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Gospel and Salvation

Second Sunday of Advent [December 10, 2017] Mark 1:1-8

“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Mar 1:1)”

francis kissToday, we read the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. Among the evangelists, only Mark explicitly introduces his work as the “Gospel”. The English word “Gospel” simply means the Good News, or in original Greek, “Evangelion.” Commonly, we understand a gospel as a written account of the life and words of Jesus Christ. The Church has recognized four accounts as canonical or true Gospel. We have Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

But, what does the Gospel truly mean? Going back to the time of Jesus, Evangelion is actually a technical term for an oral proclamation of the imperial decree that will significantly affect the life of the many people. The messenger will stand in the middle of the public square and announce that the battle has been won decisively, and the city has been saved. It is a good news, indeed a great and joyful news. St. Paul is the first who adopts the term into the Christian world and it signifies the oral proclamation of the saving effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection (see 1 Cor 15:1-4). Thus, when we read that St. Paul proclaims the Gospel, it does not mean he reads the parts of the Gospel according to Mark or John, but rather orally proclaims that we have been saved. The Gospel has to be proclaimed because only by believing and living through the Gospel, we are saved (See Rom 10:13-15).

Since we are all baptized, we all have the duty to proclaim the Gospel and work for salvation. Yet, we may ask, “How we are going to preach and save souls if we cannot administer sacraments?” While it is true that sacramental works and preaching in the pulpit are reserved to the deacons, priests, and bishops, all of us are called to preach the Gospel. But how? We remember that we preach the Gospel for the sake of salvation, and the salvation is not limited in a spiritual sense, but in a more holistic one. It is the salvation not only from sins that separate us from God, but the salvation of all aspects of humanity. Jesus does not only forgive sins, He heals the sick, teaches the people, empowers the poor and fights against oppressive systems.

Following His Lord and Master, the Church works for salvation that is holistic. We run a great number of hospitals throughout the world to bring healing to the sick. We manage numerous schools around the globe to educate people and form their characters. Numerous Catholic scientists are involved in many breakthrough types of research. Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest, is the astronomer behind the Big Bang theory. Louis Pasteur, the inventor of pasteurization process, is a lay Catholic who has a strong devotion to the rosary. We build and fight also for the just and peaceful societies. Antonio de Montessinos, a Dominican Spanish friar, was one of the first priests who openly preached against the slavery in America. To show its commitment to justice and peace, Dominican Order has placed its permanent delegate at the United Nations in Geneva and is actively engaged in just and peaceful resolutions on various global issues.

 This Advent season is the high time for us to reflect on the meaning of the Gospel, and on how we preach the Gospel in our own particular ways. What are the means we use to preach the Gospel? Do we make preaching the Gospel as our priority? Are we working diligently on our salvation and that of others?

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno , OP

 

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Not Just Your Ordinary King

Solemnity of Christ the King. November 26, 2017 [Matthew 25:31-45]

“Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me (Mat 25:45)”

visit prison

Today we are celebrating the solemnity of Christ the King of Universe. This feast also marks the end of the liturgical year and signals the fast-approaching Advent Session.

Living in the 21st century AD, many of us are no longer subject to a king or a powerful monarch. With very few exceptions, our present-day kings and queens, like the Japanese Emperor and Queen of England, are constitutional monarchs. Their powers are no longer absolute but based and governed by the Constitutions of the country. Some countries even vote to abolish altogether their monarchy, and the king just becomes a cultural symbol of the past. Perhaps, one of the best images of an almighty king may come from the TV-series Game of Thrones. A person sitting on the Iron Throne is a king with almost absolute power. Thousands of soldiers obey him and a myriad of citizens pay him homage. He is the law itself and he is not answerable to anyone. No wonder the TV-series revolves around the Iron Throne and how characters outsmart one another to claim the throne.

