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Friday, 22 September 2017

25th Sunday of Year A 2017

25th. Sunday of Year (A)

(Isaiah 55:6-9; Paul to the Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16)

At the simple hearing of today’s Gospel reading it is hard not to feel a certain sympathy for the man who complained about having worked all day for the same wage as those who had only done one hour’s work.  We might feel sympathy, that is, for one unable to understand aright what has happened to the super-blessing he imagined would be his, but not sympathy with one totally forgetful of the needs of his fellows and grudgingly unwilling to appreciate the goodness of the vine-owner towards anyone other than himself.

The situation of the poor in the Palestine of Our Lord’s days was hard indeed, and the most remarkable aspect of Jesus’ parable was the fact that the vine-owner fully appreciated not only the ‘market’ needs of daily labourers but also their ‘home’ needs: with wives and children, old parents, all depending on this one day’s work (there were no jobs guaranteed, no pensions available): no work for her man, for their son, and no food for all of them!  Who knows, perhaps there had already been one or two such workless, foodless, days in this particular week.

The owner of the vineyard had a deep sympathy with these men for whom all that they loved and valued depended on so slender a thread as one or two day’s work.  He above all felt a deep compassion for those who had – through no fault of their own – been idle (and worrying?) for almost the whole day.  What good would a mere one hour’s pay be for their needs and those of their dependants?  He makes up his mind at once: he will not send these men back home almost empty-handed …. those who run to greet them back home must not be disappointed … their children must be able to run excitedly and tell mummy what daddy has got for them today!  Can you not imagine the blessings that would have been called down upon his head by those poor families?

This is the picture which Our Lord wishes to give us of His heavenly Father Whose decisions in our regard are always motivated by His loving compassion.   That was how the work of our salvation began.  Man was under the bondage of sin and could not help himself, so God took pity on him just as the owner of the vineyard had compassion for the workless labourers and their needy families.

But there is something more in the parable.  It gives us the picture of a Lord and God Who is just to all, good and gracious to all; but, to certain ones He is especially merciful.  God offers salvation to all men, His blessings and graces are amply sufficient for all; but for some chosen souls His mercy is boundless and overflowing.  God just and merciful to all, yet also supremely free to make a special choice of whomsoever He will.  Here we are introduced to the mystery of Predestination.

What is it that claims our faith?   First of all, the Person of Jesus Christ: God made man for our salvation.  Then, the sacred Scriptures, the dogmatic teaching of Mother Church: above all, the mysteries of the most Holy Trinity, the Gift of the Holy Spirit; the founding of the one, true, catholic and apostolic Church which is the Body of Christ; her sacraments and the spiritual life, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgement?   Eternal Life and Beatitude….?  Yes, all of these in their degree require our faith.  But along with all these great and wonderful ‘objective’ mysteries of Catholic Faith, there is also the ‘personal’ mystery of predestination which concerns each one of us individually and most intimately: the mystery of what position God has assigned to each one of us in His great plan, the mystery of what He expects of each of us, of you and me, as we try to live out our Catholic faith at any and every stage of our lives?

This mystery of our personal predestination is a very great mystery of love, not subject even to the disposition of Our Lord Himself, as Jesus said to the sons of Zebedee, James and John who asked … or    whose mother asked … for places of privilege in His Kingdom:

My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at My right and at My left is not Mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.      (Matthew 20:23)

What is ahead of each of us?  How are we to respond, to co-operate best, so that His will be fulfilled in me, that thus I might attain to the place He, in His great love, has prepared for me and to which He calls me each and every day long?

Perhaps someone is thinking, ‘Oh, that’s not very hard to answer: believe Mother Church’s dogmatic teaching, follow approved moral teaching, and all will be well.’

But, precisely, the question is, ‘How does God want me to live, respond to, the Church’s universal teaching?  Moral theologians give guidance that is suited to all Catholics.  I, however, want to know what God wants of me in particular.  St. Paul writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:12) says:

            All things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial.

One only has need to look at the saints to see what immense scope there is for variety in response to the challenge of the one, true, Catholic faith, and in the choice of generally acceptable moral decisions that may be made.  To simply find out what is allowed and then to do it without further thought, however, is not sufficient if I am to fulfil my destiny, become the person God wants of me and attain that personal relationship with Himself that God has planned for me and for me alone: for me, that is, in my relationship with Him as His true, adopted child who, in Jesus, seeks to know his Father, and wants to respond lovingly to Him by His Holy Spirit.  The way to life is narrow, how am I to walk best along that way?? 

In order to help us make our personal response in faith to the destiny that God has set for each one of us, I recommend that we follow the example of the Scriptures.  Israel escaped from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, received the Law on Mount Sinai, traversed the desert, entered and took possession of the Promised Land … and all these events were taken up by the psalmists and prophets before God, in thanksgiving and prayer that they might more worthily praise His great goodness and more fully understand His saving purposes. Ever blessing God for what He had done for her in the past Israel lived through the subsequent centuries constantly looking forward to God’s promises, learning from her past experience of God to anticipate and prepare for her future with Him.

Dear People of God, such is the path we should follow.  We should thank God for all the wondrous things He has done for Jesus and His Church, above all for the mysteries of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension … and indeed that is precisely what we are doing here at Mass.  But there are other wondrous deeds which God performs for each one of us personally, of which we alone are aware, deeds which, though they are not of world-wide significance, yet precisely, because they are personal to each one of us and for each one of us, can, should, and indeed must, be used to serve as great stimulants and guides in our service of God. This is a liturgy which each one of us alone can celebrate, and if we do not celebrate it, then there will be one harmonic missing, which no-one else save Our Lord can supply, in the great symphony of praise rising from Mother Church to the throne of God.  These are the events, the happenings, in our lives which though they may seem ordinary enough to other people, nevertheless, we – as did Israel of old – see them unmistakeably as the effects of God’s great goodness towards each one of us.

Therefore, let us all, with the Church and in the Church, thank God for all the marvellous things He has done for us in Christ … and that we do best of all here at Mass and through our reception of Holy Communion.  And in that context, let each one of us ever treasure, meditate on, give thanks for, all those blessings which God has lavished upon us as individuals.  For in them we are granted an opportunity to see what God wishes to do for us in the future; there, is already foreshadowed the outlines of that beautiful relationship which God wills to have with each one of us, a relationship unique to each one of us.

Such a constant faithful and trusting relationship with God can become a fount of joyous hope and grateful love bubbling up throughout our lives.  And when we reach our end on earth we will join the family of the blessed in heaven finally freed from our straightened earthly circumstances, possibilities, and powers, and endowed with a previously unknown ability to lose ourselves in a mind-surpassing and soul-absorbing act of gratitude and praise before God, far transcending even that most pure joy and gratitude of the poor families of the last-hour workers in today’s Gospel reading.