Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

As Lambs Among Wolves

In the gospels read at Mass this week, from the 10th chapter of Matthew, Jesus sends the Twelve on a mission. They have a restricted mission: “Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” (Matthew 10, 1)

They have authority over unclean spirits and can cure every kind of disease, important gifts, but they haven’t received power to teach yet. That will come after Jesus’ resurrection.They’re also told not to go into pagan territory or Samaritan towns. but to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

They’re on a restricted mission.

The evangelists differ. In Luke’s gospel, read last Sunday, Jesus not only sends the twelve, but seventy two others. No restrictions are given them. Go to every town and place I intend to visit, Jesus says to them.

In both gospels, the disciples are told to have no walking stick, no traveling bag, no sandals.. They’re not promised economic security or assurance they’ll be received well and their mission will be successful.

Ministry will never be easy, under any circumstances. It will always be “as lambs among wolves.” Ministry changes as times and circumstances change, but whatever the time and circumstances, we’re sent.

What are we called to do today? Something must be done today, something we don’t see. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Jesus repeatedly says, “Don’t be afraid to do it.”


Daily Reading, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of the church’s effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. But it’s going to take us awhile to get used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the daily and Sunday readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world.  Pope Benedict, describing his own search for “the face of God” in scripture said you have to “trust” you will find it there.

We have to trust we will find God and enter God’s presence as we take up this daily discipline. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God promises to speak today. The daily scriptures are daily bread, and they offer a varied diet. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the varied readings from the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those people on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.” So we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your light.”

Matthew, the tax collector

Jews  usually turned away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector was good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Where are the Passionists Going?

Like many Catholic religious communities in the western world my community, the Passionists, is shrinking in North American and Europe and growing elsewhere. I wonder why we’re not getting vocations.

These days we’re reading Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew at Mass. Matthew’s gospel, especially the 23rd chapter, makes clear that Jesus and his followers were sharply opposed in their ministry. Some say the gospel describes a time later on in Matthew’s community, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but even so, Jesus faced strong opposition in his day.

Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians also describe the opposition he faced. Unfortunately, our lectionary readings leave out most references to that opposition and so we may lose sight of what Paul and his followers accomplished.

It’s true generally, when you don’t see the challenges and crosses people face, you don’t get to know them well. That’s true of individuals and groups– like the Passionists. Bumps on the road are part of your story.

Fr. Alessandro Ciciliani in the latest Passionist International Bulletin from Rome, The Congregation at the Time of the Canonization of St. Paul of the Cross 1867, describes some bumps on the road my community faced then. It’s a wonder we survived.

From our foundation in the 18th century by St. Paul of the Cross we’ve known threats to survival. In Paul’s day, there was strong opposition to new religious communities in the church and in society. (The time was unfavorable to older religious communities too. In 1774, the Jesuits were suppressed) Humanly speaking, we shouldn’t have gotten started.

In our early days, the popes were our strong allies, but shortly after the death of St. Paul of the Cross (1775) the papacy as an institution was severely weakened and almost disappeared. When Pope Pius VII died exiled by Napoleon in 1799, smart people predicted he was the last of the popes.

Threats to our survival continued in the 19th century. In his article Ciciliani describes the closure and seizure of most of our foundations in Italy shortly after St. Paul’s death. By 1850 we had three provinces and 27 houses in Italy. In the space of 20 years 21 of those houses were seized by the government, and the religious told to go home. Anticlerical laws issued by the Kingdom of Savoy and the Kingdom of Italy insisted that communities like ours weren’t needed; the new governments also saw properties and assets as sources of revenue for themselves.

“There was a lot of confusion among the religious and little hope for the future. Consequently there was a temptation to return to their families or look for accommodation with the diocesan clergy,” Ciciliani writes.

What’s surprising, though, were the creative thrusts emerging in the church and in our community in those dark days. In 1817, Pope Pius VII– the pope supposed to be the last – created the Propaganda Fidei, a papal arm that built up the church in South America and Asia, and in 1834 organized the church in North America.

In 1844 the Passionist, Blessed Dominic Barberi, began a vital mission in England. In 1861 4 Passionists arrived in Philadelphia and planted the community in North America. Other new missions were started and flourished, not because of survivors, but because of people dreaming new things. A dream was alive in them.

The scripture readings tell us the church grows in response to challenge and opposition. The history of my own community says the same. Father Ciciliani writes of the “terrible experience” my community faced in the 19th century, but ends by recalling that the mystery of the cross is terrible too, but it does not end in death; it brings life.

What’s the life ahead?

God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. The letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Paul’s letters reflect his custom to go first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel as a follower of Jesus. Before his conversion, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now he faced those from the Pharisaic movement sharply confronting him..

The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same antagonism and confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.  Read only passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel you would think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees became his most important followers, like Nicodemus and Paul himself. The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to him in his lifetime; Jesus was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message. But did he see them as mortal, eternal enemies? No, he didn’t.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written and the audience they were written for. It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

Can we learn a lesson from readings like these? Be careful not to demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world and controversy building up between them and us. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring all of creation, not just a part of it, for God to receive. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.