Matthew gives as an image of the glorious coming of Son of Man at the end of time. Jesus will sit on his throne and dispense His judgment upon us. Listening to this portion of the Gospel, we may imagine Jesus is like a king on the Iron Throne with His royal robe and golden crown, surrounded by blazing angels. Everyone will be terrified and kiss the ground begging for mercy. Yet, reading further the Gospel, this potent image is immediately counterbalanced by another image. Jesus introduces himself as someone who is imprisoned, a hungry and thirsty homeless guy. In short, he turns to be a man who all societies abhor.

In history, we may know some kings that fell into disgrace. King Louis XVI of France was an absolute monarch before he was executed by the guillotine. Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, used to be served by many servants even to brush his teeth, but he eventually ended up as a street sweeper in Beijing. However, Jesus is not this kind of disgraced kings, but rather He chooses to be one with the poor of the poorest. Doubtless, in heaven, He is almighty King of the universe, but on earth, He decides to walk with all of us, even with those that we detest. His Kingdom is not what we used to imagine. It is not a Kingdom of power, but of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized.

Now, are we willing to enter into this Kingdom of the destitute? Like the characters in the Game of Throne, we want to sit at our own version of the Iron Throne. Yet, this is not the Kingdom of Jesus. It is not enough just to give money to the beggars from time to time, but if we wish to serve our King, we need to serve these unfortunate brothers and sisters in more significant ways. It is the kingdom defined by justice and truth, rather than power and success. Last Sunday, Pope Francis established the first World Day of the Poor, and to end this reflection, may I quote his message, “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience.  However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life… If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.”

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno , OP

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Beyond Talent

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 19, 2017 [Matthew 25:14-30]

“…out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground” (Mat 25:25)

talent 2Talent is one of the few biblical words that has become part of our modern language. Talent connotes a God-given ability or a natural unique skill, and yet it has not fully developed. Thus, we are called to use and harness our talents in order to achieve our full potentials and contribute to the progress of society. In fact, talents have become well-sought commodity in our society. Companies only hire the talented employees. Schools are marketed as venues of talents development. Our TV channels and social media outlets are filled by shows where we perform, compete and prove that we possess the best talent in singing, dancing, and the like. How our world is now obsessed with talents!

Going back to our Gospel, we may have a different meaning of talent. The Greek “talanta” in our Gospel’s today means an extreme large sum of money. Perhaps, a talent is worth more than one million US dollar in our currency. From the parable, the man is extremely rich that he can easily entrust his talents to his servants. And those three servants are expected to work on those talents and produce more talents. In no time, the two servants double the talents, and like the master, we instinctively praise them. The third servant does nothing, but buries the talent. This causes the ire of the master and he immediately punishes the servants because of his inability and laziness. We would agree with the judgment of the master, and draw a classic lesson from the parable, that we must also develop our “talents” and avoid laziness.

However, unlike the parable of the ten virgins (we listened last Sunday), Jesus does not explicitly mention that we imitate the master or the successful servants. There is something trickier here. Examining closely today’s parable, we may ask whether the third servant is just lazy, or there is something else? If he has so much money in his hands, why would he bury them and wait for the harsh judgment? He could have just run with the money to faraway place and make a fortune out of it? The answer is revealed in the defense of the third servant. The servant is aware that his master is a harsh man who “reaps where he did not sow, and gathers where he did not scatter seed.” This means that he knows that his master gains his wealth through dishonest ways. Surprisingly, instead denying the accusation, the master admits his misdeeds. He is a harsh and corrupt man, and perhaps, he wants his servants to imitate their master’s dishonest methods in doubling their talents. Thus, to silence his deviant servant from spreading the news, he throws him into the darkness.

The third servant says that he is afraid and thus, he buries the talent. He might be afraid of his master, but it may be that he is more afraid of offending God. By dishonest conducts, he commits injustice, makes other people suffers, and creates further poverty. He might be condemned as lazy servant, but he stands with the truth. Despite pervasive culture of lies, he remains steadfast in his honesty.

