We prepare to visit a sacred place, where we celebrate all of Christ’s life, death and resurrection in the one event of the Eucharist. I have not yet visited Jerusalem, but I have visited various shrines, churches and areas where saints have lived and died. When there, at those places, we are somehow moved inside a little closer to the God Who desires that closeness. A place is holy, such as the churches where we celebrate the Eucharist, to place ourselves in positions to be contacted. We remember there that we are holy by God’s personal intentions, and not because we wish to gain a holiness by our visitings. In a sense, we visit to remember we have been visited.
This week, as we prepare to visit the liturgy, we might pray with and visit in our prayers, the holy places of our lives. We might recall our family-of-origin homes, the places we were married, took vows, were ordained, or where ever we allowed God to come close. We can pray with the saints who have surrounded us and whose lives were ways of God’s touching our lives. We can pray as well with the comfort that the Holy has “Pitched His tent among us.”
These verses come near the end of the last chapter of the Book of Consolation, which comprises fifteen chapters of the larger book of Isaiah. The poems, songs and encouraging oracles of these chapters are meant to keep the hope alive in the Jewish captives in exile. We can hear this call to hope and trust in our reading.
The people have been experiencing their purification from their infidelities for which they were banished. They are encouraged by this section to keep trusting, seeking, and longing for the goodness of God Who is close. They are reminded to keep all the customs and traditions of the Lord and receive the ever-present mercy of the God of the covenants. Though exile seems not in keeping with the image they have of God, they are coming to see that exile was meant to get and keep their attention and attentiveness. To some of them and to us as well, this may seem “not fair.”
This little section ends with God’s response to our sense of justice and fair play. Thoughts are just thoughts and the ways we think and relate are normal and reasonable to ourselves. God, through the prophet says it like God likes it. Scripture has many reverses of the natural order. Israel itself is the smallest of peoples and yet they win wars, have the natural order of things changed. Seas flow revealing dry land, bread and quail arrive, just in the nick of time. God doesn’t do “fair”, love is not fair, but surprising.
And then there is this most unjust, unfair and anger-provoking parable! Read it, listen to it and check your reactions. What would you do if you worked from the first to last hours. Would it be strange if you were the last hired and the first repaid? This is a parable, not about money, but inclusive love. Jesus is sent first to the people who have been with Him and God’s ways since Abraham and the early covenants. They have been faithful, laboring to be a part of God’s kingdom. Next Sunday’s Gospel will continue this theme from Matthew. The inviting God is both generous and just. There are these late-comers whom Jesus has called into the vineyard to labor with and for Him. They will be rewarded, though their fidelity has been shorter. The older and younger, the newly-called and the ancients are all going to receive God’s love equally. Is this fair? The first and last will all be included. All will have to adjust their feelings based on God’s ways not being like theirs.
The apostles are being prepared to enter the vineyard here at the last hour. The scribes and Pharisees represent the long line of holy and devout Israelites who bore the burden of faithfulness through the centuries. They well know that God’s ways are different as they remember their religious history. These apostles, in the eyes of the elders, are not only new-comers, but they do not keep the customs, traditions and authority structures of God’s ways. The key words in this parable are those about how the owner kept going out at all hours to invite and employ. This owner is constant, his message is the same and his promises for payment are standard. God is faithful and inclusive, especially when our ways are judicial and selective.
Ever since grade school began, most of us experienced the tensions of being on the “in” or being “out” of it, whatever the “it” was. The main object of the Pharisees was their cultic preoccupation with the same thing. They belonged and all who practiced the ancient customs of purity and table manners were “in”. Jesus was on the “outs” and yet in God’s kingdom, which He lived and preached, sinners, with whom He often shared the table, were “in”. This “ain’t-fair Sunday” highlights both the call into the vineyard and the fidelity of the Caller, as well as the importance of belonging though we come sinful like we did when we came late to school. We belong!
“Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
with thee; but sir, so, what I plead is just.
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