Deacon Dollars!

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Is 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Gospel: Mt 22:15-21

Soundbite Traps
I am sorry to say brothers and sisters that we are not too far from the beginning of yet another presidential campaign cycle, where we will soon be bombarded with endless commercials that for the most part will have some 20 second sound bite telling us what an oaf the President Obama is, or what a goof the Republican candidate is.

Every one of these commercials will be taken out of context from some speech that one of these two contenders will have made and be blown out of proportion in order to scare us into voting for the “other guy”.

Today’s Gospel is a soundbite trap
The reason why today I am the herald of this bad news, is because this is what the Pharisees are doing in today’s Gospel. They want to trap Jesus into making a 20 second sound bite that is either going to get him into trouble with the Romans, or get him in trouble with the Jews. They are so smart that they have an iron-clad mousetrap that is sure to get them the results that they want!

Jesus in the trap - Fiddler on the Roof meets Kung Fu Panda
I would like you to imagine this part of Matthews Gospel like a scene from a movie. If I was directing this movie, I would do this scene like Fiddler on the Roof meets Kung Fu Panda.

Ok, hold on, I know that half of you are thinking – “What is Fiddler on the Roof”, and the other half is thinking “What is Kung Fu Panda?” Fiddler on the Roof is the story of Tevye, a devout Jew who is always talking to God like this:

“Lord – this is my problem. On one hand I could do this… On the Other hand I could do that…

Kung Fu Panda is an animated film about a Panda who becomes this super-powerful kung fu warrior who protects his village from an evil foe. Whenever he fights, the scenes are portrayed in super-slow motion, showing the Panda doing amazing feats while his opponents stand awestruck.

In Deacon Paul’s imagination of this scene…
I would combine the two styles of these movies into this scene, because I would have Jesus caught in a slow motion fight scene with the Pharisees, they spring their trap, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” and then our film transitions to a slow-motion scene, where in Kung Fu Panda, the Panda would be able to hit his opponents 14 ½ times, while they move in slow motion, and he moves at super-panda speed. Except, instead of Jesus doing Kung Fu, he enters into prayer to his Father like Tevye

Father – I don’t know why I have to deal with these guys. If I answer that it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar they will brand me as a supporter of Rome and use that as proof that I don’t love you, and I won’t be able to preach.

On the Other Hand…
If I say that it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar then they will report me to the Romans as a revolutionary and I will most likely get killed.

Then, a flash of Divine inspiration, and Jesus gets this slight smile on his face, and the scene transitions back into normal speed for everyone.

What does it mean to give myself to God?
We give ourselves to God when we choose to be free. In a certain way, Jesus is saying it does not matter who is ruling us, the Persians, the Greeks, or the Romans, what is important is that we live our lives as lives of freedom, so that we can give ourselves freely back to God.


Solve the National Debt
Last night I worked hard on my computer and solved the national debt crisis. Here is my solution – Deacon Dollars.

QUESTION: Who created this Money? Deacon Paul

QUESTION: Who do these dollars belong to?
QUESTION: How do you know?
When someone creates something, they are the owner of it, unless they are able to sell it to someone else.

Then it belongs to him, give it back because in truth, the act of giving me this money is truly worthless in the eyes of heaven. It is just a thing.

QUESTION: Who created you? [[GOD]]

In the Gospel today Jesus transforms the trap into an opportunity to teach a truth about the Kingdom of God and our own nature as well. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.

What does it mean to be free? - To do what I want?
If I think that Freedom is to do whatever I want then I can go home and print millions of Deacon Dollars. Then I am going to take a sack-load of Deacon Cash and buy my Groceries. This way I will have plenty of food (especially ice cream). They may not like my Deacon Dollars is their problem – it is a free country after all.

What is the Sin here?
What would I be doing if I printed up a bunch of Deacon Dollars and used them to buy my groceries at King Soopers? What crime would I be charged with? Stealing? Yes! Would my action be sinful? Yes!

Doing whatever I want is not freedom, it is license.
Jesus is teaching us that God has given us the gift of Freedom, and He invites us give that gift back to God in return. The Freedom that we have is to choose to do what is good over what is evil.

