Isaiah 25: 6-1a – Philippians 4: 12-14 – Matthew 12: 1-10
What better way to describe how God seeks to be united with us than to speak of a banquet, an image that is familiar to us. A banquet usually celebrates some type of special occasion or event. . In addition to the sharing of food in a bountiful way, there is the expression of gratitude and esteem that is conveyed to those who are invited. It is a truly fitting way to describe the “Kingdom,” the abiding presence of God with us.
Much is involved in putting on a banquet. In addition to the preparation of the food, there are the invitations, the responses of the guests, the setting and decorations, s well as the entertainment or program presented. These things are all apparent in both of the passages of Scripture that we have heard, from Isaiah and Matthew. Yet, in the Gospel account, despite all that has been done and the importance of the occasion being celebrate, the invitations are refused. The rationalizations given for this refusal are twofold. On the one hand there is the failure to recognize the values of what is being offered. On the other hand, the invited guests allow their own selfishness to overrule the effort to take part in the event.
The story of God’s relationship with mankind, with us, is the story of the generosity of god. In addition to giving the gift of life, God has given us this world, this universe, indeed, all of creation. Even more God has entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ, shared our life, and gave of that life on our behalf.
Often, particularly in past times, we have refused the generosity of these gifts of god to us. Perhaps we have taken them for granted. Or we have fallen victim to a common trait in our society and culture of seeking some type of self-directed, self gratification. Perhaps our experience now with the limitations we have experiences during these last few months as well as the inconveniences we have had to endure out of consideration of others, we have recognized, or have had the opportunity to recognize, what is genuinely important, what is genuinely valuable.
We need, however, to be open to hearing the invitation made to us by God. It calls for a genuine desire to dialogue with God in prayer. It calls for a removing of what might distract us and take us away from the Lord. It calls for doings away with selfishness – something that can be difficult.
Once again, it is Saint Paul who gives us an important lesson. The Christians at Philippi to whom he was writing, had generously supported him. For this he was grateful. But he also points out that whether he has all he needs, or he is deprived of even the essentials for living made no difference to him. What is important to him was proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What we have heard today is a description of how God, in many different and bountiful ways, seeks to be joined with us. More than anything else, this is what the banquet prepared for us, the banquet to which we have been invited, represents to us. This Banquet, the Kingdom of
God, is a reality made known to us in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The invitation made to us is to continue that ministry, that mission, in our daily lives through the way we make known our faith and trust in goo and gracious God.
Isaiah 5: 1-7 – Philippians 4: 6-9 – Matthew 21: 33-43
As St. Matthew recorded the parable of Jesus that we heard today, it was addressed in a very direct way, to the leaders of the Jewish society of that time. But we also understand that God speaks to us here and now through these inspired writings of the Scriptures. Thus we can ask ourselves, how do we find meaning for ourselves from what is being said, particularly along with the beautiful poetry of Isaiah which we also heard.
One consideration is that in the imagery of both passages we are told of the relationship God seeks with us. The deep love, the concern, the cultivation of all of us describes how God desires to relate to us. How is it, then, that we are to react and to respond? I have mention on numerous occasions that in this gift of life we have received, there are man “opportunities” presented to us. These are many opportunities to grow and to develop and thus to yield a rich and bountiful harvest in our lives.
Isaiah describes the Israelites of old as well as us, as a vineyard. All of us and each of us is like a grapevine that needs constant care and attention. It needs proper weather as well a careful cultivation in order to yield a good harvest. Like the owner of the vineyard, God’s effort is constant and continuous. All that can be done has been done. But, for some reason, the vine failed. It did not respond. The owner of the vineyard, however, God in this imagery, will try once again.
In the story told by Jesus, the owner does what he can in order to gain back what is due to him.. But the workers constantly reject the owner’s efforts. The workers, in the enthusiasm of their rebellion, foolishly perceive themselves as entitled to take over ownership of the vineyard. Their response was contrary to the owner’s efforts, as can often reject God’s love for us in the choices we make. They do not succeed and bring on their own destruction.
In our human experience of relationships, in order to succeed, the efforts must be mutual. There are man opportunities for the relationship to deepen and to grow. But the effort cannot be made only by one party. One cannot be active while the other is passive. There must be co-operation, a working together that is present and active in both. So it is in our relationship with God.
It is in the words of Saint Paul that we have also heard today that we are given insight into how we are to respond to God. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent, praiseworthy – these are the qualities that are to mark our lives. Choosing thee are the opportunities given to us to gain a bountiful harvest in how we live. Lives that are lived in this way are lives that truly reflect and reveal a deep commitment to and a response to our good and gracious God.
