Remarkable grace

Watching for the morning of September 21

Year A

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 20 / Lectionary 25

File:Byzantine agriculture.jpg

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Byzantine Gospel of 11th century, BnF, Cod. gr. 74 Paris, National Library

We have jumped to the 20th chapter in Matthew and we are now just a few verses away from Jerusalem. We skipped Jesus’ talking (again) about divorce, his embrace (again) of children, and Jesus (again) talking about wealth – this time his encounter with the rich man (“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me.”) Now Jesus is talking once more about God’s radical grace that goes out to all people, not just those who deserve it.

The first reading, from the short story about the runaway prophet, Jonah, provides the conclusion to the narrative when God forgives the wicked city and Jonah pouts in anger. Still, by means of Jonah’s sympathy for a plant, God seeks to invite him to recognize God’s compassion for all people – even Israel’s most brutal enemies.

The psalmist sings praise to this God of mercy for his abundant goodness – perhaps, like the rest of us, without realizing the full impact of what he is saying.

And Paul, writing to his beloved congregation in Philippi, as he faces the possibility of his death, invites us to live a life worthy of Christ, the incarnation of divine mercy.

It should be a Sunday full of the sweetness of God’s compassion and kindness, but “God’s ways are not our ways,” and we are often troubled by the notion that God does not deal with us according to some system of wages, but according to his own goodness.

There are times that this comes to us as great news. But sometimes we are much more like Jonah, or the workers who have borne the heat of the day, and think we deserve more than others. May God be as persistent with us as he was with Jonah.

The Prayer for September 21, 2014

God of Grace,
your mercy knows no bounds;
your salvation is offered to all.
Renew us by your Holy Spirit
that we may walk in the paths of your mercy
and bear your grace to the world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for September 21, 2014

First Reading: Jonah 3:10 – 4:11
“When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. 4:1But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” – Jonah sought to avoid his mission to the Assyrian capital for fear God would forgive the city that had destroyed Israel. Now, when this has happened, God seeks to help Jonah understand his compassion for its people.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:1-8
“I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.” – Psalm 145 is an acrostic hymn, each line beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet, in which the poet sings God’s praise “from A to Z.”

Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
– In prison in Rome, Paul is faced with the possibility of his execution and writes to his beloved congregation in Philippi to encourage them to remain faithful to their Lord, living “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” – As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he tells this story comparing the reign of God with a vineyard owner who chooses to relate to his workers not on the basis of what they deserve, but on the basis of his goodness.

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