Many devout believers find the parable of the wedding feast in the Gospel of Matthew difficult to understand. The story is meant to stir us up with its exaggeration, to signal the spiritual destruction that follows from refusing the divine invitation. We are meant to see how valuable an invitation we have received and how odd it is that we would choose to reject it.
Today's readings pose a question: how are we tending the vineyard? We have received so much from God, but are we making the world fruitful? Are we responding to the Lord’s invitation with the works of justice, love, peace, chastity, respect for others? Or are we more or less killing the messengers?
Some skeptics suggest the divinity of Jesus is a myth, or a later invention of the Church, that Jesus was nothing more than an ordinary man or great teacher. But in today's text from St. Paul, an exceptionally early text traced to within a handful of years of Jesus' death, we find a clear declaration of the contrary. Jesus is described as being in the “form of God,” a staggering claim that affirms his divinity. Yet even still, he did not grasp at his godliness, but emptied himself and took the form a slave.
Today's Gospel reading is one of the most confounding. Many people struggle with this parable about the landowner and the workers, but as the old saying goes, where you stumble, that's where you should dig for treasure. The parable offers a powerful reminder to focus on the mission of God's kingdom, not who gets credit for it.
In today's brief selection from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, we learn, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.” This affirms that your life is not about you! It’s about God and God’s purpose for you. It’s about being drawn out of your comfort zone and into the adventurous space of divine mission.
If there is one absolute in our secular culture today it is non-judgmentalism. Some people, seeking to defend this point of view from a Biblical perspective, will point to Jesus’ famous enjoinder: “Judge not and you will not be judged.” But what should be clear is that this cannot mean that we never point out moral failures—for Jesus does that all the time. How should we navigate the ways of judgement and love? Our second reading, from Paul to the Romans, is eminently helpful here.
I’ve always loved the prophet Jeremiah, and not just as a literary/spiritual figure, but as a person. He was known as the “weeping prophet” and his nickname was “terror on every side.” Against that background, we listen to him in our reading for today and gain encouragement as we evangelize through struggle.
I want to concentrate this week on our second reading, which is a very brief passage from Paul’s magnificent letter to the Romans. It comes at the end of chapter eleven, which completes the Apostle’s consideration of Israel in relation to the Church. How do we make sense of the ancient Jewish tradition in light of the resurrection? How do we understand gentiles coming to the faith when salvation was supposed to be through the Jews, many of whom were rejecting the Christian faith? Looking into these questions, we learn about the inscrutability of God.
Christians have said for centuries that everything is a grace, that no one deserves anything, and therefore we should never complain about inequities. How can this be fair that some people are clearly chosen by God while others are not? Well, with this dilemma in mind, let’s look at our first reading and our Gospel for today. These passages reveal that Israel is named a chosen people not for their own sake but for the sake of the whole world. The key to understanding grace is that it is given to be given away.