Choosing Good Frees me
There is a beauty in this gift that God gave us, when I use my freedom to choose good, I become more free, I have a greater ability to choose the good, and that allows even more freedom. This is what the lives of the Saints teach us. When they choose the good, avoiding sin, forgiving their enemies, loving even those who do not love in return, they discover that this is a gift from God, and it helps us to love the world more and more and more. The more we are able to love, the more we are free from sin to love.

Choosing Evil Enslaves me
If on the other hand I choose to do evil, then I become enslaved. The more I sin, the more addicted I become to my sin, and the less free I am, until my sin becomes a compulsion and I sin without even thinking about it. I become less and less a person.

There is only one true freedom, and that is to choose the good. To choose to do evil means that I choose slavery to sin.

How does evil enslave?
By addiction, by making a lesser good seem like the ultimate good. Then we are willing to sacrifice the greater good for the lesser good.

The Cookie Monster
A 2 year old wants a cookie. Mom says you need to eat your vegetables first. The two year old gets upset and throws a riot, trying to wear the mother down. The mother now has to make a choice between two things. 1. Choose the good and teach her child the value of good nutrition, or choose the good and give the kids a cookie so she can have 5 minutes of peace and quiet.

Which is the greater good? Why would we choose a lesser good?

Because we are upset, overwhelmed and our reason isn’t fully working.

The greater good is for the child to eat there vegetables, ultimately their body will be healthier from eating healthy food over junk food. More importantly, their soul is learning to listen to the voice of love (their mom), and the virtue of delayed gratification – earning what you work for.

Choosing the good over evil – telling the truth.
The two year old demanding cookies from his mother is much like us when we are addicted to sin. We struggle to choose the good because we fail to see the greater good. We choose lying over the truth because we think that the benefit of getting caught today is better than the benefit of eternal life. We are so worried about getting caught today that we fail to see the greater good at the end of our life.

To choose the good would be to tell the truth and accept the consequences in order to grow in humility and truthfulness.

Choosing the lesser of two goods, food vs fast.
We choose gluttony today, because we don’t clearly see the true cost of being overweight, getting diabetes, loosing limbs in the future. We choose the lesser good (a full tummy) over the greater good (a longer healthier life). More importantly, when we choose gluttony, our stomach becomes greater than our brothers and sisters who are hungry, who are starving, who we can really help.

To choose the good would be to eat a simpler meal and to give some of our excess to the poor.

Blessed John Paul II
Blessed John Paul II used to give himself to God each time he met someone in his day. His interior prayer was always to the Holy Spirit saying “Father, help me to open myself up to your will at this moment. Help me to give myself to you, so that you might use me as your humble instrument.” It was in that John Paul gave his heart back to God.

How are we going to give our hearts back to God this week?



27th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Is 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20; 2 Phil 4:6-9; Gospel: Mt 21:33-43

In our last episode from Matthews Gospel…
In last weeks Gospel Jesus asked the people to choose which son was better, one who said he would do His Fathers work, and then did not, or one who said he would not do his Father’s work and then did.

[[QUESTION: Which is the better son?]]

Seeing Right and Wrong in others, in ourselves.
Jesus uses parables to help us to see right and wrong. Then he shows us how His parable applies to our lives and asks us to look again. Jesus does this because it is easy for us to see right and wrong in others, and more difficult to see right and wrong in ourselves. He knows that we are trapped in our sin, so in the Gospel today he is trying to free us from the path of destruction and get us onto the path of life.

God is Isaiah’s Friend
Isaiah says that his friend has a vineyard. Who is Isaiah’s friend? It is God. Who is his vineyard? It is us, the ones whom he loves.

The Stones are our sins
God shows how much he loves his vineyard, because the first thing he does is he moves through his Church and clears it of any stones.

The Stones are our hard hearts. When we have a hard heart it is difficult for us to change, to be open to Gods love and to produce good fruit. God cleansed our hearts of stones when we were Baptized.