This may be unusual interpretation of the parable, but this lesson is more radical and profound than simply working hard for our talents. Through the third servant, Jesus invites us to be a sign of the Kingdom in the world. With pervasiveness of fake news and hoaxes around us, we are invited to seek and speak the truth. With so many injustices and poverty, we are called to do what is right and yet be compassionate. May I end this reflection by quoting Archbishop Oscar Romero, “A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a Word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, what kind of gospel is that? Preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed do not light up the world.”

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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Be Wise in Small Things

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 12, 2017 [Matthew 25:1-13]

“The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. (Mat 25:3-4)”

In the Jewish patriarchal society, an unmarried woman has to stay with her father. Then, when she gets married, she will move to her husband’s house. This transition from her family of origin to her new family is ritualized by an elaborate wedding procession. The groom will fetch the bride from her father’s house, and together they march back to the groom’s house where usually the wedding celebration is held. For practical reason, the procession takes place after sunset, and thus, men and women who are involved in the procession shall bring their torch or lamp.

Within this context, the presence of the ten virgins have to be understood. They are assigned to welcome the groom and the bride, and join community in the procession of light. Since there are no means communications like cellular phone with GPS, they are not able to track the location of the couple, and yet, they need to be ready with their lamps anytime the procession comes. There is element of surprise and expectation, and the virgins have to prepare themselves well for this.

Jesus compares the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins. The wisdom of the five virgins manifests in their ability to foresee some practical considerations like the estimated distance between the house of the groom and bride, the possible delay, and the expected slow-pacing procession. Thus, bringing along extra oil for the lamp is something sensible, and in fact, necessary. Extra oil might be just a simple thing compare to the entire wedding celebration, but its absence proves to be costly for the five virgins. It is just “foolish” to miss the entire celebration just because they fail to bring simple thing like an oil. Jesus likens this to the preparation for the Kingdom of Heavens. It begins with practicality of life, to prepare apparently simple things in life and yet proved to be important for those who are welcoming Jesus and His Kingdom.

Many great saints are those who are most humble. What basically Mother Teresa of Calcutta did was to serve the poorest of the poor in India. Sometimes, she and her sisters had something to give, but often they only had themselves to share. Yet, for the lonely, sick and dying, Mo. Teresa’s loving company was what mattered most. Then, she advised us, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” When sister Breda Carroll, a Dominican nun from Drogheda, Ireland, was asked by a journalist, “Isn’t life in the monastery is completely useless? And how do you become a preacher if you never go out and preach?”  She replied, “The greatest preaching is to make people think of God, and our mere presence and constant prayer cannot but disturb people and make them think of God.” For all we know, their simple ways of life and constant prayer have saved countless souls in purgatory.

We are invited to act like this practical and wise virgins. We prepare ourselves for Jesus by faithfully doing seemingly simple and ordinary things in our lives. Preparing breakfast every morning seems nothing special, but for a mother of five children, that is her share in the Kingdom. Working hard every day looks to be normal for a young man aiming for a bright future, but for a poor and old man who needs to support his family, it is his share in the Kingdom. What are our share in the Kingdom? Are we faithfully doing simple things with love? Are we ready to welcome Christ?

  Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Walk the Talk

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. November 5, 2017 [Matthew 23:1-12]

“For they preach but they do not practice. (Mat 23:3)”

walk_the_talk_main_logoReading this Sunday’s Gospel, I feel that Jesus is reprimanding His priests and ministers for “preaching and yet not practicing.” Unfortunately, many of us are failing in this matter. We preach forgiveness, but some priests are having prolonged quarrels with other co-priests and some of their parishioners. We teach kindness and friendship of God, yet some of us appear to be aloof and snobbish. We proclaim justice, but sometimes we fail to be just to the simple people working in the parish or convent.

