Sunday Sermon for September 20, 2020, the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a
In the first reading today, the Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” We recall from the readings a few weeks back that when Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him for saying He was going to be handed over and killed, Jesus said to Peter: “You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.”
As human persons, one of the main problems we have is that we are very limited in our ability to see the “whole picture.” We are able to see only a very small part of the whole and, based on what we are able to see and understand, we make our judgments and decisions. Nothing is inherently wrong with this; it is merely limited and leaves us in a position where further facts will often demonstrate our judgments to be wrong. This has happened many times in criminal cases where everything is handled on a human level. How much greater is the divide when we are comparing our ways and thoughts to God’s?
Obviously, as human beings, we are going to think as human beings do. So, our Lord’s rebuke to St. Peter seems strange at first sight. However, we are also created in the image and likeness of God and, even more, as Christians we have become members of Jesus Christ and children of God. These realities should make the case that we are called to think and act like God. After all, Jesus told us we need to be like our Heavenly Father.
To think and act like God requires something supernatural. Clearly, by nature, we can only think and operate in a natural way. If we are going to think and act as God does, this is something supernatural and requires something beyond what we can do naturally. Grace is the supernatural gift the Lord gives us to be raised to think and act in a supernatural way. However, to be in the state of grace is still insufficient for us to be transformed into thinking and acting in a divine manner. We need to spend time in prayer and allow ourselves to be conformed to God.
Little by little, the time we spend alone with the Lord will change us to become who we were created to be. First, prayer helps us to begin making changes in our lives due to a deeper understanding of virtue and a desire to act accordingly. This is exactly what we hear in the first reading when we are told to seek the Lord and call upon His Name; for then, the scoundrel will forsake his way and the wicked will forsake his thoughts. To earnestly seek the Lord will bring about a conversion in us that makes us seek the mercy of God. Once received, the grace that comes with God’s mercy will make us want to change our lives and be conformed to the mercy we have received and to share that mercy with others.
Notice in the first reading that it is not only a matter of changing our actions, but our thoughts as well. Adjusting our thoughts allows us to begin to think as God thinks. We begin to see things with a broader perspective and have insights that would not be present in our natural way of thinking. This is what we see in both the second reading and the Gospel for today. When Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who paid the men who worked one hour the same as those who worked twelve hours, our natural reaction is that this is unjust. From the perspective of those who worked one hour, we might think it is very generous or we might even think we got away with something.
However, when we look at things from the perspective of salvation and eternal life, which is the “payment” for our fidelity, we realize the landowner is perfectly just and also most generous. It helps us, in turn, to desire mercy for everyone, even our perceived enemies. As Christians, we do not want anyone to be condemned to hell for eternity. Yes, many people deserve to be there, but all we need to do is look in the mirror to see another person who deserves to be there.
Conformity to the thoughts and ways of God through prayer brought St. Paul to such a depth of love that there was no selfishness left. He was willing to sacrifice everything. All that mattered to him was doing God’s will and glorifying the Lord, whether in living or in dying. This is the response of one who received God’s mercy. We too have received God’s mercy. What is our response?
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.