Year B – 1st Sunday of Advent

Staring Out a Window

(Is.63:16-17; 64:1,3-8; 1Cor.1:3-9; Mk.13:33-37)

When did you last stare out a window, thinking about nothing in particular?

These days, most people seem to regard daydreaming as a waste of time. They think it’s better to be working, studying, or doing something productive, because staring out a window is just a sign of boredom and distraction.

Yet, in his book The School of Life, Alain de Botton says the point of staring out a window is not to find out what’s going on outside. Rather, it’s to discover what’s in our own minds.

It’s easy to imagine we know what we think, what we feel and what’s going on in our heads, he says. But that’s actually rare, because so much of ourselves remains unused and unexplored. However, if we do it right, staring out a window can help us get to know our deeper selves.[i]

Indeed, some of our greatest insights and most creative ideas only come when we stop trying to force our minds. And importantly, some of our best prayers only flow when we let our hearts and minds wander. [ii]

In the coming weeks, staring out a window may prove to be very useful as we enter another season of Advent and prepare to farewell the year 2023. 

The British author Oliver Burkeman describes himself as ‘a recovering productivity addict.’ In his book Four Thousand Weeks, he says that the average human lifespan is just that: about 4,000 weeks. That’s if we make it to 80. If we only live to 70, then it’s roughly 3,600 weeks. And if we live as long as Queen Elizabeth II, then we’ll get about 5,000 weeks.

His point is that the average human life span is ‘absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.’ This may come as an icy blast of reality, he says, but it shouldn’t make us anxious. Rather, it should be cause for relief because it means we can let go of some things that were always impossible, anyway.

The day will never arrive, he says, when you finally have everything under control. When the flood of emails has been contained, when your to-do lists have stopped growing, when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and at home … None of this is ever going to happen, he says.

And that’s good news, because it means we can let go of all that, and focus instead on what is possible – and what is important. [iii]

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns us, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come … You don’t know when the master of the house is coming.’

That master is Jesus, of course. He’s coming at Christmas, he’s coming at the end of our lives, he’s coming at the end of all time (2Thess.1:6-7) – and we need to be prepared (Mt.25:31-46).

But as Richard Rohr tells us, Jesus is also already here. We’re just not aware of it. How do we know? It’s because God’s love keeps us alive with every breath we take. And each breath means that God is choosing to give us life. In this sense, we have nothing to attain or even learn, however we do need to unlearn some things.

To recognise God’s loving presence in our lives, he says, we must accept that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance. We are sleep-walkers. All great religious teachers have recognized that we humans do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. As Jesus says, ‘If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light’ (Lk.11:34).

The purpose of religion, then, is to teach us how to see and be present to reality. That’s why Jesus today tells us to ‘be awake’ and ‘stay watchful.’

And this is where staring out the window (or at an image of Christ), becomes so important, for prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. Rather, it’s a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence. For the contemplative is not just aware of God’s Loving Presence, but trusts, allows and delights in it.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to gently flow in and through us, we begin to see what is, to see who we are, and to see what is happening. 

What is – is love. It is God, who is love itself, giving away God every moment as the reality of our life. 

Who we are is love, too, because we are created in God’s image. 

And What is happening is God living in us, with us, and through us as love. [iv]

So, this Advent, take time to stare out a window. And ask yourself: do I really have 4,000 weeks?

[i] Alain de Botton, The School of Life, Penguin, London, 2020, pp.120-121.

[ii] Describing the human mind, Plato said that our ideas are like birds fluttering around in the aviary of our brains. But before we can get these birds to settle, we need to make time for purpose-free calm.

[iii] Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Penguin, London, 2022.

[iv] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations: A Contemplative Heart – Be Awake, 23 August 2023.

Year A – 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Kingdom of God

[Ezek.34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26, 28; Mt.25:31-46]

There have been some good leaders in history.

King Louis IX of France was one. He cared for the poor, acted justly and was declared a saint. King Christian X of Denmark was another. During World War II, he saved 7,500 Jews from a cruel death by smuggling them to Sweden.

But there have been some awful tyrants, too, like Hitler and Stalin who manipulated and murdered countless people. It’s because of these dreadful leaders that Pope Pius XI in 1925 established today’s Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Pius worried that too many people followed the Nazis, communists and fascists, and wanted to remind us of our need for a leader who won’t exploit the weak or poor. He also wanted us to remember that God created the world and that Christ came to show us ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn.14:6).