I myself are struggling to walk the talk. Often I speak or write about asking people to do more active parts in the Church or to engage in promoting justice and peace, but I myself find it difficult to follow those invitations. I used to be a member of KADAUPAN in our formation house. It is an apostolic group of the Dominican student-brothers that was inspired by the example of St. Martin de Porres who gave his life for the poor. One of our basic tasks is to welcome and help the indigents coming to our Church. Sometimes, we give money, but often we provide food, water and clothing. I have to admit that every time an indigent comes, I struggle to go out and meet them because I prefer to stay in the library and read books.

However, despite this inconsistency, I do believe that Jesus is merciful to us, His preachers, because He understands that despite our holy intentions, we keep falling due to our human weaknesses. Even St. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, understood our struggles with our weaknesses, “For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. (Gal 5:17)”

While it is true that Lord Jesus will be very merciful to those who struggle to practice their preaching, it is also true that He will not tolerate if preaching is just for show off or for personal gains. That is the context of today’s Gospel. Jesus criticizes some Pharisees and scribes who preach the Law and teach its elaborate applications to show off their wisdom, and thus, gain respect and honor. It was their goal to earn the honorific title, “rabbi” or “father”, and to be treated as VIP in the Jewish societies. They do not serve God, but they manipulate the Law of God to serve their interest. This is unacceptable because it is a grave abuse against their sacred vocation to preach and serve the God of Israel.

The same message goes for us, the preachers and servers of the Word of God. Is there any hidden and selfish intention in our services and ministry of the Word? Is it to gain fame and pleasure? Is it to hoard riches and to have a more comfortable life? Are we making our sacred vocation to preach a career of achievements and glory? In a letter, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan had a strong point to the Filipino priests, “It is a scandal for a priest to die a rich man…That is our only duty—to be Jesus and to give Jesus who alone is our treasure.”

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

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The Greatest Commandments

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 29, 2017 [Matthew 22:34-40]

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  (Mat 22:34)”

love god love neighborsWhat is love? If we ask young couple who are in love, love means more time together and be connected online even up to late hours of the night. For young priests, love may mean patiently listening to confessions for hours, and attending to sick calls. For a couple who have their newly-born baby, love is changing the baby’s diapers even at middle of the night. Love is passion, dedication and sacrifice.

However, love is also one of the most abused and misused words in human history. In the name of love, a young man lures his girlfriend into premarital sex.  For the love of their country and race, some men persecute another ethic group and burn their villages. For the love of God and religion, some men blow themselves up and kill the innocent people, including children whom they consider the enemies of their God.

Surprisingly, the situation is not much different from the time of Jesus. For the love of the Law, the Pharisees keep and observe the Law even to its meticulous details in their daily lives. For the love of God and their country, the Zealots fight and kill the Romans and those who work for them. For the love of God, the Essenes separate themselves from the rest of the corrupted world and build their own exclusive communities. For the love of the Temple, the priestly clan work hard to offer sacrifices daily and is ready to die for the Temple.

When the Pharisees ask Jesus what is the greatest law, the law of laws, it is not simply about theological exercise, but it is to reveal Jesus’ fundamental attitude towards God and the Jewish Law. Is He a Pharisee who loves the Law more than anything else, a Zealot who loves the country zealously, or something else? Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus quotes part of the Shema or the basic Jewish Creed that every devout Jews would recite every day (see Deu 6:4-5). Yet, Jesus does not stop there. He completes the first and the greatest law with another one, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It also comes from the Old Testament (see Lev 19:18). To the delight of the Jews, Jesus’ answer is basically an orthodox one, but there is something novel as well.

The connection between first and second turns to be a watershed. For Jesus, true love for God has to be manifested in the love for others, and genuine love for others has to be oriented toward God. Thus, it is unthinkable for Jesus to order His disciples to kill for the love of God. Or, Jesus will not be pleased if His followers are busy with performing rituals, but blind to the injustices that plague their communities.

