Tag Archives: parable

Parable of the Wicked Tenants

2 Peter 1:2-7, Psalm 91, Mark 12:1-12

The wicked tenants in this Gospel passage do not just represent Israel’s leaders. Our Lord too, has left us each a ‘vineyard’ of blessings, gifts, talents and charisms.

How have we been using these gifts God has loaned to us? Have we been prideful of our abilities or do we praise and thank God everyday for them? Pope Benedict tells us:

“We should not become elated over our good deeds… it is the Lord’s power, not our own, that brings about the good in them.”

Going a step further, through Baptism, every Christian is expected to participate in Christ’s ministry as Priest, Prophet and King.

As Prophets, we are expected to share the Truth of the Gospel boldly and prudently.

As Priests, we are expected to be faithful followers of Jesus. This refers to our interiority and inner disposition. If we begin to think of ourselves acting in a priestly fashion everyday of our lives, we would undoubtedly carry out the work of Jesus — bringing justice and love into our world.

As Kings (or Queens), we are in charge of ourselves. Intellect and free will are powers bestowed upon our rational souls. This gives us dominion over our choices and bodies. We have a moral obligation to look after our temples and keep our passions under reason.

The Psalmist today gives us the simplest solution on how we can fulfill our three roles to its maximum potential: “In you, my God, I place my trust.” (Ps 91:2).

___

Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

The Extra Jar of Oil

By guest writer Rev. Fr. Michael Chua.

I returned last month from a pilgrimage to Western Europe. As usual, I was bombarded by the same question countless times: “How was it?” I replied, “It was very good, but challenging.” Lost luggage right at the very start, pilgrims having to cut short the journey due to a family emergency and last, but not the least dramatic of all, lost passports on the eve of our return. It seemed that whatever could possibly go wrong, went wrong with this trip. And yet, despite all the unplanned emergencies and heart-stopping mishaps, most of us, including the ‘victims,’ emerged strengthened by the whole experience, in fact, doubly certain of God’s Providence and protection. In a way, the surprises were the value-added elements of our pilgrimage – a reminder to be constantly vigilant and be ready for the moment when the Lord decides to change our life’s itinerary.

But in hindsight, no amount of careful pre-planning or caution could have prevented the twist and turns in our itinerary. What then was needed to weather the unannounced storms and detours of life? This is where today’s parable becomes illuminating. Many have focused on the element of wakefulness in today’s parable. But it is important to take note that the passage records that “all became drowsy and fell asleep.” The wise slept as well as the foolish! But there is no hint of rebuke or disapproval from the Lord. It seemed perfectly natural, under the circumstances. This indicates that Christian vigilance does not mean continually peering up into the heavens like an air-raid sentry on duty. Reminders, like the Church’s annual season of Advent, are helpful and needed, but what our Lord is indicating is that watching also allows time for normal activities. Money must be earned, food must be cooked, laundry washed, school lessons learnt, weddings and funerals held, time for rest and leisure — life must go on.

So, the crucial difference between the wise and the foolish has to do not with staying awake but with having sufficient oil. In unraveling the mystery and the symbolism of the oil, we can perhaps begin to understand the depth and meaning of being prepared in the Christian context. Oil, in the Old Testament, is frequently used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Kings and priests were anointed with oil as a sign of their consecration (and, supposedly, Spirit-filled). Likewise, in the life of Christians, nothing good happens without the inspiration, the guidance and the strength afforded by the Holy Spirit. We are anointed with the oil of Sacred Chrism at baptism and Confirmation, signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our lives.

Notice that both the wise and foolish bridesmaids had oil to start with. The difference lay with the extra jar of oil. The vital point in the foolish bridesmaids’ ‘foolishness’ was not that they ‘slumbered and slept’ but that they had no oil in their vessels. They had oil in their ‘lamps’ to start with, a testimony of the sanctifying grace a person receives at baptism. But they failed to bring along an extra supply of oil – indicating the many souls who fail to grow in sanctity, making use of the channels of grace like Holy Communion and frequent confessions, failing to apply themselves to grow spiritually through study, devotion and prayer.

The great danger is that so many have become contented with the mere fact that we are baptized and have done little more to grow in our personal faith life. This is the problem with the foolish bridesmaids. They had forgotten an important lesson in life: it’s not just how you begin the story but how you choose to end it. Our salvation depends on so much more than just being baptized. Our faith must go beyond the rudimentary catechism that was given to us when we were young. It demands that we live out the call to holiness that comes with being a Child of God. That’s what’s so wrong about the fundamentalist evangelical idea of “once saved, always saved,” that you only have to believe and accept Christ as your Savior once in your life to be automatically “saved” regardless of what you do the rest of your life. That is certainly not true. St. Paul tells us that “he who endures to the end will be saved.” And if our light is to endure to the end, we need an extra reservoir of oil which continually feeds the flame of life, never letting it falter or gutter out in darkness, under-girding them in every hour of stress, of pressure or disaster, keeping them firm and steady in the midst of the buffeting pressures of life.

Holiness is that extra reservoir of oil. We begin on our path to holiness at Baptism. Through it, we become holy, sharers in the divine life. But that is only the start. In the Eucharist, our holiness is deepened, as we become one with the source of holiness, our Lord Jesus Christ. Confirmation strengthens us, and Reconciliation offers us forgiveness if we have strayed from the path of holiness. The Sacrament of the Sick consoles us in our weakness. Holy Orders and Matrimony give us the grace to sustain ourselves as we serve others in the states of ordained ministry and marriage. All the sacraments assist us on our way as we strive to live a holy life. We must never feel complacent that we have sufficient ‘oil’ of holiness. We must be constantly working at ensuring that we have an extra supply.

That is why the wise bridesmaids could not share their extra oil with the foolish ones. This is because the oil which the wise bridesmaids possess is not something external — like food or clothes or money. The oil which is used in this parable is a symbol of inner spirituality, virtue, and the faith life of a person that has been nurtured carefully with prayer, the sacraments, spiritual practices, devotions and a commitment to living the Word of God. It is product of personal sacrifice, devotion and discipline. Holiness is simply not transferable.

We may be secretly sympathetic toward the plight of the five foolish bridesmaids. We too wish to step forward and hand them our oil and perhaps find ways to lighten their burdens. But the truth is, this is not possible. One of the important lessons that my last pilgrimage taught me and which coincides with the message of today’s parable is this: Holiness or even readiness cannot be shared or transferred to another. It is most personal for it is our lives that we are preparing. Some other pilgrims later shared with me how they would have been willing to exchange places with the couple who had lost their passports. God could not have chosen a more vulnerable pair. The thought that others were willing to take their place was inspiring. Unfortunately, this was not possible. No one could take their place when it came to lost passports. Likewise, no one would be able to make up for the insufficient oil that each of us needs to keep our lamps lit and burning.

As we continue to wait for the Divine Bridegroom, with many, if not all of us, feeling drowsy or perhaps even falling asleep, let us pay heed to the words of the gospel and the advice of that Great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine:

“Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, watch with good works …; make ready the lamps, make sure they do not go out …, renew them with the inner oil of an upright conscience; then shall the Bridegroom enfold you in the embrace of His love and bring you into His banquet room, where your lamp can never be extinguished.”

Originally published at Your Grace is Sufficient.

Rev. Michael Chua is a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is the parish priest of the Church of Jesus Caritas, Kepong and Administrator of the Chapel of Kristus Aman, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL, as well as Ecclesiastical Assistant and Chaplain for the Catholic Lawyers Society.

The Parable of the Talents

Parable of the TalentsThe Parable of the Talents is a Kingdom Parable couched in terms of reward and punishment,1 outlining the consequences awaiting those who have been entrusted with God’s word and given the freedom and ability to make it bear fruit. God seeks the active cooperation of the faithful in the establishment of His kingdom,2 and failure to act is a dereliction of duty and sin of omission. The parable is a sober warning that the People of God are expected to use the gifts they have been given, or suffer the pain of banishment on top of the loss of what they had received; at the same time, it is a promise of abundant increase for those who fulfill the will of the Lord.3

The Parable of the Talents immediately follows the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, which is explicitly introduced by Jesus as referring to the Kingdom of Heaven.4 The two parables are told following Christ’s foretelling of His Second Coming, the Parousia heralding the end of this world.5 At this point in the Gospel, Jesus has just departed the Temple, where He roundly chastised the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the teachings of the Law, namely judgment, mercy and faith.6 He predicted their certain doom for ignoring the Word of God and being hypocrites, seeking only their personal comfort and reputation,7 at the expense of the fulfillment of God’s will.

The parables are told while Jesus speaks privately to His disciples of the signs that will accompany the consummation of the world, in response to their queries on the subject.8 They are related to the disciples as the Messiah approaches Jerusalem and they directly precede a description of the Last Judgement as well as Jesus’ declaration of His impending crucifixion.9

Thus, the Parable of the Talents can be seen as a direct commentary on the behavior of the religious leaders of the Jewish nation, the scribes and the Pharisees.10 Like the lazy servant, they have failed to invest what they had been entrusted with: namely, the holy teachings which are the key to the Kingdom of God.11 Instead, they have perverted God’s teachings, burying them beneath their convoluted religious restrictions and regulations,12 oppressing the faithful with heavy tithes.13

Moreover, the parable has eschatological import, being an illustration of the reckoning that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. It demonstrates the necessity of being ready for His impending advent. This is paralleled in the preceding parable where the foolish virgins, lacking oil for their lamps, pay the penalty for their unpreparedness and are left out of the wedding celebration.14 Throughout Holy Scripture, the wedding feast is a symbol of Heaven,15 the Lamb’s Supper which is the union of Christ and His Bride the Holy Church.16 At the same time, Jesus instructs his listeners that the Kingdom of God is not commencing at once upon His entry into Jerusalem, as those who anticipated a worldly Messiah expected.17 The master, representing Himself, departs for an extended, unspecified period of time.18

Jesus follows the Parable of the Talents with an account of the Last Judgement, where He will judge everyone according to their deeds, separating the just from the wicked, sending the latter to eternal punishment while bestowing eternal life upon the former.19 Likewise, in the parable, the master rewards or penalizes the servants according to what they have done with his property in his absence. The talents are thus clearly symbols of the ability to perform the works of charity which fulfill the Law.

The line introducing the Parable of the Talents is a segueing into that parable from the one of the Virgins, stating: “Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.”20 Matthew emphasizes that Christ’s return will be unexpected, with judgment falling suddenly upon the wicked and unfaithful.21 Before the Parables of the Virgins and the Talents, Jesus is recorded as referring to His second coming as being like the Great Flood which took mankind unawares, then drumming in the point with the parable of the thief coming unforeseen in the night, as well as the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants whose master returns at an unanticipated moment and deals with them accordingly.22 The Parable of the Talents can be seen as an extension of the point made in the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants.

The Parable of the Talents begins with a man preparing for his departure to a distant land by bestowing his property upon his three servants,23 dividing his assets between each of them “according to his proper ability”;24 this implies that they are expected to manage those assets.25 In Judaism, as can be seen throughout the Old Testament, the relationship between God and Israel was often referred to in terms of Lord and servant;26 more particularly, the leaders of God’s people were called His servants.27 Therefore, Jesus’ disciples would have instantly recognized this parable as reflecting upon the behavior of the Jews,28 as well as all who purported to be faithful followers of Christ.

The immensity of the trust which the master has placed in each of his servants is comprehended when one realizes the value of a talent. A single talent was worth about 6,000 denarii and constituted the equivalent of about two decades’ labor.29 Considering the shorter life expectancy at the time of Christ, a talent represented just about the entire sum earned in an average man’s life.30 Thus, a talent could be figurative of the graces received for a lifetime, with the varying amounts signifying different graces received by members of the faithful.31 It was a massive sum which a mere servant would have been unable to repay.32

The two servants who have been entrusted with much more, in line with their abilities, trade their master’s property and earn even more, doubling the amounts in their keeping.33 The third servant, in contrast, does less than the bare minimum of depositing the money in the bank;34 in fact, he buries it in the ground,35 where it remains utterly unproductive until the master’s return.

In Jewish numerology, the number ten symbolized absolute completeness, and the number five indicated semi-completeness.36 One may interpret the first servant as having the best ability to employ what he receives, since he is allotted the maximum of five talents and gains five more with them, reaching the symbolic level of perfection. In addition, the number two was one short of the number of holiness, while the number four referred to the quarternity of the universe, encompassing Heaven and Earth and testifying to the glory of God.37 Thus, although the second servant receives less than the first, he is still able to serve his master and symbolically glorify God through his actions: in Judaism, the wealthy were regarded as blessed by God.38 Both the servants are praised equally by the master for their efforts and acumen, for they have both done just as well in producing full returns of the amounts entrusted to them.39 They “are received with equal favor by the Master of the household, who looks not to the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will.”40

Moreover, “the greater the gifts, the greater the reckoning for them”41 – the master commends the second servant for earning two more talents, thus presenting four in total; but if the first servant had come back with just four, that would have been a grievous loss.42 Religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees, who were learned and blessed with a deeper understanding of the scriptures than the average person, would reasonably have been expected to render more to God;43 similarly, faithful disciples of Christ who have been enlightened by His teachings are more culpable than those who do not know Him that well.

The third servant is given a lesser, though still considerable amount, because the master knows he is not ready to handle more than that.44 Yet, he is inhibited by fear at taking the risk of investing the money,45 and in burying it seeks to divest himself of the responsibility for any loss.46 However, in doing so, he breaches his trust.47 As a servant, he is duty-bound to seek his master’s interests, but he acts self-interestedly, with cowardice.

His self-protective mindset is revealed in the speech he makes when he is brought to account by the master.48 He blatantly accuses his master of being a hard man, because he reaps where he has not sown, and gathers where he has not strewed.49 He has misconceived the character of his master, who was generous with his faithful servants.50 The servant tries to excuse his own behavior by claiming that his fear of the master motivated him to bury the talent,51 a common way of preserving money in Christ’s day.52 He returns the single talent, declaring, “Behold here thou hast that which is thine.”53 He did not fritter the money away for his own ends, and he hopes he might be recognized for his frankness and cautiousness in remitting the exact sum he was given.54 His delusion is soon exposed.

The servant’s clumsy attempt to excuse himself is turned against him;55 the master uses the servant’s own words to condemn him: “Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed.”56 Instead of truthfully admitting his guilt or even expressing some gratitude for the great trust placed in him, the servant tried to shift the blame and maligned his master in the process.57 This of course enrages his master, who adds the epithet “wicked” on top of decrying the servant for his sloth, chastising him for his intolerable pride.58

The servant’s protest, “I was afraid of thee,” brings to mind Adam and Eve after their transgression, hiding for fear of the Lord.59 They too tried to pin the blame on someone else, with Adam pointing out to God that it was the woman He gave him for company who enticed him to sin.60 God punished them for their disobedience, removing His gifts from them and banishing them from paradise.61 The unprofitable servant is condemned to the same fate, with his talent given to the most productive servant,62 and he himself thrown out into the dark to lament his sorry end.63

In contrast, the good servants are entrusted with even more, since they have proved their faithfulness, and they are invited to enter into the joy of their lord.64 This is a direct allusion to Heaven, where those who are judged worthy are allowed to enjoy the bliss of the Beatific Vision and complete union with God.65 In the end, the first servant is rewarded even more greatly than the second, as he receives the unfaithful servant’s talent.66 This is fitting because he has had to work harder than the second in order to reap five more talents.67

Furthermore, in Christian tradition, the talents have been taken to signify particular gifts from God, with the five talents corresponding to the five senses, which are the means to knowledge; the two talents standing for understanding and action, and the single talent representing understanding alone.68 Thus, the servant with the five talents was appropriately awarded the additional virtue of understanding.69

The master, representing God, reaps where he has not sown – this indicates His decision to save the Gentiles, who were not originally endowed with the seeds of salvation inherent in the Law and the Prophets, but in the end come to constitute part of the Kingdom of God, His property.70

The parable, just like Jesus’ other parables, is set in an ordinary situation, teaching the lesson that “the eschatological occurs within the everyday.”71 Christian faith and the spiritual life are at one with human earthly existence.72 One encounters God – represented by the master – in commonplace events and is held liable for one’s freely-chosen actions or lack thereof in response to the privileges and accompanying responsibilities accorded by Him.73 The servant deliberately chose not to do any good with the talent, and for that exercise of his free will, he must pay for his decision to neglect his master’s affairs. The master was a long time away,74 allowing ample time for the servants to carry out their duties, so practically speaking the capital must have surely depreciated with rising inflation in the meantime. This is analogous to the spiritual life, where God gives sufficient time for the salvation of souls,75 and if virtue is not willingly exercised, it is lost.76 The lazy servant acted as one obstinate in sin, unwilling to invest in the spiritual life, instead dedicating his God-given abilities to earthly things.77 The master is merciful, for he does not even require the servant to perform the more onerous task of reclaiming the money if he had banked it; the master would have done it himself.78 Similarly, as long as we commit ourselves to God’s work, He will attend to its fulfillment.

The Parable of the Talents is related at a particularly crucial moment in Jesus’ mission, shortly before His descent into Jerusalem to undergo His Passion and Death. It is His indictment of the scribes and Pharisees for willfully neglecting the will of God in the interests of self-preservation. Ironically, in seeking to preserve his life, the faithless servant loses it.79 The parable is also an answer to Christ’s disciples’ question regarding the eschaton, instructing them on the behavior expected of them as servants of the Lord.80 As they await His Second Coming, they cannot remain idle, but must prepare for the coming of the Kingdom, using all that God has given them for their task.

___

1 J.C. Fenton, Saint Matthew. Penguin Books (London, 1971), p. 398.

2 Ibid.; Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D, “Parable of the Talents” The Crossroads Initiative [http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/800/Parable_of_the_Talents.html] (accessed 10th October 2013).

3 Dan Otto Via, Jr., The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimensions. Fortress Press (Philadelphia, 1967), p. 18.

4 Matthew 25:1.

5 Matthew 24:3.

6 Matthew 24:23.

7 Matthew 24:33, 24:27-28.

8 Matthew 24:3.

9 Matthew 25:31-46, 26:1.

10 Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables. SCM Paperbacks (UK, 1966), p. 131.

11 Ibid.

12 Fenton, op. cit.; Via, op. cit., p. 39.

13 Matthew 23:23.

14 Matthew 25:10.

15 C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom. Charles Scribner’s Sons (New York, 1961), p. 93.

16 Revelation 19:7, 9.

17 Fr Francis L. Filas, SJ, Understanding the Parables. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), pp. 124-125.

18 Ibid.

19 Matthew 25:31-46.

20 Matthew 25:13.

21 Dodd, op. cit., p. 115.

22 Ibid.

23 Matthew 25:14.

24 Matthew 25:15.

25 Daniel Patte, The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith. Fortress Press (Philadelphia, 1987), p. 345.

26 Dodd, op. cit., p. 119; Psalms 135:22, Isaiah 49:3, Isaiah 44:21, Luke 1:54.

27 David: 1 Kings 8:66; Solomon: 1 Kings 8:30, 52, 59; Isaac: Daniel 3:35; Jacob: Psalms 77:71, Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 45:4, Baruch 3:37.

28 Dodd, op. cit., p. 119.

29 William Ridgeway, “Measures and Weights” in Leonard Whibley, (ed). A Companion to Greek Studies. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1905), p. 444.

30 Fr Robert J. Carr, “Homily: How Not to Be a Useless, Wicked, Worthless, Lout.” Catholicism Anew [http://blog.cancaonova.com/catholicismanew/2011/11/13/homily-how-not-to-be-a-useless-wicked-worthless-lout/] (accessed 10th October 2013).

31 St Jerome, St John Chrysostom & Origen, in St Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea. [http://dhspriory.org/thomas/CAMatthew.htm#25] (accessed 9th October 2013).

32 Ibid.

33 Matthew 25:16-17.

34 Matthew 25:27.

35 Matthew 25:18.

36 “Symbols”. 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14155-symbol] (accessed 10th October 2013).

37 Ibid.

38 John Martignoni, “The Parable of the Talents (Pt. 3)”. The Men of St. Joseph [http://www.menofstjoseph.com/blog/?p=15] (accessed 10th October 2013).

39 D’Ambrosio, op. cit.

40 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

41 St Gregory, ibid.

42 Joe Heschmeyer, “Reflecting on the Parable of the Talents: You Are Not St. Francis”. Shameless Popery [http:// catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2011/11/reflecting-on-parable-of-talents-you.html/] (accessed 10th October 2013).

43 Jeremias, op. cit., pp. 131-132.

44 Origen, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

45 D’Ambrosio, op. cit.; Matthew 25:25.

46 Fr Robert J. Carr, op. cit.

47 Dodd, op. cit., p. 118.

48 Via, op. cit., p. 101.

49 Matthew 25:24.

50 Patte, op. cit., p. 346.

51 Matthew 25:25.

52 Fenton, op. cit., p. 399.

53 Matthew 25:25.

54 Dodd, op. cit., p. 118.

55 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

56 Matthew 25:26.

57 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

58 Ibid.

59 Genesis 3:10.

60 Genesis 3:12-13.

61 Genesis 3:16-24.

62 Matthew 25:28.

63 Matthew 25:30.

64 Matthew 25:21, 23.

65 John Martignoni, “The Parable of the Talents (Pt. 2)”. The Men of St. Joseph [http://www.menofstjoseph.com/blog/?p=16] (accessed 10th October 2013).

66 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

67 Ibid.

68 St Gregory, ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 St Jerome, ibid.

71 Via, op. cit., p. 106.

72 Ibid., p. 107.

73 Ibid., pp. 101, 104.

74 Matthew 25:20.

75 Origen, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

76 Sts John Chrysostom & Jerome, op. cit.

77 St Gregory, op. cit.

78 Matthew 25:27; St John Chrysostom, “Homily 78 on Matthew”. New Advent [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/200178.htm] (accessed 9th October 2013).

79 Cf. Luke 17:33.

80 Patte, op. cit., p. 347.

The Three Falls of Christ

Like Christ, we are condemned to suffer and to die because of sin. He suffers willingly and innocently; we suffer, in the beginning at least, unwillingly and guilty.

If we suffer as unwilling criminals to the end, we will die a criminal’s death. If we learn to suffer willingly as Christ did, and take encouragement from His way, we will suffer and die as He did, with merit and victory, a redeeming death that brings life to ourselves and to others.

If the death of Christ is our victory and example, if His moment of ultimate defeat is our supreme triumph, then His falls, the moments of greatest discouragement on His holy way, should be our encouragement in the face of obstacles.

Christ did not have to fall on the way to Golgotha. He willed to fall in order to teach us. Some mystics number the falls of Christ at seven, each one a reparation for the seven capital vices. The traditional fourteen Stations of the Cross number his falls at three, and it is upon these three falls that I wish to devote this brief meditation.

Consider before we begin the parable of the sower. If we confront the place sin still has in many of our lives, it is easy to look at the parable of the sower and become discouraged, or even to despair. For some of us, we see how from the earliest years of our free choice, in spite of the grace of holy Baptism in our infancy, we have chosen against God. Surely we are the path on which the Word falls and is devoured at once.

Others see their pristine fervor diminished, perhaps after a significant life change or trauma, and have fallen into sinful habits. Are these not the rocky ground?

Still others see how they were led from the path by sinful companions, and have had the grace of God choked out of their souls by bad companions. How can these friends be anything but the thorns that choke the Word?

Few indeed are those souls who can look honestly at their own lives in Christ and find no reason to doubt that they are the good soil.

But the Way of the Cross is our way, as well, and the falls of Christ, if we let them image for us our spiritual stumblings and failures, illuminate this parable and impart unquenchable hope amidst the darkest moments of self-doubt and despair.

Christ falls the first time immediately after He has taken up His Cross. He has barely touched the wood or begun the long walk up the hill when He collapses under its weight. Many of us fall so soon after we commit to taking up our own crosses. Perhaps we fall into the same sin we have just confessed, or fail to persevere in a regimen of prayer just a week or two after we have begun. It is perhaps for us, when we are surprised by the weight of our new crosses, that Christ fell this first time. Christ, on His way to rise from the dead, rises from this initial fall. We, too, are invited to rise with Him once more and follow Him more earnestly, and more cannily, to our resurrection.

It is after this fall that Christ is afforded three comforts on the way to the Cross. First, He meets His Mother. While she is herself immediately our help and our refuge, she also depicts for us those whom we love that God has placed in our lives to help us bear our sufferings. And since Christ could not help Himself carry His Cross, Simon was compelled to carry the Cross with Jesus, so that we might know that crosses were not meant to be carried alone, and so that we would always seek the help of Christ Himself, who is to us as Simon was to Him.

Then, as he walks, Veronica removes her own veil and wipes the sweat and blood from His face. She unveiled a heart overflowing with love and compassion for Christ, and willing to give whatever she could to assist Him.

And yet, immediately after these three comforts and helps, Christ falls once more. How often do we set off eagerly and over-confidently after some moment of great consolation and religious enthusiasm, the seed apparently springing up at once, only to find ourselves so soon in perhaps a worse place than before, its roots not penetrating very deep? How often do we ask for and trust in the help of Christ, only to fall again? Lest we doubt that He does help us, or let our moments of encouragement become occasions for despair, Christ allowed Himself to fall at this point, so that He, rising once more from this fall, might invite all of those who have fallen in their moment of greatest consolation to rise with Him and once more to follow His way.

Finally, Christ meets the weeping women, who do not perceive that He carries this Cross for them. Seeing them, Jesus is saddened. Immediately He falls. But His resolve was not choked off by this pitiful sight. He rises again amidst the thorns and carries on. We too, though we are discouraged by those around us, who cannot understand our sufferings or lend us any aid, are invited to rise.

In the face of these consoling falls of Christ, who, then, is condemned in the parable?

No one but those who refuse to rise again with him, who let themselves become the barren path, the rocky ground, or surrounded by choking weeds.

Any sin can be forgiven except the sin against the Spirit; the sin that denies the power of God to forgive, to quicken, and to restore what has been lost. Christ rises from His falls, just as He rises from death, that we might have hope and faith enough to rise from ours.