The irony here is that Jesus didn’t want to be celebrated as a king. In John’s Gospel, when the crowds try to force him to become their king, Jesus escapes to the mountains (Jn.6:15). And when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, he vaguely replies, ‘It is you who say it’ (Jn.18:37).

Why did Jesus hide his kingship? It’s because he knew no-one would understand what it meant. Everyone in those days expected kings to have power, riches and authority, but Jesus came to reveal a very different kind of leadership.


By coming to us as a vulnerable child and by living an obscure life in a small town, Jesus teaches us that true kingship is reflected in things like compassion and humble service.

In his book ‘Once Upon a Gospel,’ William Bausch says that the feast of Christ the King has nothing to do with crowns, palaces or robes.  Rather, it’s all about us getting our priorities straight.

It’s about the way we live and who we choose to follow in our everyday lives. [i]

It’s important to get this right, because in today’s Gospel Jesus says that one day, we will all have to account for ourselves, and that will be when he starts separating ‘the sheep from the goats.’

The sheep are those who will inherit God’s kingdom. They are the ones who live as Jesus did: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty; welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting prisoners.

The goats, however, will be those who are left behind. They’re the ones who would rather be rich or famous than help the poor. They prefer fun and glamour over caring for the weak, and they’d rather keep up with the Joneses than care for those who suffer.


This is how we’ll all be judged when our time comes: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my people, you do for me,’ Jesus says. 

When Pope Pius XI launched today’s feast day, he said that as our king, Jesus must reign in our minds, so that we firmly believe the truths about him.

He must reign in our wills, so that we obey God’s laws.

He must reign in our hearts, so that we truly love God above everything else.

And he must reign in our bodies, so that we may serve as instruments of justice in the world. [ii]

Let’s close with a story. In 1990, the American pastor Robert Sproul went to communist Eastern Europe to give some talks. He and his group were warned that the Romanian border guards were hostile to Americans and they should be prepared to be hassled and perhaps even arrested.

When they reached the Romanian border, two guards boarded their train. They couldn’t speak English, but brusquely pointed for their passports and luggage, which they wanted to check.

Then, suddenly, their boss appeared. He was a burly officer who spoke broken English. He noticed that one of the women had a paper bag. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘What’s in bag?’ He opened it up and pulled out a Bible. Sproul thought, ‘Uh-oh, now we’re in trouble.’

The officer began leafing through the Bible, and stopped and looked at Sproul, who was holding his American passport. ‘You no American,’ he said. He said the same thing to the others in their group. But then he smiled and said, ‘I am not Romanian.’


By now they were all quite confused, but he pointed at the Bible and said, ‘Read what it says.’ Sproul looked at it and it said, ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’ (Phil.3:20a).

The guard was a Christian. He turned to his subordinates and said: ‘Let these people alone. They’re OK. They’re Christians.’ [iii]

The world is quite a different place when we’re all citizens of God’s kingdom.

[i] Bausch, W.J. Once Upon a Gospel.  Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:315.

[ii] Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, 1925


Year A – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Beehive

(Prov.31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thess.5:1-6; Mt.25:14-30)

Religious symbols are common in Church art and architecture. There’s the Cross, of course, and wheat, grapes, flames, lambs, lions and even pelicans. But have you noticed any bees?

In Rome, bees can be found decorating many buildings, paintings, candlesticks, vestments and even a papal coat of arms. Indeed, real bee hives have long been kept on the roof of Notre-Dame in Paris. Why?

Well, bees provide wax for the Paschal candle and they symbolise purity and hard work. They are also known for being vigilant and fiercely protective of their queen. But bees also symbolise wisdom, for they collect nectar from many flowers and transform it into delicious golden honey, which adds sweetness and light to the lives of so many.

And importantly, as St John Chrysostom once said, the bee is more honoured than other animals, not because she labours, but because she labours for others. This idea of selfless labour is at the heart of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel.

A man plans to go away, but before going he leaves his money in the hands of his three servants. (In ancient times, a talent was a measurement of gold or silver.)

The first servant uses his talents well, as does the second. They both double their investment, but the third man simply buries his talent in a hole. When the owner returns, he praises and rewards the first two. But he’s unhappy with the third man because he has been unproductive, and he confiscates his talent.

The lesson for us here is that you must use whatever gifts God has given you, otherwise you will lose them.

Bishop Robert Barron says that we should think of these talents as everything we have ever received from God – our life, our breath, our strength, our abilities and all our many blessings.  And because they come from God, they are meant to become gifts for others. But if you cling to them, as the third servant did, your talents will not grow. They will simply wither away and die.

