Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Reading 1 GN 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A
Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.
One day, when his brothers had gone
to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”
So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”
When Reuben heard this,
he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father.
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.
They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin
to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed.
They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.
Responsorial Psalm PS 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21
R. (5a) Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
When the LORD called down a famine on the land
and ruined the crop that sustained them,
He sent a man before them,
Joseph, sold as a slave.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
They had weighed him down with fetters,
and he was bound with chains,
Till his prediction came to pass
and the word of the LORD proved him true.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
The king sent and released him,
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord of his house
and ruler of all his possessions.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.
Verse Before The GospelJN 3:16
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son;
so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.
Gospel MT 21:33-43, 45-46
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
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.
Finally, he sent his son to them,
thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
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.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.
Commentary on Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 from Living Space
We have here a parable spoken to the unbelieving chief priests and elders of the people.
It is the history of the Israelite people told in parable form. In fact, it is more of an allegory than a parable as each of the persons and incidents described point to real people and real events. Some scholars feel that what we have here is really an early Church document rather than something directly from Jesus. What seems more likely is that a parable spoken by Jesus has been modified in the light of later events.
The owner of the vineyard is clearly God. The vineyard is the house of Israel, where God’s people are to be found. The tenants of the vineyard are the people of God. The servants sent to collect the harvest are abused in various ways – beaten, killed, stoned.
The servants represent the prophets and other spokespersons sent by God to his people, many of whom were rejected, not listened to and even abused. Finally, the owner decides to send his son. “They will respect my son.” On the contrary, they saw that, if they got rid of the son, they could take over the whole vineyard for themselves. They could carry on without the owner.
So they seized the son, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. A clear reference to Jesus being crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.
And what will the king do then? Jesus asks. The leaders condemn themselves by answering the question: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end” as happened when the city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed in 70 AD.
Instead, the vineyard is let out to new tenants – those Jews and Gentiles, the new people of God, who believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The stone rejected by the builders becomes the cornerstone. “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (This is one of only two instances where Matthew uses the term ‘Kingdom of God’ rather than ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.) The Gentiles had for long been rejected as unbelievers and outsiders. Now, it is on them, together with those Jews who accepted Jesus, that the Kingdom will be built.
The Gospel ends by commenting that Jesus’ hearers understood his message perfectly but, because of Jesus’ popularity with the people, they could do nothing in retaliation for the moment.
Again and again it has happened in world history that fighters for truth and justice have been rejected, jailed, tortured and eventually found themselves the saviours of their people. Pavel in Czechoslovakia, Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King in the US, Gandhi in India.
Let us make sure that we are listening to the right people, the people who have the message of truth, love and justice and that we follow them. Jesus our Saviour still speaks through his followers.
St. Patrick’s Day — Trinity College Dublin. Photograph by Brenda Fitzsimons, Irish Times (File Photo)
St. Patrick’s Day 2013 in Rio
Lent is an invitation to enter the kingdom of God. It is an invitation to live a life of love, joy, peace and freedom. It is a great opportunity for anyone to receive the grace to embrace the life of the kingdom. During this season of Lent, the Church presents us many possibilities to journey together as one family of God to enter the Promised Land of the life of the Risen Lord. What we make of it depends on whether we seize this opportunity of grace or whether we let this prospect pass us by.
Indeed, in life, we are given many opportunities to be happy, successful and to live life to the fullest. Every day that we are alive is itself an opportunity. Every day that we are able to walk, eat, talk and think means that we have the opportunity to grow and make a success of our life. To have good health is the greatest blessing, for with health, everything is possible and within our reach. It is a question of whether we are open, receptive and courageous to seize the opportunities when they come, and whether we are alert, proactive and positive in making use of the occasions presented to us. And such opportunities abound.
Unfortunately, instead of seizing the opportunity of the day, many of us live in the past, lamenting what it could have been, bemoaning our misfortunes, blaming people for our failures and falling into depression. The sad reality is that whilst they are grumbling about their problems, the opportunities fly past without their notice. So downcast they are and stuck in the mud, they cannot see the graces that God sends through their friends, colleagues and family members. Jobs are offered to them but they make excuses that these are not suitable for them, because the place of work is more than three bus-stops away! Friends invite them out for a meal but they give excuses that they do not have nice clothes to wear, or that it is too hot or crowded. Such people are impossible to help or please. And there are many of them. In fact, many times we try to help such supposedly “poor” people but they are not interested to be helped. All they want is regular hand-outs; not work, not a solution.
