Is 55. 6-9; Ps 145; Phil 1. 20c-24,27a; Mt 20. 1-16a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
More Generous and Attentive
A shorthand way to summarize the scriptures before Jesus is this. They tell parallel stories: of God’s loving fidelity to people by means of God’s covenant; and people’s not-always-faithful response to God.
When things go well and when our lives are not interrupted by crises, people have an easier time of attending to God and God’s desires. However, when our lives are lacerated by pain or upended by unexpected happenings, attending to God and God’s desires is not as easy.
We can appreciate Isaiah’s words, Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts, if we at least sympathize with those whom the prophet addressed. God’s people had been exiled and lived captive in a foreign land with alien deities. Their exile had grown long. Some may have grown accustomed to life in Babylon; some may have ignored Prophet Isaiah’s message. Others may have forsaken the covenant with the God of Abraham. In their grief still others may have found God’s desire of renewal after exile too difficult to believe: [God’s] thoughts are not [human] thoughts, to use Isaiah’s language.
In one way or other, God calling people through Isaiah’s language, suggests that some, if not many, exiles may have found other patrons for their lives and abandoned the Lord who had commanded Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”/1/ To live in God’s image is to walk each moment with a sense of God as Giver and Patron of our lives.
The image of God by which we live and operate is crucial. The memory of Jesus of the early church knew this was a fact. It remembered that it in first-century Palestine-- and we in our 21st-century sophistication--could reject or accept Jesus’ description of God as a lavishly generous Mediterranean Patron. The early church--and we--could welcome a lavishly generous, patient and seeking-for-us God, or go through life straightjacketing ourselves with an image of God as an accounts-reckoning employer, trying with all our might to limit God to a contract of our making.
Isaiah’s words focus us on generosity of the landowner of Jesus’ parable. The landowner is God, and we are those in his parable’s marketplace, standing there. Not every contemporary Catholic is standing idle, yet my American upbringing moves me first to take stock of my efforts. God’s efforts are far more important than my most accomplished ones. If not our efforts, then what? God’s desire to intervene and come to our aid.
God does not change our circumstances as the prosperity preachers of today would have us believe. Rather, God accompanies us, even when we distance ourselves from God. When we do distance ourselves from God, God seeks us and desires to stand with us as we are. That is the image of God Jesus continues to offer us, the divine image Jesus invites us to allow to be our operative image of our God, who renews us and offers us what the world cannot give us.
In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause and rest in the creative love with which the Trinity embraces you. Ask those who stood in the marketplace, waiting for someone to show interest in them, to present you to Jesus. Speak to Jesus as you are--whether confident or timid;
advantaged or bereft; closed-handed or open-handed--and name your greatest need. Praise Jesus for choosing to give his life for you and for modeling greater confidence in his Father and ours. Bring your prayer to a close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which each time we say it, helps us conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of our crucified and risen Messiah, and transforms us into his more generous and attentive contemporary disciples.
1. Leviticus 19.2
Wiki-image of Michelangelo's Isaiah is in the public domain.