So, how does God want us to use our gifts? Jesus has already shown us how: by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely, guiding the lost, helping the homeless and comforting the afflicted.

Helping whoever needs help.

The point is that when God gave us our human hearts, he did not expect us to use them selfishly. We know from experience that when we turn inward and hoard all our blessings for ourselves, we end up feeling miserable. Sure, we might feel good for a while, and on the surface we might seem fine, but the reality is that the more we hoard, the emptier we feel inside.

The message from today’s Gospel is that we are not really living unless we use what we have to benefit others.

St John Paul II was fond of saying that ‘Man finds himself only by making himself a sincere gift to others.’ [i] In other words, the more you give yourself away, the more God will give you and the happier and more blessed you will be.

This is how bees live: they use what little they have, and work without rest for the common good. They are also prepared to sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive.

Someone who lived like this was Antonio Stradivarius, who was born in Cremona, Italy in 1644. He loved music and wanted to be a musician, but he had such a high and squeaky voice that he couldn’t join a choir.

Antonio had a talent for wood-carving, however. When he was 22, he was apprenticed to Nicholas Amati, a well-known violin maker. Under his master’s training, Antonio developed his carving skills and his hobby became his craft.

He opened his own violin shop when he was 36, and worked patiently and faithfully. By the time he died in 1737, aged 93, he had built over 1,500 violins. Today, his instruments are the most expensive and sought after violins in the world.

Stradivarius was not a singer, a music player or a teacher of music. However, he used the talent God gave him to make a real difference in the lives of others. It made him feel good inside, and his legacy truly lives on today.

It was St Ambrose of Milan who likened the Church to a beehive. In a beehive, he noticed, all the bees spend their lives working together tirelessly for the common good of the hive. [ii]

This is how Jesus wants us to live.

[i] Gaudium et Spes (n.24).


Year A – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lamp of Love

[Wis.6:12-16; 1Thess.4:13-17; Mt.25:1-13]

‘A wise person,’ someone once said, ‘has a big heart, a curious brain and open ears.’

But what is wisdom? Essentially, it’s intelligence combined with deep understanding. It’s also something that takes a lifetime to acquire, because it only comes with age, experience and maturity.

Wisdom is greatly prized all around the world. Why? Because it provides a lamp for our steps. That’s especially important in this age of information overload, because wisdom helps us see the big picture. It helps us to understand what really matters, and then to make sound choices and decisions.

The Bible often speaks of wisdom, and describes it as ‘better than gold’ (Prov.16:16). It also distinguishes between worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom (Jas.3:13-18; 1Cor.3:19).

Worldly wisdom sees things from the human perspective (Mt.16:23). It exalts the self above others, it tends to be opinionated and it can lead to selfishness, jealousy and pride.

Godly wisdom is different, however. It lets us see things from God’s point of view. It’s marked by humility, mercy and love, and it’s peace-loving, gentle and sincere. And because God is the source and cause of all things, Godly wisdom reflects truth.

Our world is full of ideologies and sayings that often sound like great wisdom. They might help some people, however they tend to lead us away from God. As the Book of Proverbs says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Prov.14:12).

Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, in Matthew’s Gospel today, is essentially about wisdom. But let’s begin with some background to the story.

In ancient Hebrew tradition, when a couple married, they didn’t go on honeymoon; they stayed at home. The bride and her bridesmaids waited at the bride’s home for the groom and his entourage to arrive, and he typically arrived in the evening, after sunset. Then they all went off singing and dancing to his home for a big wedding celebration.

In this parable, the groom is delayed for some reason and he and his friends arrive very late at the bride’s home. By this time, all ten bridesmaids have fallen asleep and their lamps have gone out.

This isn’t a problem for the five wise bridesmaids, because they are well prepared with extra oil. They wake up, they refill their lamps and they’re ready to go.

The other five bridesmaids, however, have been wasting their time. They aren’t prepared and have run out of oil. They set off to buy some and by the time they return they’ve missed the celebrations.

The parable then ends with the warning: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.’

This parable is essentially about Christ’s Second Coming, which St Paul in our second reading reminds us is sure to happen one day. Jesus is the bridegroom, and we are the waiting bridesmaids.

The roots of this theme of Jesus as the bridegroom can be found in the Old Testament. You may recall that in Isaiah, God is called the bridegroom of Israel (Is.54:5-8), and this image is reflected in Solomon’s Song of Songs. As well, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as ‘the bridegroom’ (Mt.9:35).

What this story presents is two very different attitudes towards the coming of Christ. For those who are wise, this event is much too important to miss and they make sure they are ready.

