grace, as if we could.

Like the landowner going out at again and again, God invites us to live in his world, a world full of grace. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like. That is what the kingdom of heaven is doing.
To take to prayer: How would you explain this parable to a friend?

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo and his latest book is “Can I Say a Prayer With You: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying With Someone.” He can be reached at frdavidscotchie@gmail.com.

The Church brings the joy of the Gospel

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Sept. 17
Sir 27:30–28:7; Ps 103:1-4, 9-12; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

His servant owed him a pile of money, something like a gazillion dollars. The king ordered the deadbeat to be sold into slavery, along with his wife and children, to get some return on his loan. Yet when the servant fell down and begged for more time, as if he could pay it off within the next thousand years, the king was so moved with compassion that he forgave the entire debt. Just like that, the debt was wiped away.

The servant, realizing he and his family were not condemned to a lifetime of slavery and shame, ran off skipping and jumping, free from the burden.

Or did he?

No. The servant grabbed by the throat another servant who owed him some loose change and threw him in debtor’s prison. The servant was acting as if he still owed the king. Why? Why could the servant not write off the small debt?

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I was privileged to attend the once-in-a-lifetime Convocation of Catholic Leaders. Hundreds of cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and thousands of lay leaders from around the country gathered in my hometown Orlando. Everybody who was anybody in the American Catholic world was there. It was Catholic Woodstock.

By the end of the four days, I was exhausted. The many people and the schedule of speakers and breakout sessions were asking a lot for an introvert like me. At Mass, I wore earplugs and shaded my eyes from the stage lights. My mom, volunteering for the convocation, went to a Matt Maher praise and worship evening. I went to bed.

Yet the Convocation refreshed me. I felt stronger, solid and at peace.

The Convocation did not focus on the problems in the United States, although they are legion. Abortion, hostility toward refugees and immigrants and Muslims, and historic inequality in wealth, power and health care come to mind.

The Convocation did not lament the problems in the Church such as the 30 million who have left the Church while only three in 10 of those remaining are at Mass on any given Sunday.

The Convocation was not about the bad news. It did not talk about what we needed to do, although the life and dignity of many demand our action. Instead, it focused on what God has done. It was about the good news.

The title of the Convocation, taken from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, was “The Joy of the Gospel in America.” In the midst of suffering and evil, the Church had a message of joy for America.
Too many, like the unforgiving servant, do not know the compassion of God. They do not believe that Christ has taken away their sins. Rather than gratitude and praise, they live enslaved to shame and fear. They may know about the Lord, but they do not know the Lord.

They believe that it is up to them to pay back the gazillion dollars. Or if they see themselves as the king, they do not sleep until they receive what is their due. They believe that it is all up to them to make things right. Resentment, envy and fear drive their days. They pray, if at all, without hope of an answer.

A sentence from a Convocation presenter stuck with me. “The Church is the answer to people’s prayers.” For a people living without joy, the Church brings the joy of the Gospel.
It is our joy to make peace, as the Scripture from last Sunday commanded us, and receive Christ’s abundant joy.

It is our joy to offer God’s peace. He has forgiven our sins through the wood of the cross. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin and death.

To take to prayer: Who has the Lord put in your life who needs to hear the joy of the Gospel?

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo and his latest book is “Can I Say a Prayer With You: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying With Someone.” He can be reached at frdavidscotchie@gmail.com.

Make Peace

Father David Scotchie
September 10, 2017
Ezekiel 33:7-9 Psalm 95 Romans 13:8-10 Matthew 18:15-20

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The gospel today from Matthew 18:15-20 is for those who have been wronged.

It is not for you who see wrongs, such as a bad call against your football team, or more profoundly, the hardened hearts of Congress against affordable and accessible health care, or the countless hearts stopped and broken by the evil of abortion.

For you who have been wronged by a drug addict son ruining not only his own life but also the lives of his wife and children, or for you who are on the street without any explanation by your former employer, Jesus has good news.

To you who have been wronged, Jesus says two words:

Make. Peace.

“If your brother sins against you,” Jesus says, “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

Sometimes the Good News is hard news. Contrary to the expectation that the offender should realize his fault, beg for mercy, and pay recompense, Jesus commands us to take the initiative to make peace.

The stakes are life and death. The Lord told the prophet Ezekiel to dissuade the wicked from his way. If Ezekiel did not try to turn the wicked, he would be like a sentry who failed to sound the alarm. The Lord warned him, “I will hold you responsible for his death” (Ezekiel 33:8). The stakes are our life or death!

The attack on Pope John Paul II in his motorcade took place in St. Peter Square, Rome on May 13, 1981. Ali Agca shot the Pope six times at a close range, twice in the stomach, once in the right arm and on the left arm. The Pope bled openly.

Two years later, he met his would-be assassin. As the Pope arrived at the Agca’s cell in Rebibbia Prison in Italy, he looked him in the eye and shook his hand. Agca kissed John Paul II’s hand. The two talked quietly for twenty minutes.

The Pope said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” After the meeting, the Pope gave Agca a rosary in silver and mother-of-pearl. Later, Ali Agca was pardoned in the jubilee year of 2000 at the pontiff’s request.

This September 11 marks 16 years since the attack on the World Trade Center. What if the American Catholic Church had followed St. Pope John Paul II’s example and had prayed for Osama bin Laden? What if the United States had taken a police action instead of an all-out war in Afghanistan leveraged into another war in Iraq? Could the fruits be any worse than the longest war in our country’s history with no end in sight, trillions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of American soldiers dead or wounded for life, and international terrorist gangs like ISIS feeding on the violence?

On this side of the grave, justice will never be satisfied. Instead, Jesus tempers the demand for justice with mercy. Make. Peace.

Imagine the fruit of making peace. A family gathering would not be quite so tense. You would not have to avoid that guy at work. Making peace gives you peace.

The Lord has made peace with us through the cross. He himself returned sin with mercy. We have been forgiven.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called a chip off the old block.

To take to prayer: Who do you need to make peace with?

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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