We are truly alive in Christ

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  • September 12, 2008

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Sept. 21 (Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16)

Isaiah’s plea to seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near leaves one with the impression that God is going somewhere. But God is not about to check out or disappear.

The plea is trying to impress on us that the moment for seeking God and God’s ways is always now, not some time in the vague and distant future. That future day may never come, for many of our good intentions remain just that: intentions. It is so easy to become hardened and set in negative behaviour and selfishness to such a degree that one can become numb and unconscious to the presence of God. Sometimes it is shame and fear that turn us away from God, or perhaps anger and bitterness over some of the things that have happened to us.

Isaiah assures us that God is unlike us. God desires only to heal, pardon and be merciful. We will never understand completely how everything works for that is reserved to God. We should not presume to understand God’s purpose. But the most painful personal experiences and the most disappointing failures can ultimately be used for good and can lead us home to God.

But to return to the plea at the beginning of the passage: there are graced moments when God can break through the fog that surrounds our awareness. A hand is extended, an invitation given and spiritual window opened. We call these moments conversion. Don’t waste those precious opportunities — they can change our entire life.

Living is Christ and dying is gain: how that statement swims against the current of human culture — even religious culture. A more common attitude is to fear death and use Christ as an assurance that we will go to heaven. Being filled with the love and the power of Christ is Paul’s definition of being truly alive. And if this experience is so wonderful now, how much more being with Christ in glory. There is a temptation to devalue this life in favour of life in the hereafter, and Paul admits he would prefer to check out now and be with the Lord. But he also realizes that our life and with the Lord after death and our life with Him now are one — there is no separation or disconnection. Our present life must be lived to its fullest for it is an integral part of our life in the hereafter.

The parable of the labourers is shocking and irritating, and we need no further proof that God’s ways are not our ways. It deeply offends our sense of fairness — after all, the labourers who worked longer in the heat of the day deserve more, don’t they? But this is definitely not a blueprint for contemporary labour relations. The parable is deliberately outrageous and would have seemed so to his audience. We are used to measuring how much we have in comparison to others. We feel aggrieved and resentful if we do not receive what we feel we deserve. And we extend these attitudes to our understanding of God, thinking perhaps that we have a greater right to God than others.

But God will have none of it — God makes it abundantly clear that He operates by a different set of principles. In the story, the master grants dignity and compassion to those who suffered the humiliation of rejection — those who had been passed over when workers were hired for the field. Inequality, competition, hierarchy and a sense of entitlement have no place in the Kingdom of God. It is not a matter of accrued points or achievements, for the salvation of God is a gracious gift. God’s graciousness is not a rare commodity to be parcelled out in a stingy fashion. We do not have to guard what we have jealously, nor compare ourselves with others. God cannot be said to be just by human standards — God is compassionate and merciful and no one will lose out. We should rejoice when another “unworthy” person, newcomer or group is blessed by God rather than feeling resentful. Our ability to do so is an indication that we have passed over the threshold and entered the Kingdom of God.

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