But for those who are foolish, Jesus’ coming really isn’t of much concern. Their casual approach, however, means that they miss out on the festivities.

The question for us today, then, is this: are we to be counted among the wise or the foolish?

The lamps Jesus speaks of in this parable are lamps of love. Are we wise enough to keep our lamps burning brightly for when Jesus arrives? Or are we too distracted by other things? ‘Everyone will know that you are my disciples by the love you have for one another,’ Jesus says in John 13:35.

Wise disciples of Jesus will tend their lamps with special care. But how do we keep our lamps of love burning? Through a continuous input of small drops of oil.

And what are these drops of oil? They are the small things we do with great love for others each day: little words of kindness, thoughtful gestures of service and simply being a healing presence.

These are the drops of wisdom that feed the lamp of love in our hearts.

Year A – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sharing in His Fatherhood

[Mal.1:14-2.2,8-10; 1Thess.2:7-9,13; Mt.23:1-12]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘Call no-one on earth your father, for you have one Father, the one in heaven.’

Why then do Catholics call priests ‘Father’?

We are sometimes criticised for this, but that reflects a misunderstanding of what Jesus is saying to us. Let me explain.

In Matthew 23, Jesus is in the Temple shortly before his Crucifixion. He is talking to the people, and warns them about the Scribes and Pharisees. These Jewish leaders know their Bible, he says, but they’re hypocrites. They like to be admired, and they love fancy titles, especially being called ‘Master’ and ‘Teacher’ and ‘Father.’ But don’t be like them, Jesus says.

Jesus is not saying never, ever, call anyone your ‘father’ or ‘teacher.’ He’s not speaking literally, because your teacher is still your teacher, and your father is still your father. But he is reminding us that everything comes from God; that God is the first of all fathers, and that Christ himself is the first of all teachers. 

The Scribes and Pharisees, however, think they’re the ultimate authority on everything. Don’t be like that, Jesus says. Be humble, because everything comes from God. Then he adds, ‘Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Why, then, do we call our priests ‘Father’?

Well, firstly, it’s a sign of respect. In Acts 7:2, Stephen refers to ‘our father Abraham’. Jesus also calls Abraham ‘father’ (Jn.8:56), and Paul speaks of ‘our father Isaac’ (Rom.9:10). They respect Abraham and Isaac as the earliest fathers of the faith.

Secondly, priests are our spiritual fathers. Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘(You are) my beloved children …For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’ (1Cor.4:15). He also tells Timothy (2Tim.2:1), Titus (Tit.1:4), Onesimus (Phil.10) and the Galatians (Gal.4:19) that he is their spiritual father.

And thirdly, calling someone ‘Father’ highlights the special responsibility God has given him. In the Book of Job, Job calls himself ‘…a father to the poor’ (Job 29:16). In Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers, ‘God has made me a father to Pharaoh …and ruler over Egypt’ (Gen.45:8). 

In a similar way, God has given his priests a special responsibility to look after his people, with the care and humility that you’d expect from a good father.

But there are other fathers for us to consider.

The French artist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is often called the ‘Father of Modern Painting.’ For 35 years he lived in obscurity, producing masterpieces that he gave away to neighbours. He loved his work so much that he didn’t worry about recognition; nor did he think he’d ever become famous.

Cézanne owes his fame to a Paris dealer who discovered his paintings and organised his first exhibition. The world was amazed to discover this new master, and Cézanne was amazed by the attention he received. He arrived at the art gallery leaning on his son’s arm, and couldn’t contain his surprise when he saw his paintings displayed. He turned to his son and said, ‘Look, they’ve framed them!’[I] 

Matisse called Cézanne ‘the father of us all,’ and Picasso claimed him as ‘my one and only master.’ [ii] But Cezanne always remained humble. (Interestingly, in 2011 his painting ‘The Card Players’ was sold for $274 million.) [iii]

Cezanne was the ‘Father of Modern Painting.’ Why? Because God gave him a share in his own creative fatherhood.

Another father for us to consider is St Martin de Porres. Today (5th November) is his feast day. Martin was born in 1579, in Lima, Peru, into very humble circumstances. When his mother, a former slave-girl, sent him to the market, he often returned empty-handed because he’d given the food to the poor.

At 15, he joined the Dominicans, but he never became a priest. Instead, he spent his life caring for the sick, the poor, the homeless and the dying, and he came to be known as ‘the Father of Charity’ and ‘Father of the Poor.’

