September 19, 2014

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. 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.

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. They had returned with eagerness and great expectation 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, the prophet warns the people not to put their trust in scoundrels. Instead, he tells the people to call upon God. True strength is in God alone, regardless of fleeting appearances to the contrary.

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

Paul, in this epistle’s soaring language, proclaims the divinity of Christ, the Savior, the Son of God. The Apostle explains the intimate, inseparable link between the Lord and his 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 offers a parable for the last reading. It is set within the context of everyday life in Palestine at the time of Jesus. Agriculture was the pursuit of many people in that time and place. 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. People with projects came to these places and hired the men.

It was a buyer’s market. No labor statutes or requirements for minimum wage restrained employers in their pursuit of profit. Still, at least for Jews, certain expectations of fairness prevailed.

Jesus’ use of the term “vineyard” can bring to mind Old Testament references to Israel as God’s vineyard. So the story, from the beginning, has 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.

Reflection

For some weeks, the weekend readings have called the faithful to follow Christ. The Church wisely in this process 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 all is folly without God, all is impermanent, and all is death. God alone offers life. †

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