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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Gospel Of Justification

Yesterday we began reading from Paul's letter to the Romans; we will be reading from it until November 5, 2005 in our daily masses. If one listens to fundamentalist and non-Catholic preachers, one gets the impression that 1:16-3:20 is a strong indictment against the sins of humanity and that Paul pronounces it in view of the end times that is about to come. I'd rather look at the section not as a threat but as an introduction to the heart of Paul's gospel of justification. In effect, Paul presents the case of humanity's sinfulness to show that God has considered it and therefore has sent his only Son as a solution to man's existential problem. The emphasis is not so much the condemnation that hangs on humankind like the perennial threat of Damocles' sword. The emphasis rather is on the mercy of God and the grace that he reveals in Christ. The condemnation is great, the threat is real, but God's love is greater than this. 1:16-3:20 is better understood in the light of what Paul says all throughout his Gospel of Justification, especially in the words which conclude his argument on Justification:

For I am convinced that neighter death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, norpowers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, Our Lord. (8:38)
Posted by biblista at 4:55 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, October 11, 2005 5:13 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mt. 22:1-14 The Wedding Garment

Another parable proposed by the Lord as a reply to those who ask about his authority (cf. 21:23-27) is about a wedding feast. A king's son was going to be married and so gives out the invitation to those whom he usually invites. These excused themselves due to other commitments. Not only that, some of them even killed the king's messengers (vv.2-6). The king answers with a violent reprisal (v.7). With the usual guests finished off, the king sends out his messengers once more to call in anyone -- both good and bad -- into the banquet. And so the banquet did get underway.

If we compare the parable at this point to the other parables that Jesus tells his interlocutors., we can say that the present one is telling the same thing:

1. Those who refused, stand for the Jews who turned away from the invitation to the reign of God. (21:43)

2. The reprisal of the king, already hinted at in the previous parable about the tenants of the vineyard, represents the judgment that will laid upon the wicked, i.e., those who refuse the invitation of God's grace.(cf. 21:40-41)

3. Finally, those who respond to the invitation are like the tax collectors and the prostitutes in the parable of the two sons (21:28-32) who respond to the call of the Baptist to conversion. (cf. 21:32)

Apart from this, there are echoes of banquet-sayings uttered by the Lord regarding the replacement of those normally invited by others as in Mt. 8:11-13.

But then, there is a second part to the parable...

During the party itself, the king arrived to meet the guests. He saw one who was not in the proper wedding garb. Jewish culture demands that everyone come in the proper attire for a banquet. Since banquets last for some days, anyone invited can come at one's leisure in the proper garb. The man had no excuse for coming without the proper clothing. When asked by the king about his clothing, he shut his mouth (that is what phimotheti means; other translations settle for "he had nothing to say"). And that was in the culture of the times very rude. So the king orders that the man be thrown out of the party.

Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." (v. 13)

One might as well ask: "Is the punishment proportionate to the offense? Did the man deserve to be bound hand and foot and thrown out into the darkness?" If it were just a story, perhaps we can say it was too much. The problem is, it is not just a story. The parable has all the elements of a judgment scenario: the wedding banquet, the implied wedding, the war on the wicked, the white garment for the wedding, the outer darkness. The last quoted phrase itself occurs in other parts of Matthew in the context of judgment:

Mt. 8:11-12: I tell you many will come from east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Mt. 13:41-42: The Son of man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Mt. 24:50-51: The Master of that (faithless) servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Mt. 25:40: Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Given these facts, therefore, what does the white garment point to? The answer I think is hinted at that part of the New Testament where the elements of this parable -- wedding feast, war, white garment -- can be found one other time: Revelation 19:1-21:8. In this section we find the clean white robe as representing "the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev. 19:8).

Posted by biblista at 11:10 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Mt. 21-33-46 The Tenants of the Vineyard

Mt. 21:33-46 is a parable closely following that found in vv. 28-32 which deal with the question: "Who is doing the Father's will?" Both parables are tied up together by the same image, that of the "vineyard." In the parable under consideration, Jesus hooks up with the Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5:1-7 which is actually plaintive song regarding a vineyard that refuses to give off its fruits inspite of the attention given to it by its owner. The resemblance however is immediately cut off after Mt. 21:33, for what follows is the story of a rebellion. The tenants of the vineyard refuse to give the owner his portion of the yield. Instead, they kill off the owner's messengers one by one (vv.34-36). Finally, the owner sends his son, the one who will inherit the vineyard. But he too was killed by those tenants (37-39). The parable ends with a question: "What do you think will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants?" And the answer should have brought the parable to a conclusion:

He will put those wretches to a misrable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their proper season.

Transfer of Privileges

At this point in the story, one is reminded of moments in salvation history where a privilege given by God to a place or to a person is withdrawn and given to another. This is the case of Shiloh and King Saul. Shiloh was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant until it was transferred to David's Jerusalem. King Saul enjoyed the privilege of God's election until that privilege was taken away from him and given to David. The vineyard will be "let out to other tenants..." In Romans 9-11 we find Paul explaining why the Jews have ceased to be the People of God since the privilege has been given to the Church. The parable in Mt. 21:33-46 intimates why: in killing the owner's son and wanting to inherit the vineyard for themselves, the tenants were revealing their evil intent towards the owner. They too wanted him killed so that they can have his property. The graphic illustration of hatred towards the owner is first acted out against his son. Isn't it that to accept Jesus is to accept the One Who Sent Him? So conversely, anyone who hates Jesus, hates the Father. In this story of the Tenants of the Vineyard, the story of Israel's rejection of God's Messiah is actually presaged. And the Pharisees and chief priests understood it quite clearly! (cf. 45-46)

That the story is about Christ's rejection is quite clear in v. 42 where Jesus quotes from Ps. 118:22-23:

The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner
this was the Lord's doing
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Early Christian preaching has used this passage to refer to the rejection of Jesus by his people and the subsequent vindication he receives from God in the resurrection (cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7) . A cornerstone is prepared for a new edifice. The mention of it in the context of the parable intimates points to Jesus as the cornerstone of a new building. And God Himself will make this happen. We know when it does happen: at the glorification of Christ.

The Fruits that will be Rendered Back

The parable mentions the fruits that will finally be made available to the owner of the vineyard once the proper changes are made. In Matthew, as in the Gospels, "fruit" is most often associated with righteousness, hence "fruits of righteousness" and conversely, "fruits of wickedness" Below are the occurences of the word "fruit" and "fruits" in Matthew's gospels. Note that it is only in the case of the fig tree that Jesus curses and the parable of the farmer, where the meaning of "fruit" is not moral; while in Mt. 26, the reference is to the wine of the Last Supper.:

Mt 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
Mt 3:10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
Mt 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Mt 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.
Mt 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.
Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.
Mt 13:8 And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, and some thirty fold.
Mt 13:23 But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty.
Mt 13:26 And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle.
Mt 21:19 And seeing a certain fig tree by the way side, he came to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.
Mt 21:41 They say to him: He will bring those evil men to an evil end and let out his vineyard to other husbandmen that shall render him the fruit in due season.
Mt 26:29 And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.
Mt 7:16 By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Mt 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.
Mt 21:34 And when the time of the fruits drew nigh, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruits thereof.
Mt 21:43 Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof.

In other words, the "fruit" that is referred to in this passage are not different from the "fruits of the Spirit" mentoned in Gal. 5 or the lasting fruits by which the Father is honored in John 15.

Posted by bible student at 6:42 PM
Categories: Liturgy, New Testament