25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The last section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend with its first reading. Virtually none of the prophets of ancient Israel wrote when times were good, or at least when the prophets perceived the times to be good.
Certainly, the author of the section of the Book of Isaiah from which this weekend’s reading comes hardly regarded the times to be good.
It was bad from another perspective. Hard times were not the only distressing story. God’s people had returned from Babylon, where they and their ancestors had been in exile for four generations. They had greeted the news that their exile was over with great rejoicing, convinced that God had provided for them and had rescued them. Eagerly, and with great expectation, they had returned to their homeland.
At last back home, they found only want and despair. It is easy to imagine their anger. They were furious with God, and this prophet had to call them back to trusting God.
In this reading, Third Isaiah warns the people not to put their trust in scoundrels. Instead, the prophet tells the people to call upon God. In God alone is true strength, regardless of fleeting appearances to the contrary.
For this weekend’s second reading, the Church offers us a passage from the Epistle to the Philippians.
The Apostle Paul, in this epistle’s soaring language, proclaims the divinity of Christ, the Savior, the Son of God. Paul continues to explain the intimate, inseparable link between the Lord and true disciples.
Come what may on earth, a disciple will never die, if the disciple is constant in loving God and following Christ in obedience to God.
St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading, a parable. This parable is set within the context of everyday life in Palestine at the time of Jesus. Agriculture was the pursuit of most. Life was difficult. Many did not know where to find their next meal. Gainful employment was at a premium. A dinarius was a typical day’s wage.
Men looking for work, and income, came to village centers each morning, making themselves available for work. Persons with projects came to these places and hired the men.
It was a buyer’s market. No labor statutes or requirements for any minimum wage restrained employers in their pursuit of profit. Still, at least for Jews, certain expectations of fairness prevailed.
Jesus used the term “vineyard.” It immediately brought to mind Old Testament references to Israel as God’s vineyard. So, the story from the beginning had a theological and ethnic quality. God owned and cared for the vineyard. He set the rules.
The message is that God is enormously generous. On our own, we actually deserve nothing. Our salvation is from Jesus.
The second lesson is that God’s ways are not necessarily our ways.
For some weeks, the Church, through these weekend readings, has been calling us to follow Christ. Wisely, in this process, the Church recognizes that some of us hesitate not because we do not want to be with the Lord, but because we bear the burden of guilt or doubt. We think that our self-created distance from God is too great to bridge.
Emphatically, in these readings, the Church reassures us of the unlimited mercy of God. God is the source of life. He lavishly offers it to us.
Whatever our sin, if we repent, even at a late hour, God’s loving forgiveness awaits us. It is our choice, however, to be with God, to be disciples. No one is dragged, kicking and screaming, into heaven. Discipleship requires our faith. Paul’s words call us to faith with the reminder that without God all is folly, all is impermanent, and all is death. God alone offers life.
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