Why was St Martin called this? It’s because God had given him a share of his own compassionate Fatherhood, just as God had given Cezanne a share of his creative Fatherhood.

In the same way, God gives his priests a share in his spiritual Fatherhood, and that’s why we call them ‘Father.’ But God is always the original father, the original teacher, and the original master, for everything comes from God.

As for us today, if you have received any special titles, responsibilities or blessings, don’t let them go to your head.

As Jesus says, everything comes from God. 

[i] Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight. New York: Image Books, 1990:111-112.



Year A – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Ten Commandments

[Ex.22:20-26; 1Thess.1:5c-10; Mt.22:34-40]

Some time ago, a person of Protestant persuasion challenged me, asking: ‘What right does the Catholic Church have to change the Ten Commandments?’

At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about, but he was adamant that the Church had changed the Ten Commandments to suit itself. Since then, I’ve looked into this story, and now I’d like to share it with you.

The Ten Commandments are recorded in two books of the Bible (Ex.20:1-17; Deut.5:4-21). In both places the words are almost identical, but there’s no numbering system at all. This is puzzling, because the Bible mentions ‘Ten’ commandments three times (in Ex.34:28; Deut.4:13; and 10:4). But it doesn’t say how the words should be divided up to make 10 commandments. 

If you read these two texts carefully, you’ll notice that there are actually more than ten commands (or imperative statements) in them. In Exodus (20:1-17), for example, there are 14 commands. Most of them begin with ‘You shall …’

Centuries ago, various scholars tried to solve this problem by devising ways to identify the 10 commandments. So, today there are three main approaches:

  • One is called the Talmudic division, and it’s used by most Jews;
  • St Augustine devised another approach in the 5th Century, and it’s mainly used by Catholics and Lutherans. (This tradition began long before anyone numbered the verses in the Bible); and
  • A third method, called the Philonic division, was devised by the Church Father, Origen. The Protestants copied this from the Eastern Orthodox. 

What’s the difference? Well, comparing the Augustinian and Philonic methods, the main difference is in the grouping of the first and last commandments. St Augustine combined the commands about worshipping God at the beginning of the list, and he separated the commands about moral wrongs at the end. The Philonic method does exactly the opposite.

For example, St Augustine identified the last two commandments as:

9.   Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife; and

10. Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s goods.

But the Philonic method combines them:

10.  Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife … nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.

However you slice and dice the commandments, though, the words haven’t changed. They’re just numbered differently. And while the Catholic Church does mainly use St Augustine’s method, it doesn’t prefer one method over another. It considers them all acceptable.

So, what is the point of this story? I think this story does two things. Firstly, it demonstrates that so much division in our world comes from misunderstanding. Our world would be so much happier if we all took the time to get to know each other better.

Secondly, this story reminds us that many people tend to focus on the letter of the law, rather than its spirit or essence. Their approach is rather legalistic.

The Pharisees were like that. They identified 613 laws in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and spent all their time worrying about complying with the details, rather than trying to understand their meaning and purpose.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus side-steps the 613 laws in the Torah and goes straight to the heart of what they’re all about. He replies that the greatest and first commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Deut.6:5).

Then he says that the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev.19:18).

Loving God and loving our neighbour are two sides of the same coin. Together they represent the very essence of our faith. This is what it means to be Christian. But you must do both; it’s not enough to love God and ignore your suffering neighbour. And it’s not enough to love your neighbour while turning your back on God.

This is what Jesus is telling us. He basically says that we don’t have to be too concerned about the 613 laws in the Torah. We don’t even have to worry about the detail of the original Ten Commandments. For if we truly love God and our neighbour, with all our hearts, souls and minds, then we’ll naturally avoid breaking any of the Ten Commandments, regardless of the way they are numbered.

That’s why Jesus says, ‘On these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets also’.

This is the very heart of our Christian faith. 

How well do you love God and your neighbour?

Year A – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Giving to Caesar, Giving to God

[Isa.45:1,4-6; 1Thess.1:1-5b; Mt.22:15-21]

In Matthew’s Gospel today Jesus utters the famous line ‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God’. What does that mean?

To answer that, let’s go back into history. 2,000 years ago, many people in Israel were great haters. The Pharisees, the Jewish leaders, hated the Roman invaders. They also hated the Jewish Herodians who supported the Roman ruler Herod Antipas.

In return, the Herodians hated the Pharisees, because they thought they were too nationalistic. And both the Pharisees and Herodians hated Jesus because (like many people today) they considered him a threat to their comfortable lifestyles. 

