September 22, 2017

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’s Mass 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 poverty instead of relief.

Having greeted the fact that their exile was over with great rejoicing, convinced that God had provided for them and had rescued them, they found misery and despair waiting them.

It is easy to imagine their anger. They were furious with God. For generations, they had trusted that God would come to their aid.

This prophet had to restore their trust in God.

He warns the people not to put their trust in scoundrels. The prophet tells the people to call upon God, the source of true strength, 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.

The Apostle Paul, in this Epistle’s soaring language, proclaims the divinity of Christ, the Savior, the Son of God. He explains 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. It 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 endemic.

Gainful employment was at a premium. Men looking for a job and income came to village centers each morning, making themselves available for work. People with projects came to these places and hired these 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. A dinarius was a typical day’s wage.

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 moral quality. God owned and cared for the vineyard. He set the rules, but God hires the men. He therefore provides them with survival itself.

Two powerful lessons emerge. The first is that God is enormously generous. The second is that God’s ways are not necessarily our ways, a reality we seldom remember.

Reflection

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.

The Church reassures us emphatically in these readings of God’s unlimited mercy. God is the source of life. He offers it to us lavishly.

Whatever our sin, if we repent, even at a late hour, God’s loving forgiveness awaits us.

Ultimately, however, we must choose to be with God, to be disciples. No one is dragged kicking and screaming into heaven. Discipleship requires 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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