When we talk about the Sacrament of Penance, we generally think about what is right and what is wrong… what is a sin and what isn’t a sin. But our readings for this coming Sunday don’t so much focus on what is right or wrong in God’s eyes, but rather on what is fair in God’s eyes.
The Word for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah… in this case, from the closing chapter of Deutero or “second” Isaiah. This comes from a point in Israelite history where the people have been released from their Exile in Babylon. The Lord has shown them great mercy and forgiveness, and freed them from exile. But why? They broke their covenant with God and they were punished. Why now take them back? By our human standards of fairness, this is difficult to understand. Because, as the prophet tells us, for those who turn to the Lord, he is always near. The people have changed their ways and turned back to the Lord. God understands that we may find such mercy and forgiveness impossible, but he reminds us through Isaiah, “your ways are not my ways.” Like a loving parent trying to teach a child, God is asking us to trust him on this. Stay near and follow my example. Our Psalm for this Sunday continues this theme as we sing “The Lord is near to all who call upon him.”
Our Gospel from Matthew continues on this theme of fairness and forgiveness. In order to help us better understand God’s idea of fairness, Jesus, the master teacher, gives us the Parable of the Landowner. At first reading, it seems easy to side with the laborers who were in the field all day. If the landowner pays a full day’s wage to those who only worked a few hours, it only seems fair in our minds that those who worked longer should get even more. But in order to truly grasp the impact of this teaching you need to dive deeper into the story and see the larger implications. As a follower of Christ, our human sense of fair-play has to be completely put aside. We need to recognize that our sense of what is fair is often coming from a place of selfishness (I worked in the field all day, I deserve more). God is saying, “no, you don’t”. True love comes from a selfless place… putting others first. As the parable suggests, we shouldn’t envious of God’s generosity. Instead we should revel in it. Not only does this parable speak well to the passage we read today in Isaiah, it’s teaching runs deep through the Gospels. While this particular parable is unique to the Gospel of Matthew, its lessons can also be found in the familiar parable of the prodigal son (which is found only in Luke’s Gospel).
For our second reading we leave behind our long study of Paul’s letter to the Romans and turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In today’s passage Paul teaches us that our bodies are magnified by Christ, whether by life or by death. But this creates a conundrum for Paul and causes him some lament. He sees life with Christ, either here on earth or after death, to be a gain. So which to choose? As you read this passage it seems as Paul is longing for death… not surprising since he is sick and in prison. Death would bring him closer to Christ, but yet he also sees that his continued work here on earth is a benefit and can also bring him close to Christ. It is a challenge for him, and for us, but his final message is clear… we need to conduct ourselves in a way that is “worthy of the Gospel.” Even the blessed Mother Theresa wrote of her moments where she felt God had abandoned her, but she, like Paul, continued to serve the Gospel. It’s a reminder for us, that no matter how we feel, we much continue to serve the Gospel… and if we do, as our Psalm reminds us, when we call, God will be near.