"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
September 18, 2011: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 55:6-9
Synopsis: Perhaps more than anything, Jesus came to reveal God’s generous mercy. The entire story of salvation, from beginning to end, shows how incredibly patient and merciful God is. Alas, most people believed, and still believe that God is a stern, unforgiving tyrant, eager to condemn.
But as the reading from Isaiah says, God is “generous in forgiving.” This reading sets the stage for the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in this week’s Gospel. Isaiah says that God’s ways are not man’s ways. He wrote these words to encourage his fellow exiles who felt that God had condemned them to a life of degrading servitude. Isaiah encourages them not to lose heart, but to seek the Lord even in a strange land because God isn’t confined to one place. Even in exile, one could find God if they sought him.
In this week’s second reading St. Paul reflects on the prospect of death in view of his life in Christ. He wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison where he believed he might be killed. Paul wasn’t concerned about his physical well-being because he is confident that no matter what: in life or in death or in prison, Christ is with him.
The parable in this week’s Gospel isn’t about labor relations or employment policies; it’s about the generous mercy of God. The contrast between this parable and the story before it is worth noting. There we read about the rich man who wanted to know the secret of eternal life, but was unwilling to give of himself. He was anything but generous and so “went away sorrowful.”
Key verse: “God, who is generous in forgiving” (Is 55:7).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God reveals his fatherly omnipotence by the way he takes care of our needs; by the filial adoption that he gives us (“I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”) Finally by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins” (No. 270).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The denarius clearly represents eternal life, a gift that God reserves for all. Indeed those who are considered the “last,” if they accept, become the “first,” whereas the “first” can risk becoming the “last.” To be able to work in the Lord’s vineyard, to put oneself at his service, to collaborate in his work, is in itself a priceless recompense that repays every effort” (Angelus, Sept. 21, 2008).
Life application: Human beings are quick to criticize and eager to condemn. Fortunately for us, God isn’t. He is infinitely generous in mercy. Part of being a Christian means learning how to “be merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). We’re not naturally inclined to forgive those who hurt us, or be patient with those who annoy us, or be kind to those who infuriate us. But knowing how merciful God is helps me to be patient with others and even with myself. Most importantly, God gives us his own divine life in the sacraments so that what we can’t do on our own, we can do with him.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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