|25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20-24, 27
So as to be more receptive to the Word and the Eucharist, imagine the faces of the disciples and of the Pharisees who seemed always to be tuned in, as Jesus in parable offers a difficult teaching. At this late date, his disciples might have a knowing smile as a response to what they hear. After having listened to many of Jesus’ parables, the Pharisees hear again a pronounced reversal of their expectations about the ways of God, at least according to Jesus.
We have our ways and thoughts of just how God ought to act. It is so easy to assume that God is quite like we are, after all are we not created in God’s image! God should be generous and forgiving similar to our ways, that is, generous when it is deserved and forgiving when there is sufficient guilt and remorse.
As we come to the liturgy this weekend, we might pray with our image of God and ask for the graces to let God’s ways be more generous than we are and more forgiving than we expect. We can also pray with great praise and gratitude that God is more loving and “unjust” than we are in our dealings with each other.
Our First Reading today is the conclusion to the Book of Consolation within the prophecies of Isaiah. They can be heard as having the tone of God’s saying, “You dummies, get with it, you think your attitudes are so smart!” This tone is not what the prophet offers to us.
This Book of Consolation contains many songs, oracles, proclamations and encouragements. What we hear is a short summary and invitation to trust the God who has comforted the people of Israel with images of hope and release. They had been unfaithful in their pasts, but God has promised to bring them back and continue working to make them people of the Covenant.
The parable which Jesus offers his listeners is available to all kinds of responses and interpretations. Jesus is speaking within the Jewish circle and his listeners know well the image of the “vineyard” as referring to themselves.
They are aware also of the image which Jesus uses in the parable about those hired to go and work in the “vineyard”; they are the prophets of old. Who are the latecomers? They are the disciples of Jesus and all those who are called to extend the boundaries of the “vineyard”. The “first” and the “last” are all together by God’s unjust generosity of merciful love. It is definitely a poor parable for financial managers and economists. It is a joyful reminder for those of us who have joined the union so late.
The Pharisees represent the ancient history of trusting God in the heat of the day’s burdens. Jesus in no way discounts their fidelity to their covenanted history nor is their trusting God called into question. Jesus is not replacing the God of the ancient covenants, but extending God’s eternal embrace outside the boundaries of time.
What we are praying with in these readings has to do with “belonging”. We are accustomed to qualifications and credentials. Seniority does count for something and quality of performance has great value. There are those of us who have carried the cross of faith for many years and there are those who went off into side roads of doubt and separation. When some of these return do they have to go to the back of the line and win their place in some human manner of making up for lost time?
We may know of some people who have lived outside the burdens and demands of Christianity. They may have lived in ways we would count as sinful or selfish. Near the end of their lives, for various reasons, they come in, “under the wire”, and it can appear unfair. It seems God’s ways are not our ways in so many areas of life. God is not just -- just merciful -- and we are all latecomers.
“Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
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