25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – Fr. Rick Sherman
September 20, 2020
Is. 55:6-9; Phil.1:20C-24, 27A; Mt. 20:1-16a
Thank you yet again for your exceptional generosity: SLC Diocese Priests Retirement Collection. $ 1175
The gospel today will likely leave most of us a bit uncomfortable with what seems like a real lack of fairness by Jesus. If we worked all day in the hot sun, might WE also not wonder why the one-hour people get the same pay? It is also easy to understand the boss when he replies that it’s his money and why shouldn’t he be free to spend it as he wishes. If he wants to be extraordinarily generous, that is his business. Well, yes, but….
But what does the situation look like in two or three weeks? Who would want to come in early in the day and start work if you can get the same pay for an hour or two? Doesn’t the boss understand human nature?!
Of course, that is really not the point of this parable that Jesus made up to emphasize the extraordinary generosity of God. The emphasis here is not whether God understands human nature – of course He does – the issue is whether WE understand God’s nature. As we are reminded in the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah and later from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, God’s ways are way above human ways. In fact, God tells us, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Now that is a big difference.
St. Paul, in his often confusing, but mystical parlance declares that, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” Death is gain? Really?
That’s not how humans think, is it?
Last Sunday’s gospel reminded us of the near perpetual human confusion we experience when Jesus told us to forgive ‘seventy- seven’ times, or perpetually. Confusion leads to misunderstanding, fear, arguing and ultimately violence: the human way. To offer forgiveness perpetually is God’s way. Psalm 145 today reminds us that, “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.” This is perhaps the best part of what Christians call the Good News: God is not like us. His ways are as far above ours as is the heavens from the earth.
We can find great comfort in God’s ways and in God’s mercy and that ‘The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth’ as the psalm continues.
Personally, I gave up on human nature about 30 years ago when I became convinced that human beings are just not smart enough to fix the problems we create. This level of near despair was a big impetus to my entering the seminary. I wanted to know God’s thoughts and how best to live and teach His way of Truth rather than live in the confusion and dissonance offered up by human thinking.
Today we are just as much as ever in need of God’s mercy and we should feel strongly compelled to call on Him because He promises us that He is near. Of course, we must call on Him and then LISTEN. And READ. And PRAY. And STUDY. And TEACH. And ACT.
If God’s thinking and ways are really so far above ours, as far as the heavens from the earth, we will probably need to take lots of time and make lots of effort to actually align ourselves with Him. Jesus established the Church so that we would have this direct line of communication to Him so we do not have to rely on human wisdom and understanding of things.
If you have had the TV, radio or internet on over the past few months, you might notice that there is much serious division among God’s children and much of it is in our own country as we try to determine which leadership will guide us in the way of peace and justice. Much of the division has risen to the level of vitriol and hostility. I thought God was near. Have we not actually called on Him? Has He not responded?
One of the ways that God speaks to us most directly is through His teaching Church to whom He gave the authority to bind and loose as you might recall from a couple weeks ago. Do we really believe that the Church teaches with authority? REALLY?
When we find our social and political discourse reaching a near combative fervor, it’s a good time to suspect that most of us are not listening too closely to God. It’s a good time to reconsider if it is really God who is most influencing our political and moral sentiments.
Given the lack of civil, respectful discourse in the political realm, Catholics especially are charged with the moral responsibility to be the respectful, wise voice that can foster a deeper conversation which is always lacking in a highly polarized and vitriolic environment. Praying and voting is essential, but not enough…..
Consider what the US Bishops tell us in their teaching on Faithful Citizenship. In their introductory statement they allude to Pope Francis.
The call to holiness, (Pope Francis) writes, requires a “firm and passionate” defense of “the innocent unborn.” “Equally sacred,” he further states, are “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
To my understanding neitherthe Democratic or Republican party platforms have this range of consideration and respect. We should be aware of being too partisan for any candidate….
The pastoral letter continues
“Our approach to contemporary issues is first and foremost rooted in our identity as followers of Christ and as brothers and sisters to all who are made in God’s image. For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around.”
That’s a little sobering. Think of all the hours logged in the past year listening to candidates and pundits and talking heads of all sorts, who have influenced our thinking about politics and social issues. Now compare that to the number of hours we have spent studying what GOD, (whose thinking is waaaay above ours) is teaching us through the Church He established.
The Bishops continue:
“At all levels of society, we are aware of a great need for leadership that models love for righteousness (Wisdom 1:1) as well as the virtues of justice, prudence, courage and temperance. Our commitment as people of faith to imitate Christ’s love and compassion should challenge us to serve as models of civil dialogue, especially in a context where discourse is eroding at all levels of society. Where we live, work, and worship, we strive to understand before seeking to be understood, to treat with respect those with whom we disagree, to dismantle stereotypes, and to build productive conversation in place of vitriol.”
From US Bishops’ Forming Consciouses for Faithful Citizenship – Introduction
One more paragraph from part 1 of the same pastoral letter….
“The Catholic call to faithful citizenship affirms the importance of political participation and insists that public service is a worthy vocation. As citizens, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.” Ibid. Part 1
Building a civilization of truth and love requires real WISDOM and respectful dialogue and prayer and study and tempered living. I’m not sure if we even have a forum for such things in most of our cities and towns. I wonder if we even want such a thing. If God’s ways and thinking are really so far above us, maybe it’s just easier to yell at each other and eventually throw rocks and bombs like is all too common in many parts of the world.
This Faithful Citizenship document is once again posted on our St. Christopher’s website, waiting for our review. Also included is a pastoral letter on racism by the US Bishops written in 2018. It gives a fairly thorough scope and foundation for actually considering this perpetual problem in our species. Think if about 20 million Catholics would have read this fairly lengthy letter carefully two years ago, how much better prepared we would be to help temper all the tension and distrust we now have in our cities and towns.
It’s never too late or too early to consider God’s way of thinking.