Once I asked my brother who is studying Canon or Church Law, what is the highest law in the Canon Law? He immediately answered, the suprema lex, all laws are governed and ordained for the salvation of souls. The Code of Canon Law contains more than 2 thousand provisions governing various aspects of Church’s life, and all these will be absurd if not for the love of God and neighbors. In the same manner, do our love for God, our prayers and celebration of sacraments bring us closer to our neighbors, to be more committed in doing justice, to be dedicated in our responsibilities as members of a family and a society? Does our love for others, our affection for our children and friends, our passion for ministry bring them closer to God?

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Tax

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 22, 2017 [Matthew 22:15-22]

“…repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Mat 22:21)

caesar and god“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Benjamin Franklin once said. Indeed, tax is an unpleasant and unavoidable fact in our lives as ordinary citizen. A portion of our hard-earned wage is suddenly taken away from us, and only God knows where it goes. In modern society, almost all we have, we gain, and we use are taxed. The practice of taxing people goes back to first known organized human societies. The basic idea is that tax will provide a common resource for the improvement of the community, like building roads, free education and quality health care. Yet, the ideal is often met with abuses. In olden time, the kings and chieftains taxed people so they could build their grand palaces and feed their wives. Unfortunately, the situation does not change much in our time.

In the time of Jesus, taxation is a burning issue. Ordinary Jews like Jesus himself are taxed heavily by the Roman colonizers, and for those who are not able to pay, they are dealt with severity. Their properties are confiscated, they are put to jail and even face capital punishment.  Not only that the Jews need to pay tax to the Romans, but they need also to pay the religious tax to support the Temple. These leave simple Jewish farmers or laborers with almost nothing, and the poor become even poorer. Both Jesus and the Pharisees are also victims of this unjust system.

Any Jew would abhor paying tax to the Romans and lament his obligation to support the Temple, but majority of the Jews will prefer to abide with the rules and pay the tax because they do not want to court problems. The Pharisees and other pious Jews detest using the Roman coins because there is engraved the image of Caesar as god. The entire system is simply idolatrous for them. Yet, even many Pharisees pay their share as to maintain peace and order. The usual impression of this Gospel episode is that wise Jesus outwits a team of Pharisees and Herodians, who plan to trap Him with a tricky yet politically charged question. Yet, going deeper, there are so much at stake. Though the question is directly addressed to Jesus, the same question is applicable to all Jews who are forced to pay tax to the Romans. Thus, condemning Jesus as idolatrous means they also condemn the majority of fellow Jews for paying tax.

Jesus’ answer is not a categorical yes or no, rather he formulates it in such a way that does not only save Him from the trap, but saves everyone who are forced to pay tax from the idolatry charge. Ordinary Jews are working extremely hard for their lives and families, and it is simply a merciless act to condemn them as idol worshipers simply because they need to pay tax and avoid severe punishment. Jesus’ answer removes this guilt from poor Jews struggling to feed their family as the same time enables them to be holy in the sight of the Lord. From here, to give what belongs to God does not simply mean to pay the religious tax or to offer sacrifices in the Temple, but it is primarily to help others getting closer to God. What belongs to God? It is His people.

In our own time and situation, we may pay our taxes to the governments and live as good and law-abiding citizen, but do we give what belongs to God? Do we, like the Pharisees, place unnecessary burdens on others’ shoulders? Do we ridicule other who are not able to go the Church because they need to feed their family? Do feel holy simply because we are active in the Church and donate a big amount of money? What have we done to bring people closer to God?

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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Challenging Our Image of God

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 15, 2017 [Matthew 22:1-14]

“Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find!” (Mat 22:1)

made-in-the-image-of-godJesus is already in Jerusalem. The confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish authorities have turned bitter, and Jesus is approaching His final days on earth. With this context, the parable may be understood easily. The invited guests stand for some elite Israelites who refuse Jesus, and thus, reject God Himself. The burning of their towns and cities may point to the invasion of the Roman Empire and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The commoners who are later invited represent the people from all nations who accept Christ. Yet, some people who are already at the Wedding banquet do not wear the expected wedding garment. This proper dress decorum is a basic sign that the guests are honoring the host, and also becomes the symbol of our faith, our good works and our holy lives. For those who fail to honor the King through their garment are thrown out from the banquet.

