Immersed in Christ: September 20, 2020
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
We Are Called To Leadership
Do you hire people for your purposes or to give them purpose? Do you pay people in proportion to their need or their usefulness? Is this the way God acts?
The theme of today’s Mass is that God’s way of acting is very different from ours — different, but better. The Entrance Antiphon celebrates God as the “Savior of all people…. Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry.” The Responsorial (Psalm 145) declares, “The Lord is near to all who call him.” We are less likely to help strangers and foreigners, and especially our enemies, than we are to help family and friends. This is natural for us. But it is unnatural for God.
And so, in the Opening Prayer(s) we ask God’s help to “come to perfection” through the way we “love one another.” Perfection is to love as God does, and justice on earth depends on love. We ask to “find this love in each other” so that there might be justice on earth, with peace as its consequence. This is the basic principle that should guide all Christian efforts for social reform. Love evokes love and leads to justice. The opposite of love — hatred, retaliation and violence — evokes hatred, retaliation and violence and leads to more hatred, retaliation and violence. But after 2000 years of Christianity, we still do not accept this. Love is still not our way. Power and force are our way. Still, as consecrated by Baptism stewards of the kingship of Christ, we have embraced the responsibility and the task of converting society to do things God’s way. This is the guiding theme of these reflections. The Rite of Communion motivates and strengthens us as leaders.
God’s Way or Our Way
In Isaiah 55:6-9 God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
The first example he gives of this is: ”All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come… without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk” (Isaiah 55:1). This is not our way!
His second example is: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near…. Let [the wicked] turn for mercy to the Lord… who is generous in forgiving.” This, too, is not our way. We distance ourselves from those who offend us. God doesn’t. The liturgy has us proclaim repeatedly, “The Lord is near to all who call him.”
Isn’t it true that when we are not acting toward God as we should we feel he is distant and withdrawn from us? We don’t think of him as being as close and eager to help us then as when we are devout and faithful. We fall into this error because we assume God is like us. The truth is, “The Lord is near to all who call him,” to saints and sinners equally.
Our way is to love our friends and neighbors and hate our enemies. But Jesus proposes God’s way to us:
Love your enemies… so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
His ways are not our ways. God will answer a sinner’s prayers as quickly as a saint’s — maybe quicker, because sinners need it more! We find this hard to believe.
The Last Shall Be...
Matthew 20: 1-16: The workmen in the Gospel story found it hard to believe that the landowner would pay those who only worked one hour as much as he paid those who had worked all day. But the landowner did not think as they did—or as we do. He was not hiring people just to get his work done; he was saving them from idleness, letting them do something life-enhancing with their time, and enabling them to provide for their families. His goal was not his profit but theirs.
Suppose all of society worked on this principle, and that everyone — employers and employees — had the good of everyone as their goal. Would there be any poverty? Would there be some so rich they can afford to spend obscenely, paying more to gratify a whim than laborers make in a year? Would there be others so poor they live in squalor so depressing their life is constant desperation? Are Christians responsible for changing this? What does it mean to be consecrated at Baptism “prophet, priest and king,” if not to take responsibility for establishing God’s reign over every area and activity of human life? As Baptism Jesus called us and sent us “into his vineyard” We are stewards of the kingship of Christ. This commits us to leadership in efforts to transform society and “renew the face of the earth.”
The words of “dismissal” in the Concluding Rites at Mass charge us with this mission:
Go forth, the Mass is ended... Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.... Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.... Go in peace.
We go out from Mass to do something. “Announce the Good News” as evangelists. “Glorify the Lord by your life,” a lifestyle that bears prophetic witness; one that “raises irresistible questions” in people’s minds that can only be answered by recognition of the risen Christ in us and the power of his Spirit. “Go in peace.” To establish the “peace and unity” of the Kingdom throughout every area and activity of human life as leaders and stewards of his kingship. 1
“Life is Christ”
In Philippians 1: 20-27 2 Paul proclaims the root truth of Christian existence: we are only on this earth to be Christ and to let Jesus Christ continue his life and mission in us:
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…. my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.
By Baptism we “became Christ.” The words are St. Augustine’s, speaking to the baptized, “We have become not only Christians, but Christ. Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!” Our first work on earth is to do all we can to let the life of grace grow in us, until we come “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” In the measure that we are “immersed” in the mind and will and heart of Christ, Jesus can act with us, in us and through us as he desires to continue his saving, transforming mission on earth. 3
When we accepted his divine life in Baptism, presenting our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” we accepted to let Jesus extend his resurrection by coming to live in us as in his own body and continue in and through us his work on earth as Prophet, Priest and King. We have no other goal in life except Christ’s goal. We live to let him live in us. We work to let him work in us. The only fulfillment we seek is that “life to the full” he came to give. The only reward we look forward to is “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Jesus said, “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work.” This is the only reward that lasts forever, and it is the satisfaction of all desire, human and divine. So it is only logical that Paul should say, “To me, life is Christ, and death is gain.” 4
If we are wise, we live for what we die for. This is plain logic, pure and simple. We live to let Christ live in us. To die is not to die, because Christ is our life and Christ cannot die. That is why for us “living is Christ and dying is gain.” To think like this is to think like God.
How does the coming of Jesus change my whole goal in life? When I change my goal, do I see everything else in a different light? What priorities change?
Write down, for exactitude, what you are living for. Make it God’s work.
1 See Pope Paul VI, On Evangelization in the Modern World, nos. 14,21, 26, 41, and the statement of the worldwide Synod of Bishops in 1971 that “action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” Found in the introduction to “Justice in the World” in Synod of Bishops, United States Catholic Conference Publications Office.
2 Note: we will be reading Philippians through the 28th Sunday of Year A. 3 John Paul II quotes Augustine in The Splendor of Truth, no. 21. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 795, 2782; Ephesians 4:13. 4 Romans 12:1; John 10:10; 1Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 22:12. Read 1Corinthians 3: 9-23.