Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Isaiah 55:6-9, Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a, Matthew 20:1-16a.
The Liturgy is Forming Us to Have a Holy Indifference
The prophet Isaiah invites us to seek and to call upon the Lord in chapter 55, which is the final part of the ‘Book of Comfort’ that began in chapter 40. This section of Scripture has been called ‘An Invitation to Grace’ because it reveals God’s hope and mercy for us. We heard verses 10 and 11 on the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and today we listen to verses 6 to 9, where Isaiah says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near,” and ends with “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Some translations say, “For My plans are not your plans, Nor are My ways your ways.” These verses might seem contradictory if we isolate them from the rest of the Old Testament. For, how can we find and approach a God who is near but also so distant and transcendent – is this God accessible or not?
On the contrary, the Old Testament canon contains twenty-nine exact occurrences of the phrase “seek the Lord,” and all of them link seeking the Lord to worship, sacrifice, or covenant fidelity. Many instances also connect seeking the Lord to our heart, that is, the core of our identity and existence. Therefore, the Old Testament understanding of how we are summoned to seek the Lord sheds new light on what our Lord Jesus meant when He said to us, “Seek, and you will find,” and “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” At the same time, Christ Jesus makes the invitation to seek the Lord achievable because He truly came close to us and lived among us and is still present with us and within us through the Liturgy of the Mass and the Sacraments, of which the most unique is the Holy Eucharist. So, even though God remains transcendent, He also remains fully human and fully divine and indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit to guide us to all truth so that we can know His plans and His ways and respond to the grace to follow them.
Imagine living a life so dedicated to God that you could say what the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians (1:20c-24, 27a). He was in prison and facing the possibility of receiving the death penalty, but he declared that he would glorify Christ in his body, whether he lived or died. He wrote, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This is the kind of holy indifference we are called to have as followers of Christ. Indeed, the liturgy of the Catholic Mass teaches us this every time we worship in it, by reminding us that our life is not our own but God’s. When we seek God in everything, we are indifferent to the outcomes of our actions because they do not belong to us but to Him. Moreover, we experience the joy and peace from knowing we genuinely belong to God. How different is this from living a life that chases after empty things and worships in the world’s liturgy of vanity?
The idea that we ought to worry about the outcomes of our actions can only lead us to feelings of doubt, anxiety, anger, and depression, and, indeed, that is how we should feel if we are the owner of our inconsistent outcomes. But what if we do not have to own the outcomes of our labor? What if we are not like the laborers in today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 20:1-16a, who agreed to work in the vineyard for “the usually daily wage” but ended up grumbling when they discovered that those who arrived to labor at the beginning of the day were paid the same daily wage as those who had arrived at the end of the day, saying, “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” The vineyard owner said to them in reply, “‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” As a similitude about the kingdom of heaven, Christ Jesus could only be implying here that not only does the outcome of our labor belong to God – the owner of the vineyard, but so does the vineyard itself, the tools we labor with, and the pay we receive belong to Him as well. Truly, the only thing those who come to Him are responsible for is the obedience of labor, which in our context means carrying our cross and laboring in the missions we have been called to.
For this, we sometimes find it difficult to put our heads down, do the work, and not worry about the outcomes. Perhaps, to move past that concern, we should return to our consideration of the Apostle Paul in his imprisonment and adopt his attitude of holy indifference. Maybe in a world where we are surrounded by the troubles and machinations of evil people, we might discover our much-needed joy and peace if we seek the Lord rather than troubling ourselves with worrying about the outcomes of people’s lives who do not seek the Lord; or worrying about the outcomes of people’s lives who do not seek to live their lives liturgical. Not that we should be apathetic to their sins, but rather, if we focus on doing our labor well, we can trust that God will use the outcomes of our obedience to be an extension of His mercy towards them.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.
 Mt. 7:7.
 Mt. 22:37