At that level, the parable is indeed easy to comprehend. We are called not to imitate the example of some elite Israelites but to receive eagerly God’s invitation. As to the wedding garment, we are also expected to live out our faith to the fullest. However, something continues to bother me within this interpretation. It presents a conflicting image of a king that is authoritarian and vengeful and a king who is exceptionally generous, seen in his persistence to invite his first set of guests, and his openness to accept the ordinary people. As to the first image, he exacts his justice in violent ways. Like any king in ancient times, he will destroy the people who dishonor him, to the point of burning their towns or throwing them into darkness. If we are not careful enough, we may identify this king with our image of God. We may believe that our God is a God who rewards the good and punishes the wrongdoers even with severe and violent ways. He is easily offended by simple mistakes, and is not compassionate enough as to give a second chance.

We remember that we are created in the image of God. Now if we have this kind of vindictive and unforgiving God, then we gradually behave like that image of violent God. In the Philippines, where the majority are Christians, the killings of alleged criminals are in steady rise. Surprisingly, some people seem to approve it and even happy with this bloody happenings. This attitude might be a reflection of our image of God that is vengeful and violent.

This kind of God’s image may manifest also in more subtle ways. Despite their sincere apology, it is difficult to forgive a friend who has hurt us, a husband who has betrayed us, or a boss who has acted unjustly. As husband and father, we act like a supreme leader, and refuse to listen to our wives and other family members. As priests, religious sisters, or lay leaders, we think that we are always right and do not accept any correction. We focus on the weakness of others, rather than their struggles to become better. Instead helping them to rise from their failures, we ridicule them and enjoy gossiping about them. These are some instances that we are influenced by the false image of God. This kind of image is only preventing our growth in faith, but also destroying our healthy relationship with others.

I believe that some asects of the parable remain true and relevant, like God’s radical openness to all people, and our faith that has to be lived fully. Yet, in more profound level, the parable challenges our false image of god, the god who is vindictive and violent. It invites us to rediscover God’s image in the person of Jesus who loves us to the end, and dies so that we may live.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

God’s Co-Workers

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 8, 2017 [Matthew 21:33-43]

 There was a landowner who planted a vineyard… (Mat 21:33).”

Red-Vineyard-croppedThe image of a vineyard is close to Israelites’ hearts because this springs from their prophetic tradition. Isaiah uses this metaphor to describe Israel and God (see Isa 5:1-8).  Consistent with this great prophet, Jesus crafts His parable of the vineyard to describe the relation between God and His people. God is the just and generous vineyard owner, and we are His workers. Now, it is up to us to work hard for the Lord in His vineyard and receive abundant harvest, or be lazy, and expelled from the vineyard.

However, there is another way of looking at this parable. For three consecutive Sundays, we have listened to parables that feature a vineyard and people who are involved in this vineyard. If there is one common denominator in these three parables, it is about the difficult and often problematic relationship between the landowner and the workers.

In ancient Israel, big landowners were hiring workers or leasing their land to farmer-tenants. At the end of the day, the workers received their wage, or at the harvest, tenants got their share of their labor. Here the situation became very thorny and conflict-ridden. The owners wanted the highest profit from their land, while the workers desired the greatest income from their labor. At times, the Israelite laborers received very little wage or very small share from the harvest. With very little income, they had to pay high taxes to the Roman colonizers and contributions to the Temple. Thus, what remained was barely enough to feed the family. Disgruntled and hungry workers were very prone to violent actions. However, it was true also that some good landowners gave more than enough wages, but some workers tended to be lazy, abusive to fellow workers, and are even involved in stealing the harvest.