In today’s Gospel, however, both groups put their politics aside and join together to challenge Jesus: they ask Him a question about the Roman census tax.  In those days, the Roman Empire expected every man, woman and slave aged between 12 and 65 to pay an annual tax of one denarius – the equivalent of one day’s pay.


The Pharisees hated the tax for religious reasons, while the Herodians supported it for political reasons. But now that doesn’t matter, for they all want to destroy Jesus. So, they ask him, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

They’re trying to trap Jesus. They expect that whatever answer He gives will be the wrong one. If He supports the tax He’ll anger the Jews, and if He opposes the tax He’ll upset the Romans. They quietly rub their hands with glee.

But Jesus knows what’s going on. He tells them that they’re hypocrites, and then asks them to show Him the coin they use to pay the census tax. One of them gives him a coin, a denarius. In those days, that coin had the image of the Emperor Tiberius on it.

Now, they are embarrassed. That’s because the first commandment says ‘you shall not have any graven images’, and here they are standing in the Temple, the holiest place in all of Judaism, with a coin bearing a graven image. 

And it gets worse for them. The coin also has an inscription on it which says, ‘Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.’ 

And on the other side of the coin it says ‘Pontifex Maximus’, or supreme priest. Basically, this coin is saying that Caesar is a god. For Jews, this is both blasphemy and idolatry.

Jesus asks them, ‘whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They sheepishly reply, ‘Caesar’s’, and then Jesus says to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.’

By focussing on the image stamped on the coin, Jesus is reminding them (and us) that we’re all created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that in the beginning, ‘God created humankind in his image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.’

Jesus is subtly making the point that while Caesar’s image is stamped on the coin, God’s image is actually stamped on us – on our hearts and on our lives. 

By telling us to ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,’ He is instructing us to be good, responsible citizens in this world. We need to pay our dues. And by telling us to ‘give to God what is God’s,’ Jesus is reminding us that we all belong to Him. 

We’re not only citizens of our country; we’re also citizens of God’s Kingdom, and we have responsibilities in both places.  We should not neglect one over the other.

So, how do we give to God what is God’s?

The answer is in next Sunday’s Gospel. That’s when we’ll hear a Pharisee ask Jesus, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?’ Jesus replies that we must love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, and with all our souls. Then He say we must love our neighbour as ourselves – and so we should, for if God’s image is inscribed on us, then it must also be inscribed on everyone else around us, too.

That’s how we give to God what is God’s. God created us; He loves us and we all belong to Him. In return, God wants us to love and honour Him. He wants us to recognise all the many blessings He has given us – our families, our friends and our lives.

At the end of our first reading today, God says, ‘…apart from me, all is nothing’ (Is.45:6). 

So, are you giving to God what belongs to God?

Year A – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Excuses, Excuses

(Isa.25:6-10a; Phil.4:12-14; Mt.22:1-14)

Years ago, I worked with a man who was very often late for work. He had so many excuses that they became a running joke among the staff.

Why do people make excuses? It’s because they worry about what others might think of them, and they don’t like feeling embarrassed.

People have been making excuses ever since the dawn of time. In Genesis, when God asks Adam and Eve about the forbidden fruit, Adam blames both God and Eve by saying, ‘The woman you gave me for my companion, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ And Eve blames the serpent: ‘the serpent deceived me, and I ate’ (Gen.3:12-13).

Neither wants to take responsibility for their actions.

Moses, too, comes up with several excuses when God asks him to lead his people. He says he’s not good enough and he doesn’t know what to say. He also says he doesn’t have the authority and he’s not a good speaker (Ex.3:11; 4:13). Eventually, however, he comes around to doing what he is asked.

When we make excuses, we might feel happy for a while because we’ve dodged some discomfort. But we also risk feeling anxious or depressed later on, when we realise that we’ve neglected something important.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us his Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Heaven is like a wedding banquet, Jesus says, and he tells the story of the king who sends out invitations to his son’s wedding.

None of the guests is interested, however. They all make excuses. One person is too caught up in his work and can’t get away. Another is too busy shopping, and a third person is too involved with his family. He has just got married and simply can’t come (cf. Lk.14:15-24).

The king is annoyed, but doesn’t cancel the celebration. Instead, he extends the invitation to many other people, and lots of them attend.

In this story, the king is God Himself, and the wedding banquet represents the kingdom of God. Those He invites first are the religious leaders of Israel who hear the Gospel but refuse to accept it. The servant messengers are the prophets of old, and the second-round invitees are everyone else, including the tax collectors and sinners – and of course, you and me.