When we are brought low we reach out to God – we open up to his grace.
God wants our hearts to be fertile sources of his love, and so he spades the vineyard over, opening the soil so that it will be more receptive to his love. For us, we are spaded over in our lives when we go through hard times and trials. We can respond in one of two ways to these times – either we can blame God – in which case our hearts become hard and stony; or we can thank God for our trials, in which case our hearts open themselves up to God’s love, like freshly turned soil receiving the autumn rains.

Choice Vines – The Sacraments – Windows of God’s love.
The choice vines that God plants in the vineyard are the sacraments that we receive. Christ nourishes us with his Body and Blood, and empowers us with the gifts of Confirmation. He calls us to service in Holy Orders and in the witness of Christian Marriage. He heals our wounds in Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. God gives us Himself in these sacraments so we can show the world His love.

The Hedge – The 10 Commandments = The boundary.
The hedge around the edge of the vineyard is the boundary that protects us. Within the vineyard there is life and abundant fruit, outside there is a wilderness where jackals, lions and robbers lurk. These predators want to break into the vineyard and spoil the fruit. The hedge is the Commandments that protect us from becoming victims of sin and destruction. They are like a man who lived with his family on a rocky island with cliffs all around it that plunged hundreds of feet into the sea. The man built walls along the edges of the cliff so his children could play in safety without falling down a cliff. In the same way the Commandments keep us from falling into evil.

Watchtower – Our Conscience
The watchtower represents our conscience. When our conscience is well formed, it recognizes the truth and leads us to live a life that is in harmony with God’s law. Our conscience alerts us when sin is trying to break through the hedge, and encourages us to chase away the temptation.

Winepress - Heaven
The winepress represents heaven – the place where we are working towards – a heavenly banquette filled with love and peace and joy. It is here that we will enjoy the fruits of our labors, with God, the Blessed Mother, and all the Saints.

We are the workers in the vineyard
In the Gospel today we learn that the workers in the vineyard are not doing the right thing. Instead of working to produce good fruit, they are plotting to kill the owner and to take the vineyard for themselves. The workers today have chosen sin over the heavenly feast. In short they are headed for self-destruction.


The example of Anger
If my sin is anger at some person – maybe they hurt me, or robbed me, or hurt a member of my family. I stop thinking about the work Christ has called me to do and I plot my revenge. I imagine how I will hurt them, how I will trap them and how they will suffer at my hands. When anger becomes the dominant thought in my life, it twists and distorts me. Finally, because my life is consumed with the fire of anger I have no time, and no desire to do the work of God. I begin to resent the prophets and the servants who are demanding good fruit – they become annoying and get in the way of my revenge. I am blinded to all of the gifts that God has given me and I am consumed in my sin.

The example of Lying
Similarly, if I tell a lie, I become very cautious. I spend more and more time trying to remember who I told what part of the lie to. Then, as time goes on it takes more and more energy for me to keep on telling the lies and keeping them straight. Soon, I become so busy thinking about fooling everyone that I lose touch with the truth and I am lost myself. I don’t work in the vineyard because I am too busy telling the lie.

The example of adultery
If I am trapped in adultery, either in an affair or through pornography, then my mind fills up with images of someone who is not my spouse. The more I am unfaithful the more I criticize my spouse and think poorly of them. I become cold and angry and jealous. Finally, I am so lost that I throw away the beautiful gift that God gave me for an imitation, a fake.

Wake Up!
This is what will happen to us if we are poor workers in the vineyard. This is the warning of the Gospel, and it is meant to wake us up to take some action.

What do we do when we see that we are poor workers?
The first thing we need to do is to listen to the voice of the watchman in the tower when he yells – “Look out!” Our conscience knows that what we are doing is wrong, and it leads us to conversion and repentance. Go to confession, be absolved of your sins and work to sin no more.

What is the secret of living in the vineyard?
In the second reading St. Paul gives us the secret to living in the vineyard. He tells us how to gather in the fruit to prepare for the heavenly banquette. The secret to living in the vineyard is that we can’t buy our way to heaven with good deeds because heaven is God’s gift and it can’t be bought.

The secret to living in the vineyard is to allow God’s love to transform our lives. If God’s love is transforming our lives then our work in the vineyard becomes a great joy because we want to share that love with as many people as possible.

The secret to living in the vineyard is to depend only on God; in both good times and bad we are to have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.