In our time, we seem to face more complex issues in relation to employer, employees and employment. With global networking and communication, an American company may hire Filipino workers working in Manila serving European customers. With almost unrestricted mobility, millions of workers from Indonesia or the Philippines try their luck in Middle East countries. With steady increase of automation, many manual works are gradually replaced by robots. More and more people prefer to buy things or avail service online. One of the hottest debates now in the United Nations is the usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to “judge” human right cases in the International Tribunal. The AI has become so sophisticated that it can predict the verdicts of human judges. Now, highly skilled human profession like a judge can even be replaced by an AI. Many professions that were trending years ago have become extinct now, and more seem to follow. Yet, despite these advancements and complexity, the fundamental issue remains: whether both the employers and the employees give what is expected and receive with are due to them?

Jesus’ parable is not only relevant for our time, but it continues to challenge our fundamental understanding of our dignity as God’s co-workers in His vineyard. As workers, do our attitudes in the workplaces reflect the good attitudes of Jesus’ followers? As owners or superiors, do we manifest that delicate balance between God’s justice and His generosity? Finally, as God’s co-workers, do we work for a better world for us and future generations, or we simply aim for our selfish interest and greed?

(Note: today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila, before whom I kneel down every morning and pray for inspiration guiding my Sunday reflections. May she continue to guide us in our journey of faith. Happy Fiesta!)

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

 

Good Intention

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 1, 2017 [Matthew 21:28-32]

“Which of the two did his father’s will?”  (Mat 21:31)

two_sonsThe road to hell is paved with good intentions. This old proverb attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux may sound rather morbid and threatening, but the truth remains. If we have only good intentions, marvelous plans, or great designs, but we never lift a finger to begin the first step, nothing will happen. We want to focus on our study, yet we are distracted by Facebook’s status and newsfeeds, our online chatting, or endless videos in YouTube, we will not make any progress. We wish to accomplish a lot of works, but our attentions and energy are consumed by so many other concerns. Then, our wish stays a wish.

The parable Jesus shares this Sunday speaks of a good intention or ‘yes’ that can be completely useless if it does not materialize in concrete actions. Yet, more than achieving the highest productivity, the parable teaches us some more primordial truth. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks the Jewish elders, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The parable teaches us about doing the Father’s will.

From the two sons, we learn that doing God’s will can be tough and demanding. Once I had an exposure with poor farmers in Indonesia. I was staying with a family who tilled their own small and almost barren land, and every morning, they went to the field and make sure that their plants were still alive. Part of my exposure was that I had to help them. Used to the comfort of seminary life, I barely lasted for an hour working under the scorching summer heat, and then rested the entire day while looking at the family working so hard. I imagine that the two sons in the parable are aware of the challenges that they will endure working at the vineyard, and it is expected that the resistance will build up. The first son immediately declines his father’s wish, while the second son says yes.

We might wonder why the second son changes his mind. Perhaps, he has no plan to work there, and what he says is utter lie and deception. Yet, I tend to believe that he has actually a good intention to fulfill his duty, but he is discouraged by the looming hardship he will face in vineyard, and ends up doing nothing at all. Perhaps many of us are like this second son. We intend to help more our Church, yet we are always late going to the Mass, complaining about the priest’s homily, and not participating in the various activities or organizations in the parish. We wish to give glory to God, yet our lives do not manifest a good Christian life as we indulge in gossiping, are envious with other members of the Church, and become choosy in our services. No wonder for some, the Church feels like hell!

We remember that these two men are the sons of the vineyard’s owner and thus, the vineyard essentially belongs to them. If they refuse to work, they will lose their vineyard. The poor family where I stayed for exposure, were working extremely hard despite many difficulties. I realize that all this they did because their small land was what gave them life. Doing God’s will is often challenging, yet in the end, it is for our good. I believe it is not too late to act on our good intentions, and from the second son, we transform into the first son. We are working in the Lord’s vineyard because the vineyard is also ours.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP