25th Sunday in Ordinary Time September 20, 2020
The First Reading
This week's pericope is a familiar one, especially its final verses. Here we see Isaiah calling upon us to seek and call upon the Lord God. Chapter 55 begins with the words "all who are thirsty," words that are echoed in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount when he states that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will have their fill. Hunger and thirst are important words to a desert culture. They imply life and death. The last thing you ever want to be in the middle of the desert is thirsty because it implies that you do not have enough water or are completely without it. Your life is in peril.
Isaiah's use of thirst reminds us that our longing is always for God. It is innate. It forms the deepest desires of our hearts, whether we recognize or acknowledge that longing for what it truly is is a conversation for another day. If we truly long for the Lord by hungering and thirsting for holiness and the things that are of God, then we will constantly seek the Lord in all things, be they good, or evil, the best of times or the worst of time. When we seek we will find. Jesus assures us of this. When we find God, and realize just how near he is to us, we can then call upon him. Our recognition of God's nearness should compel us to change our ways, turn away from sin, because we are loved by God like no one else. He is full of mercy, gentleness, and compassion. He is always forgiving. So what is our hang up? Why do we not turn to him, seek him, and love him as we should? Is it pride? Is it shame? Is our relationship with God wanting in some way?
It is easy to make life about "me." After all we live in the generation of "me." The problem is that "me" pits us against God and others as we make them secondary to what we want and desire. We cannot serve both God and mammon. We will love one and hate the other. Isaiah calls upon us to step back so we can begin to see the world as God sees it. When we recognize that God's ways are not our ways and that his thoughts are not our thoughts, we are left with a choice. Will we seek wisdom, truth, and understanding by seeing the world through God's eyes or not?
Paul gives us some great insight into the Christian understanding of the metaphysical nature of the human person. There was a mind set among Gnostics at that time, influenced by Plato, who believed that the soul was what made the human person and that the soul was trapped within the body. The body, therefore, was evil and something that the soul needed to be free from in its quest for enlightenment, truth, and understanding. The Christian understanding is radically different. For the Christian, the human person is composed of both a soul and the body. The body is good, and even though the two become separated at the moment of death, that separation is temporary. The body, in a resurrected form, will be reunited with the soul when we are resurrected.
In today's pericope, Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison. He acknowledges that Christ will be magnified (i.e., glorified) in his body through his continuing to live or through his execution. For Paul, life is Christ. This is an incredibly powerful statement. Life is Christ! Many Church documents echo this statement. The National Directory for Catechesis uses this statement to emphasize how catechesis aims at nurturing the fusion of Christ with the Christian. Just as we cannot separate our heart or lungs from the body without it resulting in death, so too are we joined in life to Christ. If life is Christ, then death is indeed gain because this mortal life becomes eternal life with Christ.
Paul is weighing the choice he may have to face if found guilty of the charges brought against him. A guilty verdict will surely bring a death sentence, but the law would allow Paul to argue for an alternative sentence, perhaps a hefty fine or several years in prison. So in his letter he writes that he is having difficulty making a choice. Death would be a reward because he would be able to be with Christ forever in heaven. He longs to see Christ as anyone would long to see a lover after returning from a long trip. Yet, being able to live on would mean that he would be able to continue to minister in Christ's name, spread the Gospel, and nurture the faith of the Philippians. He is torn between the two. In the former, death will allow his love for God to be fully realized and he will be able to intercede in heaven on behalf of those left behind. In the latter, living on would mean that he could continue to love and serve God here on earth by spreading the Gospel and meeting the needs of the Church. In either case, Paul considers the outcome a positive one, which is why he struggles with his choice.
Do we view death in the same light? When attending a funeral do we weep and wail like those who mourned the death of Lazarus, or does joy for the deceased mute our sense of loss? Death is indeed gain for the deceased who lived a holy and virtuous life, but it is equally a gain for the repentant sinner and wayward son or daughter who returns to the Father. These individuals are in the company of God, the angels, and the saints, when they come to heaven. They become saints themselves when they enter into eternity in God's presence, meaning that they become our intercessors in prayer and thanksgiving. What a powerful, inspiring, and beautiful understanding of the truth of death our faith provides us. So hold fast to the salvation won for you through Christ's redemptive sacrifice, and "conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ."
"Your ways are not my ways, nor your thoughts, my thoughts" says the Lord! Jesus drives home this understanding in this week's Gospel. He gives us a parable to help us understand the kingdom of heaven, and in doing so completely challenges our understanding of reciprocity. In last week's readings, we were reminded how hate can cause us to seek vengeance and revenge that often far exceeds reciprocity of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Too often we allow the hate to which we cling and enslave ourselves to seek the "head" of someone who took our "eye." This prompted Jesus' parable of forgiveness which is paramount to our attaining heaven.
This week, he reminds us once again of God's infinite mercy. Day laborers would often gather in the town seeking employment. The landowner goes out at dawn to hire laborers for the usual daily wage of a denari. They agree. Then he goes out at several other hours of the day to hire additional laborers offering them a just wage. What does this reveal? The vineyard is the kingdom of heaven and it is so vast that it appears there is a limitless need for laborers. Perhaps those hired later in the day arrived after the initial hiring. Perhaps they were holding out for a better offer. Perhaps they are just plain lazy and have no real desire to work. If it were an hour before quitting time, would you really be holding out any hope of being hired that day? Probably not. The wage you could expect for an hour's worth of work would not cover any of your expenses. Yet, these laborers remain. Could this be an indication by Jesus that even the lowliest and most unworthy among us longs for God and heaven?
At the end of the day those hired last receive a full day's wages. They are no doubt flabbergasted at the generosity of the landowner. The parable does not reveal whether or not they were grateful. Why? Because it matters not. The focus is on the unmeritted generosity of the landowner. He gives without seeking recompense. Those who put in the full day's labor also received the same daily wage and they grumbled against the landowner, feeling as though they were cheated. Instead of being joyful that those hired late in the day had enough to meet the needs of their families, those hired first were resentful. As a parable of mercy, Jesus demonstrates that mercy cannot be earned or merited. It is undeserved. If it were something that was deserved, it wouldn't be mercy. It would be justice. The reaction of those hired first clearly shows they lack un understanding of mercy. They feel unjustly treated and fail to see mercy as a gift. "Your ways are not my ways," says the Lord.
We can find ourselves in the shoes of those early hires more often than we care to admit. How often do we judge others? How often do we look at the life of another person and say to ourselves, "They're going to hell." We think these things of people who are of other faiths. We think these things of those who commit atrocities. We think these things of those who are living lives of sin. We do it all too often. Such assumptions result in two things. First, they prevent us from seeking to lead the other person to conversion because we have in effect written them off. Second, like the point of last week's parable, the hardness of our heart cuts us off from experiencing God's mercy in our own lives. Never envy the generosity of God. As a child of God, be joyful not envious, when your brother or sister, benefits from God's generosity and merciful love lest you find yourself on the outside of the Kingdom of Heaven looking in.
Copyright 2020 St. Albert the Great Church, Huntingdon Valley, PA.
All rights reserved.
The content of this page is the intellectual property of St. Albert the Great Church and is provided for the personal and private use of its parishioners and those visiting our website. No portion of this text may be reprinted without permission of the copyright owner. To obtain reprint permission, please submit your request to Dennis M. Mueller.