Isaiah 5: 1-7 – Philippians 4: 6-9 – Matthew 21: 33-43
I believe we have to give some credit to Saint Luke as he put together his account of the ministry of Jesus and composed his presentation of the Gospel. He did not hesitate to include some very shocking statements of Jesus such as telling the self-righteous leaders such as the Pharisees, that tax-collectors and prostitutes would be saved. Why? These persons were willing to listen to his word and repent of their lives.
This can be shocking to us as well. Jesus was looking to what could be considered the “low-life” of society and finding there a spirit of repentance and a humble recognition of failure rather than self-righteous smugness. To be honest, we may well be like the leaders, and wonder why he was wasting his time with these people. After all, what do they know by comparison with the learned leaders? It may well be that we, like them, are made uncomfortable by being so caught up in the conviction of how God ought to deal with us that we do not truly listen to what Jesus says and act upon it.
An appropriate response to God speaking to us today is found in the writing of Saint Paul. Our own smugness, the thinking that leads us to rejecting the blunt statements of Jesus, comes from the idea that before God we are better than others, that there are some others who are less than us.
But we might react and say that this is not true. Give it some thought. Every time we allow prejudice to exist in our mind, we think that we are better that the victim of that prejudice.
Every time we are envious or jealous of someone else, we actually feel that what they are or have ought to be ours. Every time we think revengeful or hateful thoughts about another, we are actually thinking that it is right to act against them because I am better than they are.. So very much of what might trouble us, whether as a spouse or family or neighbor or co-worker, or what troubles us with our country or between nations, stems from just these very attitudes and ideas.
It is precisely to this that Saint Pail states that our attitude is to be that of Christ. Let everyone think that the other is superior. Then there is no one who is lowly. There are no “dregs” of society unworthy of consideration. Treat everyone as being better then there is no one who is worse or less than oneself. Have the attitude of Christ, the one who though equal to God was willing to humble himself and take on our flesh. Christ was willing obediently to accept death, even death on the cross. Christ was willing to associate with repentant tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like.
Difficult as this may seem, as shocking as it may even be, it will be in assuming the attitude of Christ, and in no other way, that we continue the ministry of Jesus told to us in the Gospels, the ministry of making known our good and gracious god
Isaiah 55: 6-9 – Philippians 1: 20c-24, 27 – 1 Matthew 20: 1-16a
For many of us, the year 2020, will be one that we would, most likely, want to forget. I believe this to be true regardless of whatever way we might have been affected by the coronavirus: death, hospitalization, illness or the inconveniences and disruptions which have been caused in so many different ways. However we might have been dealing with the virus and its effect, I am certain that the questions has often been asked: “Why?” So many times, however, the simple raising of this question, “Why?” implies that if I had been in charge rather than God, things would have been different.
We can understand God’s speaking to us in the Scriptures we heard today as addressing this very point. In the parable which Jesus used this is especially evident. The owner in the story is presenting as acting contrary to the way in which a normal employer would work. Yet the object of the story is clear. God is the employer. He freely and generously gives according to Divine standards and purposes. In essence, it is a story that illustrates the line we heard from Isaiah in the first reading. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways. ”God’s thoughts and ways are elevated far above our limited human ways.
Those “ways” are exactly what are questioned when we ask “Why.” This is especially true when we ask “Why?” about things that involve pain or suffering, to a pandemic such as we are experiencing.
Perhaps the “Why?” we ask ought to be viewed from another perspective. Why am I alive? Why have I been given this gift of life? Why am I here? Why can I see, or hear, or taste? Why can I appreciate all the good and beautiful things that surround me? Why can I experience the joy of loving and being loved, the joy of friends and people who are a part of my life and genuinely care for me?
The answer to all of these question also reflects that God’s ways are not our ways. The answer is found in knowing what God is: God is love. God wished to share love with creation. God wished other beings to experience simply being, and being loved. Because of God’s love, we have all that belongs to us. All of this is the result of God’s generosity, of the Divine giving of self. But having created all of this, having give all of this to us, what happened? It was rejected through a sinful, selfish choice by mankind. Even then, however, God did not give up. God sent the Son to win us back. The unending, enduring love of God for us – that is the answer to “Why?”
We van ask the question “Why?” about those things that are tragic. But we must also as the question “Why?” about those that are joyous. The only answer which can be found for both is God’s love. This may be more evident in those things which are good. But no less is the love for God found, if we sincerely search for it, in those things that appear painful to us..
If we would absorb the depth of God’s love for us, the we can assume the attitude of Saint Paul as he faced imprisonment and even death. What was most important to him was the reality of God’s saving love for him that was seen by him in Jesus Christ..
So often we may not know the answer to give to those who question “Why?” But we are to show our response by lives and actions that express a true conviction and trust in a god and gracious God.