The Halftime Report
Last Sunday I shared with you that we were in a “parables” section of Matthew’s Gospel where we would hear a different parable each week, for a total of four. This week we would hear the third parable in the series, but I forgot that after the first two there was a kind of “halftime” before continuing on to consider the last two parables.
Jesus has been making quite a stir with his parables thus far and has gotten some negative responses from the chief priests and elders of the temple. Their question is "Where does Jesus get his authority from?" If Jesus is going to teach that it is good to be merciful and encourage people to forgive others their debt (Parable of the Unforgiving Servant), and that those who work all day would be paid the same as those who worked only an hour or so (Parable of the Vineyard), this is troubling to those who abide by the Law.
In each Parable, the Master, King, or Owner aren’t representing God, but are human beings directing the action. They feel free to punish those failed to follow their example, say forgiveness of debt, etc., or accept their decision about how they paid their workers. The punishment was very severe with no room for mercy. The Parables show how "law abiding" human beings usually act toward one another, not how God acts toward people.
But wait a minute. Jesus was human like everyone else with the desires and intelligence like other people. There was nothing special about him, no “halo” over his head or holy look. Jesus was just a fully human being, but he taught a different message than the kings, masters, owners, chief priests, and elders did. So, if everyone shares the same humanity with Jesus, what gives?
What set Jesus apart was his message. He talked about his Father as a real person of pure generosity. Jesus described his Father as one who “makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust.” There was a Spirit they shared where there was no rivalry between them at all. Jesus always said things like “I do everything I see my Father do.” All this was problematic for those who put primary emphasis on the Law and every “jot and tittle.” It made anyone in a position of power very nervous. Jesus carried himself with a power and an authority they couldn’t abide.
Along with his message was the fact that Jesus spoke like the one human being in the world who could be fully imitated by others. In Christian spiritual tradition this is/was called Imitatio Christi: the Imitation of Christ. Even in our own time where we value our individualism and the uniqueness of our personality, etc., sociologists would point out that as individuals we still mimic the desires, aspirations, and opinions of those around us. What Jesus seems to be saying over and over again in the Gospel is that we can choose to imitate our fellow human beings in their multitude of rivalries or we can imitate him.
This is a hard choice for us. It is not easy to leave our loyalties and prejudices behind and embrace the imitation of Jesus. In fact, some would say it is dangerous or impossible to do so. Some people will walk all over and take advantage of you and might even crucify you. St. Paul knew this when he said "to me to live is Christ," and wrote in Philippians:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, and sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.
When we take the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion it means that Jesus Christ lives in us and we in him. Jesus, as we come to know him in the Gospel and prayer, is the one we can confidently imitate and give our complete trust.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much mush more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and work for his good pleasure.
The Halftime Report is over. Let’s see what Jesus teaches in the next two parables.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.