In the scripture readings, we are told that our God is a God of opportunities. He never gets tired of helping us. He is a God of many chances. He does not give us one chance but repeated chances. He is always patient, forgiving and long-suffering. He never gives up hope on us. The parable of the vineyard speaks of this God who perseveres in saving us. Since the beginning of salvation history, God has been sending the Israelites one prophet after another to call them to conversion. The vineyard refers to the people of Israel because God called Israel His vineyard. Yet, instead of taking care of the vineyard, they abused their authority and sought to be masters and lords of the vineyard, instead of tilling it to serve God who was the master. They did not listen to the prophets sent by God to ask the kings and the peoples to repent. Instead, not only did they persecute the prophets of God, they even had them killed.
This history of infidelity and the rejection of God’s grace continued into the time of Jesus, when the chief priests and the elders of the people rejected Jesus, who is the son of the owner, the only begotten Son. They killed the Son of God and put Him out of the vineyard. This is the sad reality even today, because often the call to conversion and repentance is rejected not by the common people but the leaders of religion and society.
The tragedy of the world today is that instead of seizing the opportunities for conversion and new life, we seize the opportunities for evil. This was what happened to Joseph’s brothers and the religious leaders during the time of Jesus. In the first reading, we read of how the brothers of Joseph were jealous of him. They were envious that their father loved him more than the others. “He was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him.” Naturally they felt angry and resentful of Joseph and “came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.” And so, when the opportunity came, they plotted to have him killed so that they could get rid of their competitor once and for all. They said, “Here comes the man of dreams. Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him, then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.” It was an opportunity indeed, but it was an opportunity for evil.
In the gospel too, we are told that the leaders of Israel, both in the Old Testament and during the time of Jesus, had the opportunity to put their lives in order. Alas, instead of seizing these opportunities, they looked for the opportunity to put away the prophets, Jesus and His apostles. Indeed, all through the history of Israel, the primitive Church and even today, leaders are using every opportunity to silence the truth of the gospel. Instead of being receptive to the grace of God that comes through His prophets, we seek to silence them instead. The Church of old and the Church today continues to suffer under the persecution of secularism, relativism and pragmatism.
The critical question is not just whether we seize the opportunity at hand but whether we are using the grace of God rightly. We can use the grace of God given to us for the wrong things. There are many who are intelligent but use their intelligence to enrich themselves and to cheat. Even Joseph was equally at fault because although God gave him the gift of leadership and intelligence, he became boastful and caused his brothers to feel insecure. Some are talented and eloquent but use their gift to gain popularity and even to manipulate people. Whatever we have in life is given to us so that we can use them for good. But often, because of jealousy, pride or greed, we misuse the gifts for evil intentions.
Regardless, God is gracious. The sins of man cannot disrupt His plan for the salvation of humanity. He would not let us down if we repent. Even in the case of Joseph, God inspired his brother Rueben to save him from being killed. And then in accordance with His divine plan, God had Joseph sold as a slave but later made him a great adviser to Pharaoh. Joseph must have learnt his lesson and thus when he cooperated with God’s grace, God made him a great ruler in Egypt and the savior of his people. This time, he seized the opportunity correctly.
We too must learn how to seize the opportunity for growth and conversion when God sends His prophets to us. Through them, we can grow in our faith and relationship. We must see them as instruments of God to purify us in our growth in authentic love. At the same time, we are called to transcend our enemies by conquering them with love. This was the case of Joseph and Jesus. They did not succumb to the reign of revenge and bitterness in their lives against those who did them harm. Instead, they returned love for hatred. That is the way we too are called to act in dealing with our enemies. This is using the opportunity of grace positively.
When we adopt such attitudes to the prophets of grace in our lives, we will find that we can grow and be purified in love and holiness in every way. It will always be a win-win situation. With our enemies, we grow by transcending them; with our true prophets, we can learn from their advice and challenges. Whether true or false prophets, they are our spiritual benefactors, helping us to grow in grace and love. Consequently, those whom we find a nuisance in our lives, especially the difficult ones, are probably people who can really help us to purify our motives of loving in life. That is why they are often called our spiritual benefactors. In fact, the more a person is a thorn in our lives, the more he or she is our spiritual benefactor. Thus, what we perceive to be unwanted stones or pains in our lives, are often the very instruments through which we grow in virtue and faith. Let us pray that we will be able to always respond positively to the prophets in our lives and all the opportunities of grace so that we might not miss the opportunities for conversion in our lives.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
Tags: flocks at Shechem, GN 37:3-28, GN 37:3-4 12-13A 17B-28A, Henri Nouwen, Israel, Joseph, March 17 2017, Mt 21:33-43 45-46, People of God, Prayer and Meditation, Prodigal Son, Psalm 105, Rembrandt, Remember the marvels the Lord has done, Return of the Prodigal Son, Saint Patrick, St Patrick, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit