On Holy Monday we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob. A major figure of the Old Testament, Joseph's story is told in the final section of the Book of Genesis (chs. 37-50). Because of his exceptional qualities and remarkable life, our patristic and liturgical tradition portrays Joseph as tipos Christou, i.e., as a prototype, prefigurement or image of Christ. The story of Joseph illustrates the mystery of God's providence, promise and redemption. Innocent, chaste and righteous, his life bears witness to the power of God's love and promise. The lesson to be learned from Joseph's life, as it bears upon the ultimate redemption wrought by the death and resurrection of Christ, is summed up in the words he addressed to his brothers who had previously betrayed him, “’Fear not ... As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he reassured them and comforted them” (Genesis 50:19-21). The commemoration of the noble, blessed and saintly Joseph reminds us that in the great events of the Old Testament, the Church recognizes the realities of the New Testament.
Also, on Great and Holy Monday the Church commemorates the event of the cursing of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-20). In the Gospel narrative this event is said to have occurred on the morrow of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:18 and Mark 11:12). For this reason it found its way into the liturgy of Great Monday. The episode is also quite relevant to Great Week. Together with the event of the cleansing of the Temple this episode is another manifestation of Jesus' divine power and authority and a revelation as well of God's judgment upon the faithlessness of the Jewish religious classes. The fig tree is symbolic of Israel become barren by her failure to recognize and receive Christ and His teachings. The cursing of the fig tree is a parable in action, a symbolic gesture. Its meaning should not be lost on any one in any generation. Christ's judgment on the faithless, unbelieving, unrepentant and unloving will be certain and decisive on the Last Day. This episode makes it clear that nominal Christianity is not only inadequate, it is also despicable and unworthy of God's kingdom. Genuine Christian faith is dynamic and fruitful. It permeates one's whole being and causes a change. Living, true and unadulterated faith makes the Christian conscious of the fact that he is already a citizen of heaven. Therefore, his way of thinking, feeling, acting and being must reflect this reality. Those who belong to Christ ought to live and walk in the Spirit; and the Spirit will bear fruit in them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-25).
Matins of Great and Holy Monday
Matthew 21:18-43 (pp. 32-35)
The Parable of the Fig Tree
In those days, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, He was hungry and seeing a
fig tree by the wayside He went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And
He said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered
at once. When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree
wither at once?" And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith
and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but
even if you say to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will be
done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."
The Authority of Jesus
And when He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people
came up to Him as He was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing
these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus answered them, "I also will
ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what
authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or
from men?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, `From heaven,' He will
say to us, `Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say `From men,' we are
afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet." So they answered
Jesus, "We do not know." And He said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what
authority I do these things.
The Man with Two Sons
"What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, `Son,
go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, `I will not'; but afterward he
repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he
answered, `I go, sir,' and did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?"
They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors
and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in
the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and
the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent
and believe him.
The Wicked Tenants
"Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and
set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out
to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he
sent his servant to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants
and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants,
more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to
them, saying, `They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they
said to themselves, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his
inheritance.' And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those
tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and
let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."