How Can You Still Be Catholic

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By Marc Massery (Sep 22, 2017)
In the readings this weekend for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we learn that God gives generously to those who may not seem deserving.

The first reading from Isaiah encourages us to turn to God despite our sinfulness. It says, "Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving" (Is 55:6-7). Even if an unbeliever did nothing but evil his entire life, God stands nearby, ready to forgive at any moment. We cannot grasp this profound mercy and generosity of God. The first reading continues, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts" (Is 55:8-9).

In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Christ tells a parable that helps us grasp the Father's generosity. A landowner went out at 6 a.m., the beginning of the work day, to hire day-workers to harvest his vineyard. He agreed to pay them the usual daily wage, one denarius. Grapes, in those days, needed harvesting quickly before the rains came and destroyed the crop. So, the owner went back to the marketplace (the labor exchange in those days) later in the day to hire more workers. There, he found men with their tools in hand, hoping for someone to hire them so that they could provide for their families. Slaves in those days did not often fear starvation because they had steady work. Day-workers, on the other hand, relied on chance and often went hungry. The master of the house, feeling sorry for the unemployed day-workers, hired a group of them at 9 a.m. He went back out and did the same at noon, 3 p.m., and still more at 5 p.m. Unlike the first group he had hired, the landowner never told any of these late comers how much he would pay them. He merely said, "I will pay you whatever is right" (Matt 20:4).

At the end of the work day, 6 p.m., the owner payed everyone one denarius, a full daily wage —even those who worked only one hour. The first workers, those who had explicitly agreed to work for a full day's wage, complained saying, "These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat'" (Matt 20:12). Realizing they worked longer hours and harvested more fruit, the first group tried to obtain a bigger payment from the landowner. But he replied, "Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage … Are you envious because I am generous?" (Matt 20:13-15).

Since the laborers who came late in the day agreed to merely work for "whatever is right" (Matt 20:4), they did not expect to receive a full day's wage. They, therefore, received their payment joy because they knew that they did not deserve it. Desperate for employment, they were just glad to have the chance to work at all. Christ finished by saying, "Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Matt 20:16). The landowner wanted to pay these last men a full wage because he had compassion on their need to feed their families. More importantly, he respected the latecomers' desire to work, even if they did not harvest as much fruit.

God, therefore, seems to be more generous to those who come to Him late and have the least to offer. But what if we have followed God all our lives? How can we make ourselves "last" so that we can receive the fullness of His generosity?

We must live like St. Paul whose letters we continue to read this week in the second reading.

Few in the history of Christianity have turned more people to Christ than Paul. In this reading, he recognizes that God has given him "fruitful labor" (Phil 1:22). But what matters most to Paul is not how much he has achieved, but how much he desires to be with Christ. He says, "I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit" (Phil 1:22-23). He does not count, like the second group of harvesters, how much fruit he has produced. He recognizes that the fruit he produces is not for his own benefit, but for the sake of others.

Longing for Christ, Paul does not even care whether he dies or goes on living. He is only concerned about making Christ's life shine through him. He says, "Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain" (Phil 1:20-21).

We must follow Paul's lead and let our longing for Christ drive everything we do. If we place Christ first, we will not care about calculating how much fruit we have produced: how many times we forgave that family member, how much money we gave to that charity, or how many volunteer projects we signed up for. When we give all the credit to God, we have nothing to boast about on our own. We make ourselves last on earth. Then, God will make us first in the Kingdom of Heaven out of His profound generosity.

The Readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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