25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 25th, 2017

What matters is what God does in and for us, not what we do for God.

                                                                                                            --Eugene Peterson

This is what truly and ultimately matters when it comes to the search for God.  I am reminded of Mary’s response to the Angel; what is called her “fiat”:  “Let it be done to me as you say.”  What’s felt within such words is a passive surrender to God.  Jesus, too, utters such surrender in the death throes of his Passion:  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Both reveal that, what matters, is not we do for God, but what God does in and for us.

Eugene Peterson describes how “growing up in Christ involves practicing a kind of acquired passivity.”  This word passivity carries a “bad odor in the American language” as he puts it.  This is because we live in a world “fueled by ambition, getting to the top, making a name for myself, and beating out the competition.”  Such a life can and often does succeed.  Yet, such success is often acquired “without conscience, without love, without compassion.”  And Peterson asks, “Is that living?  Has that ever, in the entire history of humankind, been living—fully alive?”

In the gospels—his subversive teaching by way of parable—Jesus offers an alternative that is able to lead us to a mature life; living into the “full stature of Christ”.  (Eph. 4:13)

The Parable of the Vineyard Workers this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 20:1-16a) does just that as I reflect on its words.  Laborers are asked, throughout the day, to go work in the vineyard and all respond; agreeing to the “usual daily wage”.  Some worked in the vineyard the entire day and   “bore the day’s burden and the heat.”  Others worked only one hour.  In the end, all receive the same pay.  It does seem unfair from a logical point of view.  Yet, the parable is not about workers’ rights; rather the illogical and gratuitous nature of grace.  It’s not what we do for God that matters; it’s what God does in and for us. 

The parable addresses a crisis within the early Christian community.  People were entering the church without having to embrace the Mosaic Law with its yoke of observances.  Others resented that.   A similar mentality is seen today when faced with the question of illegal immigrants, especially the “Dreamers”, whose future is precarious and through no fault of their own.  There are those who resent having to pay—via taxes—for their education and health care.  There is this exaggerated sense of entitlement beneath the debate that’s void of compassion.  It blinds us to our shared nature: that all of us are immigrants, really.  If anyone has the right to feel entitled it would be Native Americans!

It is not what we do that is meant to define us as followers of Christ.  Rather, it is what we let God do in ands for us by way of the “acquired passivity” of grace.   Like the laborers in the parable, we must learn to heed the Voice, respond in kind and leave the rest to God.

Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Biblical scholars call this the “great reversal”.  Jesus turns the logic of this world on its head and offers us a new way of being human.  Are we willing to heed what is being asked?  To acquire the passivity that opens me to the impartiality of grace that helps us grow up into the “full stature of Christ? 

Father Tim Clark, Pastor


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