September 16, 2011

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe last section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend with its first reading.

All things considered, few if any of the prophets wrote when good times prevailed for God’s people. In fact, bad times overwhelm the history of God’s people.

Only the reigns of kings David and Solomon might be construed to have been good times economically or politically. Peppering the rest of the history are invasion, conquest, subjugation and want.

The author of the third section of Isaiah, from which this reading comes, wrote in a time of special want.

Some aspects of life had improved. After four generations of languishing in Babylon, the Hebrews who had been kept there—in the capital of the powerful Babylonian Empire—were able to go back to their homeland. It was no sweet return. The land that awaited them was desolate.

The people faced strong temptations to despair, to forsake God, and to wander into sin and paganism.

In this reading, the Scripture passage from the Third Book of Isaiah warns the people not to succumb to hopelessness and lose trust in God. Instead, the prophet tells the people to call upon God. In God alone is true strength. God alone deserves trust.

For this weekend’s second reading, the Church offers us a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

This letter is a great testimony to the divinity of Christ, the Savior. In this weekend’s reading, the great Apostle to the gentiles clearly explains the intense bond between the Lord and true disciples.

Because of this bond, whatever happens of an earthly nature, the disciple will never die if the disciple is unremitting in faith and love. Thus, disciples of the Lord are to keep the union with God always in sight.

As the last reading, the Church chooses a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

It is a parable which employs agricultural images that would have been very familiar to the audience who heard the Lord speak these words. The circumstances of hiring laborers also would have been familiar to them.

Three powerful lessons are related in this parable.

The first is that God’s generosity is enormous, never calculated or doled out reluctantly.

Is God unfair, however, in paying workers as much for a short time of labor as is paid others who work much longer?

God is not unfair. This is another lesson. To put it simply, God’s ways are not our ways.

Finally, the parable has a strong overtone of the universality of salvation. The fruits of redemption in Christ are not given solely to those who seem never to have strayed from the Lord or for whom the Lord once was unknown. Salvation is lavishly extended to all people.

This last point is implied in the Lord’s use of the term “vineyard.” It immediately brought to mind Old Testament references to Israel as God’s vineyard.

A denarius was a unit of Roman currency, and was a typical day’s wage for the time.

Reflection

We have passed the time, thank God, in which people anticipate, or have no hope for, eternal life based on ethnicity.

However, still very real for us all is the fact that sin—as well as indifference to God or ignorance of God—can keep us apart from God and make us latecomers to the banquet of life.

If we truly convert, if we genuinely commit to reforming ourselves, will God penalize us for the time that we stood at a distance or even for the times that we rejected God by sinning?

No. Even for those who come late in the day, God is merciful. The loving, merciful Father opens wide the gate to the vineyard.

However, we must be worthy. We must labor. The vineyard is no place to lie down. †

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