Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (NAB Translation)
Welcome to the Sunday Says podcast for September 21, 2014, the Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Thank you for joining us as we begin preparing our hearts and minds for Mass by previewing and reflecting on the readings. The selected readings this week challenge us to remember that God’s ways are not our ways especially when it comes to judging the merits of our good works. Just like Saint Paul, despite the sins of our past, God can use whatever we offer him to work towards good. As always, we are using the Jerusalem translation for copyright purposes. Let’s take a look at the readings.
Our first reading, from the Old Testament, comes from the book of the great prophet Isaiah who gives us here a timeless message regarding the very nature of God. The message is simple: seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Repent and you will find forgiveness and mercy. Then comes then comes the real zinger: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” In other words, God is more generous s than would seem reasonable to us, more forgiving and merciful than we are. We should always look to God in repentance, never presuming upon his mercy or taking it for granted. Even though the Lord’s thoughts and ways are far beyond ours, Jesus challenges us to become more like him.
The response for the responsorial Psalm is
“ The Lord is close to all who call him.”
The Second Reading is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. In this passage St. Paul compares earthly life to life in heaven, freed from physical constraints, and the value of both earthly life and life in heaven. Paul says, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” In other words, St. Paul is confident to leave his personal fate in the hands of God, knowing that whether he lives or dies, God will make use of all he has done to make the Gospel more widely known and the Church more firmly established on earth. Paul says, “Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more.” Paul knew that his remaining alive on earth would be helpful to prepare the Church for the trials and persecutions that were soon to follow. At the same time, Paul yearned to be in heaven with Christ, freed from suffering and temptation and could therefore say, that “death would bring me something more.” Paul concludes this segment saying, “Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.”
In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew Jesus uses the image of the vineyard to make his point. Vineyards were very common in Palestine during Biblical times and the Bible speaks in more than a hundred places about vineyards and their cultivation. The parable Jesus gives echoes a strand of the theme from our first reading from the prophet Isaiah that “God’s ways are not our ways”, especially when it comes to grace and mercy. By human standards, it would seem a matter of justice that the workers who worked all day long in the hot sun would be paid more than the workers who only worked part of the day in shade. But Jesus’ parable seems to warn us that there may be some surprises at the end of time when God rewards His faithful.
While it is true that we reap what we sow, it is also true that our Father doesn’t operate under simply human standards, but rather is generous in bestowing gifts according to his own will. Many people then and now operate under a contractual mindset where everything is recorded, measured, and rewards are calculated precisely according to a set of rules. But perhaps God takes a broader view. Like the day laborers in the market place, different people may be called in a special way to serve God at different times of the day, that is, in different stages of life.
The voluntary goodness of God towards the latecomers reminds us again of Father in the story of the Prodigal Son. And those who were blessed enough to be have responded earlier in life to God’s promptings should never react to the latecomers like the older son, with envy or greed: for this not how love operates. Everything we have, including our ability to do good and to respond to God, has been granted to us as a gift. There is nothing we can truly take credit for so we should only rejoice over God’s generosity which may be beyond our comprehension.