September 24, 2023
by Molly Mattingly
Creighton University's Campus Ministry and St. John's Parish
click here for photo and information about the writer

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 133

Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a

Praying Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time Symbols in Our Home

I’ve been thinking about the balance between the need for a prayer practice and the need to remember that what happens in prayer is not all based on our efforts. On the one hand, a discipline of prayer helps me be a disciple: that is, to follow Christ, or to use the etymology of the word, to be a learner of Christ. I’m human and habits are sticky, like muscle memory. Practices help form my habits of listening, attentiveness, and receptivity. Moreover, intentionally spending time with someone, including God, strengthens the relationship. Sometimes prayer feels boring: I don’t feel like anything is happening during that time, or in some other way I’m “not getting anything out of it.” When that’s the case, it is easy to give up the practice and let the relationship with God or with other disciples become unimportant. It can be difficult just to show up.
On the other hand, it’s easy to believe that if I put in the effort and stick to a discipline, then things will happen in my prayer. “I did my part,” I think, so I should be “getting something out of it” or I can “make it happen.” This is an easy temptation when so many areas of life are transactional: we study or practice or exercise, and are rewarded with good grades, more refined skills, or stronger muscles; we give our time and skill, and we are paid accordingly; we ask politely, and we receive. It's especially difficult for those who struggle with any level of scrupulosity: if I do everything just right, then God has to give me what I want! In my experience, God doesn’t work like that. God can’t be manipulated or forced into anything by my idea of fairness. God’s ways are above my ways.

So, both are important. A prayer practice is important to my relationship with God. And, what happens in my prayer is not reliant upon my efforts, but upon God.

“Are you envious because I am generous?” asks the vineyard owner in today’s parable. The truth is, sometimes, yes. Yes, sometimes I am envious when I see how generous God is to others, and I am blind to how generous God is to me (like the elder son in another parable). Yes, sometimes I’ve put in effort and not seen the results I was hoping for. Yes, sometimes God answers another’s prayer but doesn’t seem to answer mine. Yes, sometimes I see another’s gifts and the seemingly effortless fruit they bear, and I wonder why God hasn’t given me those gifts instead of the ones I have. But it is impossible to limit God’s grace!

In the psalm we hear, “God’s greatness cannot be measured. The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in mercy. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures.” With every call to repentance or stick-to-it-ness in the last few weeks, we have also heard of God’s compassion, mercy, and loving-kindness for us. They cannot be measured or controlled; God’s gifts are infinite. When I read the Gospel parable with that in mind, the morning workers’ envy of the evening workers’ wages is almost laughable. If a day’s wages is infinite love and eternal life, what amount is a portion of that, which the morning crew thought the evening crew should have received? Half of infinity is still infinite, and half of eternity is still eternal. A relationship with God is a whole relationship, not a portion of one. No matter how we try to slice it or box it up, God’s grace cannot be limited, nor can God’s love be halved, for ourselves or for others. God’s generosity is beyond my imagination!

Lord, free us from the temptation to measure or control your infinite love and grace.
Help us to live in your ways of lavish generosity and invitation.

“For the Beauty of the Earth” -

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