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“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22: 15 – 17).

Jesus’ parables to chief priests and elders over the last few readings depicted them as the second son who did not fulfill his father’s wishes and as the tenants who killed the king’s messengers. These religious leaders tried, in the conversation recorded in this reading, to put Jesus in a no-win situation.

If Jesus said that it was permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, the crowds would see him as siding with the Roman occupation. If he said it was not permissible, then the Herodians (who collaborated with the Romans) could denounce him to the authorities.

“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax’” (Matthew 22:18).

The Jewish custom was that the only valid currency in the Temple was official Temple money. Roman coins minted with the head of Caesar portrayed him as a demi-god, and this image of a false god was explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment. These Pharisees and Herodians, by having Roman coins in their possession, dared to breach the First Commandment within the Temple! Doing this showed their acceptance of the financial advantages to them of the Roman occupation of Palestine.

“He said to them, ‘Whose image is on this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).

Those willing to use Caesar’s coin should repay him in kind, as they received their money from Caesar. Jesus raised the debate to a new level by bringing up repaying God. The Pharisees and the Herodians should be more concerned with repaying God with the good deeds that are due to Him.

Jesus challenges us to look at where we get our money and how we spend it. This reveals our true priorities. Has our money, as it did with the Pharisees and Herodians, entered the space of the sacred? Do we find fulfillment in making money and buying things, instead of in our faith and in doing good deeds?

How do you spend your money? What does it tell you about your values and priorities?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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In the time of Jesus, everyone owed much to the king. He was responsible for safety, trade, and everything the community had. Given this fact, everyone was obliged to be loyal to him. Imagine the king’s anger at having his invitation to a celebration refused by those who owed him so much! After his servants were killed, “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (Matthew 22:7). New subjects were gathered who showed loyalty and celebrated with the king. However, when the king saw a guest who hadn’t put on a wedding garment, he said to his attendants, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). That subject was willing to take what was offered, but not willing to give back what was due.

Instead of focusing on the king’s actions, look at this parable as a lesson in consistency of faith and life.

The king expected the outward profession of his subjects’ sense of personal loyalty. The first group of subjects professed loyalty, but did not act on it because they did not attend the celebration. This reminds us of times when we profess that we believe but do not let our faith guide our daily actions. Other subjects killed emissaries of the king. They rejected the king, just as we may at times choose to do things that are contrary to the challenge to love one another. The last group of subjects was willing to profess their loyalty and act on it by attending the celebration ─all except for the one subject who refused to dress respectfully but wanted to reap the benefits of the party. It is this third group that Jesus challenges us to be – by both professing our faith outwardly and allowing it to guide us internally.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14).

God calls us all to be in a relationship. But our response and the consistency of our response are up to us. We owe everything to God, just as the subjects owed everything to the king. All God asks us to do in return is to be consistent in heart and action in our response.

That consistency can be a tougher task than it appears. How do you respond to God’s call? Are your actions always consistent with your beliefs?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Vineyard“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way” (Matthew 21:33-36).

The owner of this vineyard entrusted it to the tenants without any supervision. He did not dictate how they should cultivate the land or protect it. He trusted them to do what was best, just as God has created us, given us life, and trusted us to live our lives in the best way possible. He has entrusted us to care for one another. He has given us gifts of freedom, creativity, and compassion. It is up to us to use our gifts to bring about a better world.

Jesus told this story during his final days on earth. This part of the narrative is the introduction to the fifth and last of Jesus’ sermons recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. The religious leaders whom Jesus was speaking to knew that the vineyard stood for Israel and that the owner represented God. In his parable, Jesus depicted the tenants (the religious leaders of Israel) as killing the messengers (the prophets) whom God had sent again and again. When Jesus added to the parable that the tenants killed the owner’s son, he asked the religious leaders what the owner would do to the tenants.

They answered, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give them the produce at the proper times” (Matthew 21: 41). Jesus agreed with them, quoted a psalm, and said, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).

The Gospel According to Matthew was written after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the audience was made up of converts from Judaism and paganism. They understood the reference to the son as referring to Jesus himself. So, in giving the kingdom of God to the people who produce fruit, he was putting his trust in them.

With trust comes responsibility. We have the responsibility to do the best we can with the gifts God has given us. We are entrusted to care for one another and bring the message of God to those we encounter.

God is patient. The owner of the vineyard sent messenger after messenger and never punished the tenants. In the same way, God continually gives us opportunities to correct and learn from our mistakes. This parable gives us hope.

How do you use your gifts? Do you act in a way that exhibits how you are entrusted with care for yourself and others?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” (Matthew 21:28 – 30)

Jesus used this parable as his answer to his religious adversaries, the chief priests and elders, when they challenged him on the authority of his preaching. By their answer to this question, they condemned themselves.

Their response was that the first son had done his father’s will. It was the only answer they could give. They could never have said that the second one, who said “Yes, sir” to his father but did not go and work in the vineyard, was doing his father’s will. The son can’t just listen to his father; he has to go out and actually do what his father has asked of him. It was the first son, who said he would not work in the vineyard, but then changed his mind and did the work, who did what his father asked.

Jesus answered the chief priests and elders, “Amen I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21: 32).

The chief priests and elders acted like the second son. They said yes to God, but they did not live the commandments. They did not do what was in the best interests of the people, but did only what was best for themselves. They were ignoring what they professed to believe.

One has to act and do his father’s will, not just acknowledge it.

In this parable, Jesus shows us the hypocrisy of his adversaries. But could this also be said of us? Are there times when our actions haven’t been in line with the faith we profess as Catholic?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20: 10-16).

“It’s not fair!” How many times in a day do we say this? How many times do we hear it from spouses or friends or children? This Gospel confirms how little things have changed over the past 2,000 years.

Put yourself in the position of those hired first in the parable of the laborers and the vineyard. Of course it doesn’t seem fair. These workers “bore the day’s burden and the heat” and got paid just as much as those who worked only a few hours. The landowner refuted this charge of injustice by saying, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20: 13–15). In reality, the landowner was fair to each worker because they each received the agreed upon wage for their work.

Is your attitude that of the generous landowner? Or is it that of the workers who felt that they had been cheated? These workers were concerned only with themselves and focused on being the victims of the perceived unfairness. “It’s not fair” usually means “It’s not fair to me.”

The Gospel according to Matthew was written for those with a Judeo-Christian background. For that audience, the appearance of the Gentiles later in the “day” was an unsettling development. Imagine what it must have felt like to live according to long-held traditions and then discover that newcomers to the community not only didn’t have the same traditions but were not even expected to uphold them.

Perhaps this parable is saying that we should not judge what God does in terms of “fairness.” God’s love is not dependent on what we do. It is unconditional and unchanging, even when we do not deserve it. Once we believe and embrace this fact, we will begin to understand the true meaning of love. And once we begin to understand that, we have a better chance of putting it into practice by offering this unconditional love to all people.

Why is it hard to believe in God’s immeasurable goodness? How can you believe more strongly?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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