1. Isaiah 55, 6-9
the Lord while he may be found. My first impression is not one of intelligent design, but one
of hide-and-seek. Why isn’t God always there? What does the prophet mean?
the scoundrel forsake his way. Maybe it is not God who hides but we who are not ready
- Let him turn to the Lord for mercy. Each
verse builds upon the last one. First I have to seek God, that is, be in the disposition to look.
I have to change my life, become merciful to others as God is merciful to us, and then I will receive mercy.
high as the heavens are above the earth. I will enhance the contrast between heavens
and earth, using my imagination to paint the difference between our ways and God’s ways.
- Does the reading
seem prosaic? Listen to the action words: seek, call, forsake,
turn. And I’ll make sure my listeners hear them, too.
- Climax: My
thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways. The prophet repeats it twice, in case we
missed it. When I repeat this, I will find ways to enhance it the second time through.
for our assembly: Only those who seek to understand the ways of God will understand what Jesus means in today’s Gospel
- I will challenge myself: To reveal in my reading the progression of thought from beginning
to end. If I do this, I will prepare my listeners for the meaning of the Gospel.
Philippians 1, 20-24 and 27
- I listen today to the confession of a true apostle.
As I read, the first thing I hear is an answer: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.
So he has his answer. And so do I! Through all this agonizing reflection, he
knows that God will make the best use of him.
- Then he follows by examining the two alternative futures he just mentioned.
From what we know of him, I can’t imagine him meditating with Stoic calmness in his private study.
His own end would have a public impact on many others, as he tells them.
- We believe that he was in
prison or house arrest and might be executed soon. So he is resigned to – no, eager for! –
his coming encounter with the risen Lord. I long to depart this life. That
is not the issue. So what tips the scale in the end? Your benefit.
- There are a number
of unfamiliar Hebraisms carried over into this version: magnified, in the flesh.
I will let the context clarify their meaning, and will not let my reading get bogged down. I am
more interested in the interplay of life and death, which is repeated at least three times.
- The vernacular translators of the text
were admonished to imitate closely the word order of the originals and the later Latin versions. I fulfill
my ministry today by my intelligent interpretation of this unfamiliar word flow, altering the placement of the pauses such
as For to me – life is Christ and death is gain. Another example: Yet
– that I remain in the flesh is more necessary – for your benefit.
- The final verse
is an exhortation that comes a little later in the letter. I will treat it as a bookend with the first
verse. If we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel, we will serve
the Lord in life and death.
- Central point: God makes the best use of us whether we live or die, because life is
Christ, that is, we live wherever we are joined to Christ. That lesson came out last week, too.
We know the maxim that no one is irreplaceable in an organization. Actually, as members of the church
we believe the exact opposite! Everyone is indispensable because God has called all of us to use our unique
gifts. (The Gospel gets at this also.) Even by our departure we give witness to others.
- The message for our
assembly: The apostle is opening his heart to the new churches of Asia and Greece. Can we learn from his
example to think first of others when we arrange our final end?
- I will challenge myself: To bring out the tension that really has not
been resolved in the very first sentence. It is the tension that is in the mind of all true apostles as
they speak to those they love.
Gospel. Matthew 20, 1-16
- This parable is probably well
known in a general way to my listeners. My job is not just to repeat it, but to point out the little details
that we may miss.
first detail is in the first sentence. According to Jesus, the parable is not about “the laborers
in the vineyard,” but about a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers. I
hear the landowner hiring, seeing, sending, finding, saying,
and setting the pay scale.
- The second detail has to do with the hiring. Usually the growers
send out their trucks to find workers at daybreak only. But here they are hired not just at dawn but also
at nine o’clock, twelve o’clock, three o’clock and even
at five o’clock! I will read with a sense of surprise that the landowner would do
such a thing.
third detail involves the people. The landowner always found others standing idle in the marketplace.
The focus is on jobs and not on the work to be done at the estate. Talk about reversals!
The kingdom of heaven departs radically from the conventional wisdom in our globalized economy.
we have the “unfair pay scale.” Each received the usual daily wage.
Notice the telltale order we have heard often before: beginning with the last and ending with the first.
I may be tempted to play up the argument of those early comers who grumbled against the landowner,
saying with great indignation that they bore the day’s burden and the heat. But
I will do so only because my listeners are wondering the exact same thing. I cannot lose sight of the principal
character of the story, the landowner.
- Climax: Each of them got the usual wage.
- Message for
our assembly: We will understand the meaning of the parable if we adopt God’s ways, God’s mercy, God’s care
for everyone. The parable does not explain the landowner’s actions. What
if I wish? But it states: I am generous!
- I will challenge myself: To contrast the ways of the kingdom with the ways of our working
world, and focus on the God whom we are commanded to imitate.
Word to Eucharist: Some of us in today's procession were born into our faith, and others came very recently.
Some are recent arrivals in this parish and others are nearly its founders. Do we judge each other on those terms, or
do we use the same standard as the owner of the vineyard? In other words, do we look on others - and on ourselves for
that matter - as God looks on us?