“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call to him while he is near,” Isaiah the prophet calls out to the people of Judah. “Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”
The Lord’s way is one of mercy. He calls all peoples to share in the life he offers through mercy. As Isaiah continues, he seems to be fully aware that the way of mercy is not the way of the world: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
The Lord invites all of us to life. He offers us happiness and peace, and invites us to share in his love.
In his “Confessions,” St. Augustine (whose feast we celebrated last month) recalls in great detail his longing for meaning and purpose, and his quest for God. The saint first looked to the world, and spent many years seeking answers. It was only after he “found” God that he realized it was in fact God himself who drew Augustine unto him.
A profound experience of God’s mercy led him to this awareness:
“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong — I, misshapen. You were with me, but I was not with you. They held me back far from you, those things which would have no being, were they not in you. You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
Jesus gives us the parable of the generous landowner to help us reflect on the graciousness of God’s mercy and love. By the world’s standards, the landowner is certainly generous beyond measure. Yet by those same standards, he is unfair. The workers who started the day late, working only one hour, received a full-days wages. Their fellow workers, who had worked more (even up to a full day), are outraged at the supposed slight and injustice.
The landowner replies to their concerns. Calling them “friend,” he says, “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 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?”
Jesus concludes the parable by teaching that “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
God invites all to the kingdom of God. He wants all to share the life he offers. The invitation is always present, no matter what our stage or place in life.
The immensity of the life he offers demands a continual deepening of our response. Our lives are transformed by him who calls us into his divine life, and we find life anew in him who loves us.
Augustine describes this experience as a “hunger” or a “longing.” Jesus’ parable calls us to rejoice in the Father’s generosity, for no matter when we were invited to the vineyard, it was through him that we entered. Envy has no place in the kingdom. Rather, Jesus urges us to recognize this generosity, or graciousness, as something beyond our deserving. Whatever we have received, we receive from him who loves, and so we should rejoice whenever we see that graciousness bestowed, upon whomever it is bestowed.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.