Sunday, Sept. 18, is the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle I).
Sept. 18 is normally the feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino, but Sunday supersedes it this year. All the same, if you have never watched the movie The Reluctant Saint with your family, this is a great weekend for it. Last year, Ignatius Press began offering a digitally remastered DVD version.
The story is excellent, and once he winds up in the monastery, Maximilian Schell’s performance as St. Joseph is excellent. The late Ricardo Montalban is also excellent as a Church investigator.
Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16
“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts,” God says in the reading from Isaiah.
This is exactly what Peter heard when he got rebuked for telling Jesus he shouldn’t suffer — and what Job heard when he questioned God in light of enormous suffering:
“You are thinking not as God does,” said Jesus.
“None understand God,” the Lord tells Job.
Today’s Gospel is one that many people admit they struggle with. In it, Jesus tells the story of an employer who hires men to work in his vineyard. Some work all day, some work only part of the day, and some work hardly at all — but all get the same wage.
In the parable, Jesus’ answer is, in many ways, the same as God’s answer to Job, or to Peter: He admits that life is not fair. Some suffer more than others.
Is that fair? Not if you look at it one way.
But it is in another: God gives the same generous gift to every one of them — he gives them everything they need in this life to live in his grace, and that life of grace continues forever in heaven.
St. Paul certainly understood that. Today’s second reading is from his Letter to the Philippians, which he wrote from prison.
He is not grumbling like the laborer or demanding answers like Job or arguing that God has the wrong idea like Peter.
He knows that life is good and that heaven is better.
“I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better,” he says, but “if I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose.”
He feels no need to complain about his lot in life. He has been given the gift available to all: the necessities of life and the fullness of God’s grace.
Notice something else in Paul that echoes today’s parable: He knows that life is work, and death is rest. Paul sees value in life not because it is diverting, but because it is “fruitful labor.”
We, too, have to see this life as “fruitful labor.” We do get times of relaxation and refreshment, of course, but, overall, the fundamental purpose for our life is not found in our times of rest. We are exactly like the workers in the vineyard or like Paul in prison.
The value of our time here is that we can work: We can participate in God’s great act of reaching his straying people, and we can “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”
Do we want to hear Jesus asking us: “Why do you stand here idle all day?”
We can’t say, “Because no one has hired us.” He has said to us already, in our baptism, “You too go into my vineyard.”
There we will find fruitful labor, followed by beautiful rest — if we stay in his grace.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.