For Me to Live is Christ

Sunday September 20, 2020 The Twenty fifth Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s reading: The First Shall Be Last and the Last First

Psalm 145:1-3; 8-18, Isaiah 55:6-9, Philippians 1:20-27, Matthew 20:1-16

Today’s reading in Psalm 145 sings the praises of the Lord’s character. The Almighty is merciful, gracious, and good. God is the universal provider, sustainer, and champion. He is righteous and kind in all His ways. Sounds great, but if you turn on the news, you’ll get a different picture. There is no escaping the reports of violence, scarcity, and suffering. Where is God in all of this? The answer can be found in the core of our reading in verses 10-13, where the Lord focuses on the better world of His kingdom to come.  To many, enduring the wait for heaven only supports the status quo and is no answer at all. We need action now! As Karl Marx said, “…religion is the opiate of the people.” With this as their rallying cry, many turn their backs on the Almighty and look to government to ease their sufferings. They want their leaders to straighten out the problems of society and make this world a better place to live.  Their attempts to create some degree of heaven on earth often fail. Mankind needs a different approach to deal with its misery. In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah 55:8-9, God tells us that He doesn’t think like we do, act like we do, and has heaven’s perspective on our situation. Maybe it’s time to have a little faith, go back, and listen to what the Lord has to say. After all, He is the greatest “out of the box” thinker of all time.

Curiously enough, in our gospel story in Matthew 20:1-16, the laborers in God’s vineyard accuse Him of not being fair. The Lord reprimands these grumbling workers as they have no reason to complain. He treated them justly. In pointing to the other workers, who didn’t put in a full day and received the same wages, the Lord shows that He is also gracious. So, with God, there is justice (fairness) and there is grace. The parable concludes with the strange statement that the first shall be last and the last first. This principle has many applications. To start, salvation is a gift of grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You can’t earn it. It is priceless! Believing workers will serve the Lord in this world in different ways with varying degrees of difficulty, suffering, and duration, but heaven is the payoff for all of them and frankly, more than any of us deserve. The other reference of the first being last comes from the parable of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31. In those days, people thought the wealthy and powerful had the inside tract with the Almighty. Jesus, on the contrary, says how impossible it was for them to ever enter the kingdom of heaven. Their stuff gets in the way. The first of this world will be the last in the next one. He also shatters the opposite assumption that when we give up everything for Him, somehow, God owes us. Jesus promises blessings with a holy life and…persecutions. He stresses that the real action is in the next world. It is obvious that heaven’s value system is different than ours. If we are going to live this upside-down world that we call Christianity, we need a new understanding to grasp it. St. Paul helps us out in our reading today in Philippians 1:20-27.

Paul had more than his share of hardships in serving the Lord. In his letter to the Corinthians, we get a rare glimpse of the sufferings that he had endured for the gospel’s sake (2 Corinthians 11:24-29). It is enough to make anyone quit being a disciple. Our epistle to the Philippians starts with the key to the Apostle’s dedication to the mission field: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In the rest of our reading, he mulls over the prospects of being with the Lord in death verses the necessity of the work at hand for Christ’s church. It’s a toss-up! His “should I stay, or should I go” argument concludes with this: Heaven can wait. I’m needed here! So, he is more than willing to continue working the longer day in God’s vineyard, as in our gospel story, for the same pay as others (heaven), because his eyes are on Christ and not himself. He sees the eternal value in what he is doing. Who’s arguing about wages now?

St. Paul has gone on to his reward and, make no mistake, there are rewards in heaven for discipleship. The real importance is on living for Christ now. If you place yourself first in this life, you are last in God’s eyes. Instead of saving your life, you will lose it (Matthew 16:24-26). The Lord wants us to be His workers in the fields of our day to day routines. With the corporal and spiritual works of mercies as our guide, we may not save the world, but we can make our part of it more heavenly. Living for Christ will show that instead of religion being a narcotic of despair, it is in fact, the elixir of life!  People will see that the God of Psalm 145 is real and listen to the Lord’s appeal in our reading in Isaiah 55:6-7:

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

The gospel will be believed! Souls will be saved! There will be more workers in the fields of our God for a better world and salvation thereafter. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers to His field. Pray also, that when it’s all over, you won’t be last…when the saints go marching in.

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