Who is our God?

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)
I was reading an article about some psychologists who posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds: “What does love mean?” Here are three answers from these youngsters:
“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.”
         I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Really!
          But I liked this one best of all from a four year old whose next door neighbor recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the old gentleman cry, the little boy went into his neighbor’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.” When his mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said: “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”  Sometimes, the being there is the best word we can say!
Today Jesus tells a parable or story about “workers who are picking grapes in a vineyard.”   Some workers are hired at the beginning of the day while others are hired at the end of the day.  And yet all of them receive the same day’s wage.   Now from a human point of view, we might complain: “this isn’t fair. Why shouldn’t those who worked 12 hours be paid more than those who only worked one hour?”   And yes, you’re right. From a human point of view, it’s not fair. But the parable is not about fairness.  It’s about generosity: God’s generosity to us.  Think about it. God is incredibly generous with his gifts to us.  And God challenges us to be generous with our gifts, especially with our gifts of time and talent and yes, even with our treasure if we can.
I would like to tell you a football story about generosity.  It’s about a mother of several children who was determined to keep her family together when her husband died unexpectedly.  She worked different jobs:  waiting on tables, cleaning offices, working in a bakery and delivering coal in Pittsburgh where the family livedThis mother possessed one great treasure—love; and she was generous to her children with that love.  She couldn’t give them money but what she gave them was love.  And what she taught them was virtue, especially perseverance and courage and self-discipline.  
Now one of her children wanted to play football in college but none of the universities to which he applied wanted him.  They said he was too little and too slow.  So he played for a small college where he excelled.  Then he wanted to play professional football and so he tried out for his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers but was cut from the team.
But this young adult didn’t give up on his dream.  He didn’t complain about his size; he didn’t feel sorry for himself.   No. Here’s what he did:  he played in a league that paid him practically “nothing” a game so that he could improve his skills; and he continued to write and telephone NFL teams in hopes of an opportunity to try out.  After seven months of asking, he received an invitation to try out for the Baltimore Colts.
The rest is sports history.  Johnny Unitas, nicknamed “the golden arm,” was considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.  And what made him great: a generous mother who sacrificed so much so that she could hold her family together; a mother who taught her children virtues such as perseverance, courage and self-discipline; and a son, who imbued with these virtues, never gave up on his dream to play professional football. We need more models like this in the NFL today.     
The point of the story is simple enough: that mother’s generosity and sacrifice can inspire all of us to be generous with what we have, especially with our time and talent.   For this is indeed what today’s parable is all about: generosity.
Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Philippi in Greece speaks about his affection for this community. Paul here writes from prison at Ephesus in Turkey.  His life hangs in the balance.  He doesn’t know whether he’s going to be executed or set free.  He’s torn between wanting to die so that he can be with Jesus Christ and wanting to live so that he can continue ministering to the communities he founded in the Mediterranean.  But in the end Paul is confident that he will be set free from prison and urges the Philippians to live a life worthy of the Gospel.   And Paul challenges us to do the same.
The Word of God from Isaiah takes us back to the 6th century before Jesus (the 500s).  That century was a catastrophe for ancient Israel.   And in this passage, the Hebrews are about to be released from their captivity so that they can return to their homeland. The author challenges the Hebrews to seek God in their everyday lives, to call upon God while he is near to them. And then the author goes on to say that God’s ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not ours.  The author may be inviting you and me to ask the question: When you and I hear the word “God,” what do we immediately think of? A God of do’s and don’ts, a God of thunder and lightning?  The scriptures, the Bible, give us many splendid images of God.  The Hebrew bible speaks of God as a walking companion in Genesis, a God who is as tender as a mother in Isaiah.  “Can a mother forget her child?  And even if she should, I will never forget you.”  These scriptures also speak about a God who wants to share his divine wisdom with us.   And in the New Testament, the image of God in the parables of the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son are balanced with the image of God in the parable of the Last Judgment.  Yes, there are many splendid biblical images of God—but all these images fail to capture fully the inexhaustible reality of God.
         Our faith proclaims that our God is a God of relationships. And so what kind of a relationship do we have with God?  I like to think that most people do have a relationship with God, perhaps more subconscious than conscious. And why do I say this?  Because we are forever trying to make sense out of our own lives, trying to find answers to those questions people often ask in moments of crises, for example, the sudden, unexpected death of a parent, spouse or child, and so forth. In moments such as these, people often do ask the most basic questions in life.  Does my life have meaning?   Where is my life going?  Does anyone care what happens to me?  These are religious questions, questions we cannot help but try to answer.  In fact, the word religion etymologically means to tie one’s life together, to make sense of our lives.
Our faith proclaims that there is an awesome power beyond us, a God who is responsible not only for this magnificent universe of ours but also for our own very lives. And this awesome God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and is alive among us by the power of the Spirit
This is the same God the ancient Hebrews experienced at Mount Sinai, the God who freed them from their oppressors in Egypt, who entered into a covenant with them, summed up in that simple but profound statement: You are my people, I am your God.  A God always faithful despite our unfaithfulness. Yes, this God revealed his face to us in Jesus of Nazareth. In and through Jesus, crucified and risen, we possess within ourselves God’s own life God’s divine, eternal life.  And this same God empowers us to reach out in love and care to one another and in reaching out to one another, God empowers us to reach up to God himself.
We have much to think about today in light of the Word of God: The Gospel challenges us to live a life of generosity; Paul challenges us to live a life worthy of the Gospel; And Isaiah challenges us to seek our God in the ordinariness of our daily lives. May the Word of God inspire us to take up these three challenges today.

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