The king is offering his guests a feast of eternal happiness and joy, but none of those first invited can be bothered to attend. They all have other priorities.

The point Jesus is making here is that the doors of heaven are open wide, and He has come to invite Israel to join Him there. Sadly, these wayward guests are too busy with their worldly affairs to appreciate the value of His offer.

It’s only the tax collectors, the sinners, the poor, the blind and the lame, who are wise enough to understand what it means.

It’s no different today. God has not withdrawn His invitation to this fabulous event. It’s still current, and the doors of heaven are still wide open. As God says in Jeremiah 29:11, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

But how do we respond? Are we making excuses? Are we avoiding the obvious? Sooner or later, we will have to take responsibility for our choices.

Let’s close with some verses from an old song by the Kingsmen quartet:

Excuses, excuses, you’ll hear them every day.
And the Devil he’ll supply them, if the church you stay away.
When people come to know the Lord, the Devil always loses
So to keep them folks away from church, he offers them excuses.

In the summer it’s too hot. And in the winter, it’s too cold.
In the spring time when the weather’s right, you find someplace else to go.
Well, it’s up to the mountains or down to the beach or to visit some old friend.
Or, to just stay home and kinda relax and hope some kin will drop in.

Excuses, excuses, you’ll hear them every day.
And the Devil he’ll supply them if the church you stay away.
When people come to know the Lord, the Devil always loses
So to keep them folks away from church, he offers them excuses.

Well, a headache Sunday morning and a backache Sunday night.
But by worktime Monday morning, you’re feeling quite all right.
While one of the children has a cold, ‘Pneumonia, do you suppose?’
Why the whole family had to stay home, just to blow that poor kid’s nose.

Excuses, excuses, you’ll hear them every day.
And the Devil he’ll supply them if the church you stay away.
When people come to know the Lord, the Devil always loses
So to keep them folks away from church, he offers them excuses.

So to keep them folks away from church, he offers them excuses. [i]



Year A – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

(Isa.5:1-7; Phil.4:6-9; Mt.21:33-43)

As Christians we know that everything comes from God.  We come from God, and all we have comes from God. Indeed, all of Creation comes from Him. Yet it seems clear that God is progressively being squeezed out of our society and even out of our lives.

For example, few people today speak of God’s Creation, even though He gave us responsibility for it. Now, it’s simply called ‘the environment’ and God is rarely, if ever, ever mentioned.

As well, our English language is full of biblical references, but few know this. Consider, for example, ‘Labour of love’ (1Thess.1:3); ‘Letter of the law’ (2Cor.3:6); ‘Apple of my eye’ (Deut.2:10); ‘Signs of the times’ (Mt.16:3); ‘At my wit’s end’ (Ps.107:27); ‘Bite the dust’ (Ps.72:9); and ‘Drop in the bucket’ (Is.40:15).

And did you notice the words ‘Sour Grapes’ in our first reading today? We all use these phrases, but who remembers where they come from?

For most people, too, Sundays are no longer for God. They’re for sports, shopping and seeing friends. And most are unaware that the Church started the schools, hospitals and welfare services we all now take for granted. And even when these services are still labelled ‘Christian,’ too many people don’t understand what that means.  Indeed, too many parents want the benefits of a Christian education for their children without any reference at all to Jesus.


Recently I read about some research which found that forgiveness is good for your health. Jesus made this point 2,000 years ago (and even forgave those who crucified Him), but He wasn’t mentioned in that article.

Step by step, God is being deleted from our lives, and too many of us seem happy to go along with that.

This isn’t new, however.

Our first reading today is Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. It’s the story of a beautiful vineyard that its owner carefully develops and hands on to tenants to manage. But instead of producing a bountiful harvest, all they grow is sour grapes.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus continues this theme in his Parable of the Wicked Tenants. A landowner gives his beautiful vineyard to tenants to look after while he’s away. He expects them to look after it, but when harvest time comes and he sends his servants to collect his share of the produce, the tenants simply abuse or kill them.

The landowner then sends his son, expecting that he might at least receive some respect, but the tenants kill him, too. They have no sense of responsibility or gratitude.


In this parable, the vineyard represents the world the world we live in. The tenants are the people of the world, including you and me. The landowner is God, who has created this wonderful vineyard and given it to us to look after for Him.

The servants are the prophets God sends to remind us of our responsibilities. And the son is Jesus, who as we know was killed by wicked tenants in Jerusalem.

So what can we take from all this?

Well, these stories should encourage us, for it’s not just today that God has become unfashionable. The world has been trying to banish God ever since the time of Adam and Eve. But the truth is that we all need Him.

