Reflection on the Lectionary Readings for
September 24, 2017
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The underlying message in the Readings for today is that God’s ways are different from ours. Naturally, there is much more in the Holy Word than that, but if we keep that in mind we can better understand and grasp each reading. Our world is certainly God’s world, but because we live in it and have a human outlook, it is not always easy for us to fully appreciate it as God’s world.
The First Reading from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah opens with what we might call an invitation to pray, to communicate with God: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call him while he is near.” Isaiah is speaking from God’s viewpoint. God has granted us many gifts and blessings. Nevertheless, to fully receive those gifts we must reach out to God. It is not that God is hidden, or can only be found at that moment. However, God can only be found by us when our hearts actually look for Him, through prayer and reconciliation. If we do that, we will receive His mercy.
God also makes it clear that He does not think the way we might, by saying, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.” In spite of the difference and distance between God and humans, this is not something that should discourage us. It does remind us that we need to always approach God with humility. God will ever be God, and we will ever be human, but when our salvation is complete, and we are united with the Lord in glory, that distance will be as close as possible.
Throughout his writings and his teachings and his letters that make up the greatest part of the New Testament St. Paul demonstrates a complete and total trust in God, the same kind of trust that we need and that we need to have in particular to live lives of stewardship. Our Second Reading from his letter to the Philippians is indicative of the confidence and expectation Paul has in God.
Paul lived his whole life, not to promote himself in any way, but to glorify and emphasize Jesus Christ. For Paul his trust alone was good enough if Jesus someday chose to glorify him. Philippi was a city located in what we call today Macedonia. (Note that Macedonia is north of Greece and was once part of Yugoslavia but is now an independent country). Philippi was named after King Philip II of Macedon who was the father of the man we call Alexander the Great.)
The Philippians had experienced some of the remarkable miracles that seemed to deliver St. Paul from various problems and disasters, so they were probably somewhat shocked by some of Paul’s comments in this letter. We may fall into the same trap when we assume that God always delivers us from problems and challenges. That is not the point of trust in God. It does not necessarily apply to the present, but to the future, and that is what Paul is talking about. Simply put Paul did not fear death because of his trust in God. Paul would probably tell us that we may fear dying, but because of the salvation and promises of Christ, we should not fear death.
The Gospel from Matthew, which is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard from St. Matthew is relatively straightforward. To completely understand it we need to appreciate that the Vineyard represents what we may call Israel. Israel had received a promise of prosperity, of salvation. The workers who come late to the Vineyard are most likely representative of the Gentiles, which includes most of us. This is Jesus’ way of saying that Israel may have been first, but that does not mean that others, Gentiles like us, cannot receive the same blessings and the same salvation.
We, who in a strict sense, may have showed up later, have just as prominent place in the Kingdom as those who came first. You might say this parable is about God’s generosity, about the way that God deals with us and asks us to deal with others. Our world sometimes sees things differently. We measure generosity. God measures something much deeper. God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. That should actually be encouraging to us for the Lord sees through much of the politics and the conjecture and other things with which we deal constantly.