Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jesus Freely Gives to Each of us What is Rightfully His.

If we haven’t actually experienced it ourselves, we have all probably heard of that phenomenon that occurs when we are faced with great peril, maybe even to the point of thinking that we may die as a result of whatever the threat is, and our life passes before our eyes in a flash, like when someone is drowning. Or maybe not in a flash, but in a relatively short period of time, like when an airplane encounters major mechanical problems, and begins to drop from 36,000 feet. And maybe even sometimes, it may take place over weeks or months, like an inmate on death row awaiting execution, or a prisoner of war who has no way of knowing what will happen, or when. In any event, there is an acknowledgement of all that has taken place to that point, and an acknowledgement of what is surely about to take place be it in an instant, or in a couple of hours or days, or a couple of months or years. Those who survive will tell you that the recall is vivid, detailed, and complete, and that the anticipation of what is coming, is somehow serene…although they can’t tell you how or why.

For Jesus, this process, or something like it, probably started after his rejection by the people of Nazareth, by those who had known him and whom he had known as he grew up in the home of Mary and Joseph. Their rejection was palpable; Matthew 13: 58 tells us “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.”

Over the next twelve chapters in Matthew, Jesus moves towards Jerusalem. His face set like flint, he embraces the Father’s will. As he moves closer to Jerusalem, he acknowledges who he is, and what he must do. He shows the Apostles, disciples, followers, and even the curious through his exquisite teaching, his devotion to prayer, and his incredible miracles; who he is, and what he must do. And all the while, his relationship with his Father flashes before him; his Father’s love for him and for us all; his Father’s plan for our salvation. Jesus knows what lies ahead; he has already told his Apostles twice that he will suffer and die.

The first time, Peter rebuked him; the second time, they were all overcome with grief. Through it all, Jesus continued to heal, to teach, to forgive. He wanted us to know as much as we could absorb about his Father in the time he had left. Jesus isn’t drowning; his airplane hasn’t experienced mechanical failure and isn’t falling from the sky; but Jesus’ identity, and the love he shares with his Father, and his mission to die for our sake and rise from the dead to silence death forever are flashing before his eyes. And he explains it all to us in his parables, those pithy little stories about things we experience in everyday life that Jesus stands on their heads to make a point about Truth.

Jesus gives us the story of the landowner and the vineyard workers. It has been called “the workers in the vineyard”, or “the good employer”, or “the affirmative action employer”…even “the prodigal employer”. In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus wants us to know the depth and breadth, and the unconditional nature of the Father’s love. The prodigal employer helps us to understand the Father’s passion to give us his mercy, which we don’t deserve, balanced by his justice, which we need.

Certainly this landowner could have sent his steward to hire all of the help he needed at dawn; but instead, the landowner himself goes out repeatedly, pursuing in a sense, all of those in need of work. He offers the going rate to the first he hires, but those hired later, he assures them of “…what is just…” At the end of the day, all he had to do was pay them in the order in which he had hired them, which was the custom, to avoid any grumbling...but he did just the opposite. God knows us so well. Those who had worked an hour or less were ecstatic because of the landowner’s generosity and mercy; those he hired first, who in fact did work the full day, and bore the heat, at that point expected more than they deserved, and received what was promised. In the face of the grumbling, the landowner essentially tells them “…I am not cheating you…I paid you what we had agreed on, and it was fair…” and then the zinger, the Truth: “…or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”

As Jesus walks for the last time towards Jerusalem; as his life, and his mission, and the love that exists between Jesus and his Father, and his life of miracles, healing, forgiving, and rejection flash before him…what he wants us to understand is that all of it…all of Jesus’ life…all of our lives…are his. And in his justice, and generosity; in his Mercy, and his Love…he has freely given to each and all of us what is rightfully his. He has shared his Life with us…and he asks us to share it with each other.
Post by Deacon Bill Whibbs.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, Is 55: 6-9, Ps 145: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18, Phil 1: 20c-24, 27a, Mt 20: 1-16a