Twenty-Fifth 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.
An added dimension to the story of the unhappy plight then being endured by God’s people is that when they returned from Babylon, where they and their ancestors had been in exile for four generations, they found not relief but want.
Having greeted the fact that their exile was over with great rejoicing, convinced that God had provided for them and had rescued them, they felt betrayed and abandoned.
It is easy to imagine their dismay and anger. For generations, constantly urged by other prophets, they had trusted that God would provide for them when all was said and done. Now they were desperate, and God nowhere in sight.
This prophet had to restore their trust in God. Third Isaiah asked the people still to trust in God and to call upon God, the source of true strength, regardless of fleeting problems of the moment.
For this weekend’s second reading, the Church offers a passage from the Epistle to the Philippians.
The Apostle Paul, in this letter’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 he or she 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 hard. Poverty was everywhere.
Gainful employment was at a premium. Men looking for work and income came to village centers each morning, asking for work. Persons with projects came to these places and hired these men.
It was a buyer’s market. No
legal requirements for any minimum wage or contracts restrained employers in their pursuit of profit. Still, at least for Jews, certain expectations of fairness prevailed. (A “denarius” was a typical day’s wage.)
Jesus uses the term “vineyard.” It immediately recalled Old Testament references to Israel as God’s vineyard. So, the story had a theological and moral quality from the beginning. God owned and operated the vineyard. He set the rules. God hired the workers and therefore provided them with survival itself.
Three powerful lessons emerge. God is almighty. God is enormously generous, not stingy or hardhearted. Finally, God’s ways are not necessarily our ways, a reality we often forget.
The long, tiring months of the current coronavirus pandemic have given a glimpse of what the ancient Jews, who heard Third Isaiah, and, later, the Lord Jesus, felt in their hearts. Will it ever end?
The temptation is to be disappointed by or even reject God and think He has failed us.
Emphatically, in these readings, the Church insists that God indeed is our hope, salvation and solid rock of security.
Hold onto God. If we repent, even late in the day, God’s loving forgiveness will reward us lavishly. All perils will pass. A future awaits us. It is eternal.
In our weariness and fear we await God today, as in the Gospel men waited to be hired. God is looking for us, eager to bring us into the vineyard and to pay us with the greatest of wages, peace — now and forever. But we must go to the public square to offer our hearts truly and totally to God.
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