Just about everyone has a deep longing for peace, joy, love, kindness and trust. But we know that we cannot achieve any of these things on our own.


Indeed, St Paul in Galatians 5:22 tells us that these are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. They are the very fruits that God wants us to grow in our own vineyards.

And how might we grow them? By inviting the vine of Christ to take root in our lives.

Jesus is first ‘planted’ in us at our baptism, and thereafter we need to cultivate his presence all through our lives, nurturing and encouraging it to grow and produce an abundant harvest of fruits for all to enjoy. 

In John 15:5, Jesus says, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.’

Last Wednesday, the Church celebrated the feast of St Francis of Assisi. St Francis clearly saw God’s creation as his vineyard, and he seriously nurtured the vine of Christ inside himself. He did this so effectively that 800 years later he’s still producing abundant fruit today.

Now, this is our challenge.

What fruits are you producing in your life?

Year A – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Christ Encomium

[Ezek.18:25-28; Phil.2:1-11; Mt.21:28-32]

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, ‘Be like the bamboo; the taller you grow, the deeper you bow’.

In other words, be humble. Humility is important in some cultures, but not so much in ours. Our society seems to regard humble people as weak and passive, but that’s not humility. True humility means understanding your strengths and weaknesses and knowing how you fit into the world.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Bread for the Journey, says that our society believes that the only way to go is up. He says, ‘Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.’ 

Many of us work hard to climb that ladder at work or in our social lives. But isn’t this just feeding our pride? In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis describes pride as ‘posing and posturing.’ [i] And he warns that if you are proud, you cannot know God, for a proud person is always looking down on things and people, and if you’re looking down you cannot see anything that’s above you. [ii] 

In today’s second reading, St Paul is worried that the Christian community in Philippi has been split by rivalry and division. He reminds them of God’s deep love for them and the compassion and mercy they’ve had for each other. He says that if they want to live in Christ with all the joys the Christian life brings, then they must be united, sharing the same divine spirit and purpose. 

But this can’t happen, he says, if they’re filled with vanity and selfish ambition.    They need to start living as Jesus did, by always putting others first. 

Paul then describes Jesus, using an ancient hymn of praise which is often called The Christ Encomium. Jesus was equal to God, but He emptied himself and became an ordinary man. He lived as a humble servant and even accepted death on a Cross. This, Paul says, is how we should live our lives. 

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI explained this passage. He said that God deliberately makes Himself small for us so that we can understand Him, welcome Him and love Him.

God doesn’t come with power and outward splendour, Pope Benedict said, for He doesn’t want to overwhelm us with his strength. Instead, He comes to us as a defenceless baby, in need of our help and He does this because he wants our love.

And he added that by loving God and learning to live with him, we will discover the humility that is the very essence of love. [iii] 


In 1622, St Francis de Sales described humility using the example of spiders and bees. He said, ‘Don’t act like the spider, who represents the proud; but imitate the bee, who is the symbol of the humble soul.

The spider spins its web where everyone can see it, and never in secret. It spins in orchards, going from tree to tree, in houses, on windows, on floors – in short, before the eyes of all. 

The spider represents the vain and hypocritical who do everything to be seen and admired by others. Their works are, in fact, only spiders’ webs, fit to be cast into the fires of hell.

But the bees are wiser and more prudent, he said, for they prepare their honey in the hive where no-one can see them. Besides that, they build little cells where they continue their work in secret.

This represents… the humble soul, who is always withdrawn within herself, without seeking any glory or praise for her actions. Rather, she keeps her intentions hidden, being content that God sees and knows what she does.’ [iv]


Jesus and Mary both lived like bees, working quietly in the background. Pride and upward mobility meant nothing to them.

In 2017, Pope Francis said ‘Mary shows us that humility is not the virtue of the weak, but of the strong who do not mistreat others to make themselves feel important.’

He said that humility is like an emptiness that leaves room for God. We know that because God has done great things in the world thanks to humble people, and this shows that the humble person is powerful, not because he’s strong, but because he’s humble.

Pope Francis also said, ‘Behold the grandeur of the humble and of humility.’

Then he added: “I’d like to ask you – and also myself – but don’t answer in a loud voice, just answer in your heart: ‘How’s my humility?’” [v]

Yes, how is your humility? Is it something you cultivate?

[i] Lewis, CS. Mere Christianity.  Fontana Books, London, 1969:111.

[ii] Ibid. p.108.


[iv] St Francis de Sales, Sermon for Ash Wednesday, 9 February, 1622