Reflection on This Week’s Readings

LEFTOVERS

The last laborers to join the vineyard had spent their day being picked over. They were the hiring process leftovers. Like the last kids remaining in a gym class team selection, these laborers were for one reason or another deemed less valuable workers by the other landowners. Perhaps they were less physically capable than others. Maybe their strengths were not easily visible. Not being hired for work that day, they were standing around with no purpose or potential for growth.

But we have a generous landowner who does not overlook anyone. This landowner spends his entire day scouring the market for those who have been left behind and securing a place for them in his vineyard. He gives them value and meaning. Jesus will not rest until every lost and idle bystander has a place in the kingdom of heaven.

This radical generosity scandalizes the system that rewards people based on their merits and outputs. But Jesus rewards people of all abilities and work ethics equally. In God’s commonwealth, the leftover workers have as much value as those chosen first.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was keenly aware of how people with intellectual disabilities were defined by what they couldn’t do. She wanted to provide opportunities for them to develop physical fitness, display courage, and find joy on the playing field. Her vision grew into the Special Olympics movement. This inclusive and expansive glimpse into the kingdom of heaven celebrates the athletic achievements of those who are often excluded from the vineyard.

In worship, we practice leaning into Jesus’ vision as we gather around the table. Regardless of our status or position, we are all on equal footing at Christ’s meal. We are given the same portions of bread. We drink from the same cup. It does not matter if we arrived late or early, young or old, grateful or ungrateful. Jesus has invited each of us here. We have not been overlooked. We have been given our work for this day.

From sundaysandseasons.com.

READINGS FOR THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

The standard Sundays continue reading Matthew, now in the fifth section of the gospel. Today begins a four-week semicontinuous reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Once again, Matthew balances his earlier emphasis on righteous living with the assurance of God’s forgiveness. The allegory contradicts the commonplace religious idea that in the afterlife, heaven or hell will be assigned as deserved. In this allegory, God disrupts our notions of reward and punishment by surprising mercy. We receive this mercy already at the table.
The conclusion of the short story of Jonah is chosen as a parallel to the allegory of the laborers in the vineyard. Like us, Jonah begrudges forgiveness for his enemies, and perhaps like us, he cares more about his own comfort than about the lives of 120,000 other people. Perhaps the reader can make clear the poignant irony that this brilliantly-written story intends.
Today’s excerpt from Philippians introduces the themes of the letter: joy in the faith and a call for unity. One connection with today’s gospel is that only because of God’s unending forgiveness for both sides of every quarrel can we accept one another and live in unity.

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