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Liturgy and Life

By Brenda Merk Hildebrand

09/13/2017


Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2017

 

Isaiah 55. 6-9
Psalm 145
Philippians 1.20-24, 27
Matthew 20. 1-16

“Taste them again, for the first time.” One of my enduring spiritual lessons became clear during a cereal commercial. Likely created to boost flagging sales amid the competition of bulging store shelves filled with sweetened candy-like cereal, this commercial for the simple, old-fashioned goodness of plain Corn flakes encouraged us to give them another try. The familiar green and red rooster was onscreen as I settled on the living room couch and heard those words. In a great synchronicity of timing, I had just finished reviewing that Sunday’s Scripture readings, so I was likely a bit primed to hear those on-air words in another way.

From that moment on, I knew I was to receive each and every Scripture reading as if coming upon it for the first time. I was to be open to the gifts, graces and lessons they offered, ready to receive them in a new way. If memories of past understandings came to mind, they were to be integrated into a deepening wisdom that would continually transform my life.

It is with a beginner’s heart and mind that today’s readings are considered. Believing that every word is intentional and no words are to fall to the ground, we read and hear as if for the first time. Note that the landowners and hopeful labourers began early in the day, a reminder of the importance of setting a willing intention early in the day. What prayer, what hymn, what Scripture passage nourishes and strengthens an ongoing commitment to living a faithful life?

I wish I could recall the name of the author who reflected on this gospel from a particular perspective, commenting that it speaks loudly of the need for human justice. She logically pointed out that the first hired workers would have been the strongest-looking persons who would be seen as the fittest and fastest workers. At each of the other times, the landowner would have been choosing from among those perceived to be less strong, judging them to be less capable. Those chosen at the last hour would, by all that is logical, have been considered the weakest of the workers. The concluding comments centred around the gospel imperative to offer a living wage to all people, regardless of ability and productivity.

Worthy of pondering, just as it stands. Most of us will have all thought about the rightness and appropriateness of various salary scales, rating and evaluation systems. We have all considered, at least in passing, the various support systems that have been created over the years. While the development and implementation of our support systems is complex and beyond the skill and talent of any one person or any one group, an infinite wisdom teaches us that everyone deserves a living wage.

This is heartening to those who are unable to work a full day. Weakness of body, mind and spirit have an impact on our ability to “put in a full day” as it is typically understood in our culture. The temptation to judge others and ourselves as less than whole, and less than worthy, is readily supported in a productivity-based culture. “What did you do all day?” can be a tough question to answer. The answer might be painfully difficult to articulate. As years go by, a sense of value, a sense of belonging, and a sense of meaning and purpose might fade into the background. These gospel words might spark a deeper sense of value, a profound appreciation for the dignity and value of each and every person.

And for ourselves, there are times when we feel we are standing on the sidelines while others are busy accomplishing great things and living the grand adventure. In those times, we might consider how we wait: with patience? trust? faith? hope? charity? Pondering deeply, perhaps considering the limitations of his blindness and the shortness of a human life span, John Milton ultimately came to understand: “They also serve, who only stand and wait.”

We might also wonder if we are truly making ourselves available; asking ourselves if we are attentive to the deep and quietly spoken invitations to word and action. What strength, what gift, what talent, might be placed before the Master of the vineyard? We might contemplate, as did John Milton, “that one talent which is but death to hide.” Perhaps, even if it is late in the day, we might find our Lord calling us to use our strength, our gifts, and our talents in a new way. Listening attentively, we might clearly hear our personal invitation, “You also go into the vineyard.”

We count on our Lord to receive our efforts with appreciation. We acknowledge we are worthy of having our needs met. With open hands, symbols of our open mind and heart, we receive his surprising and abundant generosity. Somewhere deep inside, we are also a bit bewildered by the fact that we are surprised. After all these years, how could we have imagined that our Lord was anything other than generous?

Isaiah reminds us: the Lord thinks differently than we do. Paul encourages us: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” We ponder: what we might think is last and least, our Lord sees as first. We listen attentively, considering what these words mean for us, right here, right now, in this time and place. They are meant to transform our lives. May we hear them for the first time.

Merk Hildebrand has a passion for education, spiritual and palliative care. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the House of Bread Monastery in Nanaimo, B.C. Contact Brenda through her website: www.thegentlejourney.ca or via email: thegentlejourney@gmail.com