Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year Isaiah 55: 6-9; Philippians 1: 20-24 & 27; Matthew 20: 1-6
“Let the wicked man abandon his way, the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn the Lord who is rich in forgiving; for my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways. Yes, the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.”
The Prophet Isaiah’s impassioned plea for repentance must not be understood as the threatened judgment of a distant God, but as an invitation to new life. His words were addressed to a people emerging from the darkness of conquest and exile. Already they had received the reassurance that their time of service had ended, that the God of Israel had redeemed them anew, calling them by name.
“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you…you are precious and honoured in my eyes.” Cf. Isaiah 43:2ff.
At a time when many are taking the first fearful steps from the necessary restrictions of the Covid-19 epidemic, we can begin to understand the underlying fears of those addressed by the prophet Isaiah long ago. As a broken people, returning from exile, they faced the uncertainties of building their lives anew. They were fearful of further destruction, further isolation and rejection.
Isaiah invited such a people to trust in a God whose invitation was so much greater than their fears and anxiety. It was surely in this sense that their Saviour’s thoughts and intentions were so far beyond their past guilt and hidden insecurities.
A fear of rejection is sin’s lasting mark on sinful humanity. The call to repentance is not the threat of judgment, but a call to grace freely given.
As sinners we find it difficult to enter into the wonder of grace freely given. That difficulty is clearly illustrated in the parable of the workers called to the vineyard. Many, on hearing this familiar parable, feel a certain sympathy for those labourers who complained to the landowner that after working for the whole day, they had received no more than those who had worked only one hour at the end of the day.
Underlying the parable is the wonder of God’s grace. It can never be earned, only received with gratitude.
“Why be envious because I am generous.”
May we never cease to rejoice that our relationship with the Father is based not on what we deserve, but on what proceeds from His grace alone.