Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 24, 2017

September 24, 2017

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September 24, 2017

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Francine

Cardman

“What is the kingdom of heaven like,” Jesus asks in today’s gospel. It is the question at the heart of his preaching: What is the kingdom of God like?  What, that is to say, is God like? What happens when God reigns?

In Matthew’s gospel, the parable of the workers in the vineyard is preceded and followed by stories of the disciples’ obtuseness in their expectations of greatness and honor. Jesus meets their desires with two jolting rejoinders: “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first”; “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” The disciples can imagine a kingdom, but only one along the lines of empire and exclusion, power and prestige. Today’s gospel calls us instead to look and listen beyond the pattern of “this world’s” limitations of heart and imagination. It calls us, not to leave the world and be free of its cares and needs, but to live here and now in the image of God’s reign.                   

To live in that image, to embody its presence, we must listen to today’s gospel in a new way and learn to look at the world with the eye of our heart, letting it draw us into the compassion of God. To live in the image of God’s reign is not to deny the very real demands of justice for workers, both those who labor in the heat of the day and those who are deemed idle, who stand on the street corner, not because they want to, but because no one has hired them. Nor can we overlook those who labor with little recompense and less recognition – who so often are women, children, the disenfranchised many.

What is the kingdom of heaven like? asks Jesus. It is like the landowner who calls workers to his vineyard, who keeps his word, pays a just wage, and confounds some of the workers with his generosity. God’s reign is just and generous – embracing all who call upon God in the truth of their lives, in their deepest needs and hidden hopes. Yet, as Isaiah reminds us, God’s ways and thoughts are so far above our own that we falter before God’s gratuitous love.  Like the workers hired at the first hour, we tend to view the world through a lens of self-interest that has little depth of field, that does not look much beyond ourselves and those closest to us, that does not take in the multiplicity of others who surround us, or the complexities of their lives. Like those working from the beginning of the day, we expect to be paid more than those who worked only the last hour.

The workers who had been hired first were aggrieved, having expected to receive more in return for their long labor, resentful that the owner had treated them and the last group of workers alike, “mak[ing] them equal to us.” Like them, we are captive to metrics and a stingy notion of merit. But, as Jesus declares, and the landowner demonstrates, “the last will be first, and the first last.” God’s hands are not tied to our narrow calculus of justice, God’s mercy is not bounded by the limitations of our compassion. In God’s reign, everyone works as their circumstances allow and everyone receives what they need. All are welcomed and cared for, all live equally from the generosity of God. And all deserve to share in God’s goodness now, in the world that is the work of God’s hands, in the community of life that encompasses and supports us all.

It is only through God’s mercy that it is possible for us to live in the image of love. It is through that love that we forgive and are forgiven; through that love that we act mercifully and mercy is shown us. It is through that mercy that we work to restore community and mend creation. We are invited today, by Isaiah and the Psalmist, to live and act in the ways and works of God: to make justice and generosity tangible, to embrace the outcast, welcome the stranger, open our hearts to the refugees at our gates. Like Paul, we can magnify Christ in our bodies, with our work, for the good of all. We can seek to conduct [our]selves, as he urges, in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. Through God’s generosity to the world, we can do the work that love demands for our sisters and brothers, for those who suffer from the meanness and terrors of our times, from the insularity of our personal and political worlds, from the selfishness and hardness of our collective hearts. 

What is the kingdom of heaven like? What is God like? And what are we like? What happens when we live in the image of God’s reign? How will we answer the question and call of today’s readings? Let us pray that we open our hearts and imaginations to the generosity of God and the wideness of God’s merciful kingdom – as in heaven, so now on earth; and as it will yet be, forever, in the fullness of God’s love

First Reading

Is 55:6-9

PSALM

Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18

Second Reading

Phil 1:20C-24, 27A

GOSPEL

MT 20:1-16A
Read texts at usccb.org

Francine Cardman

Francine Cardman is Associate Professor of Historical theology and Church Historyat Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She writes and lectures on early Christian ethics and spirituality, ministry and leadership in the early church, and questions of gender and justice in contemporary church practice. Whether addressing contemporary or ancient issues, what is common to her work is an historical approach that grounds theology, ethics, and ministry in their historical and social contexts. She has published a translation of Augustine’s homilies on the Sermon on the Mount as well as essays on Augustine, women’s ministries and ordination in early Christianity, structures of governance and accountability in the church past and present,  the development of early Christian ethics, and Vatican II and ecumenism.  She also edited and contributed to Partners in the Conversation The Role of Ecumenical Divinity Schools in Catholic Theological Education, a study conducted by the Catholic Task Force at Yale Divinity School, and was a co-investigator and contributor to a pilot study on A Profile of Spiritual Resilience in Persons Who Live Well with Lifelong Disabilities.

She has taught at Wesley Theological Seminary, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. She is a past president of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, has served on the Eastern Orthodox/roman Catholic Consultation of the USCCB, and has been a board member and vice-president of NETWORK.

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