God is always waiting to be gracious to us

Now, my guess is that some of us in the church are feeling like those workers and are ready to grumble a bit. It's not really fair, is it, that the ones who work one hour get the same as those who work the whole day, and in the terrible heat of the day. Well, I hope by the time you leave, you'll be ready to give up grumbling and really hear what God is trying to tell us today, because it's all about God's love.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalms 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a
Full text of the readings

The three lessons today instruct us in various ways as to what the love of God really is, and so we have to listen carefully to understand this. ... But it does seem natural that we would grumble a bit, just as those workers did. But again, if we listen deeply to the Scripture lessons, all three of them today, we'll understand better how God's love is behind all of this.

First of all, if we turn to the lesson from Isaiah: Here is a passage where the prophet is urging the people to return from their exile, even though they've been unfaithful. They have fallen away from their Jewish practices. They've turned to pagan idols. They've taken up with foreign peoples against God's rule, so they're hesitant to come back because they're afraid.

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But here's what Isaiah, speaking for God, says: "Seek God while God may be found. Call to God now while God is near. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts." What God is telling us: God has a whole different way.

And in another part of Isaiah, in Chapter 30, Isaiah, in the same set of circumstances where the people have disobeyed God -- they've gone to war against God's will, they're afraid to come back -- but Isaiah says, "God is waiting to be gracious to you." See, God is just waiting to love them, to be gracious, and that's repeated in different ways. For example, in the story of the prodigal son, the father is out there looking for the son, waiting for him to come back so he can love him, forgive him.

See, that's the way God is. God is always waiting to be gracious to us. God's love -- well, it's put by John in the first letter of St. John, where he says, "How did the love of God appear among us? God sent Jesus, God's son, into this world, that we might have life through him. And this is love; not that we loved God, but that God first loved us and sent Jesus into this world that we might have life through him."

See, God is always waiting to be gracious to us. That's what this lesson tells us, the first lesson, and then St. John. But also the Gospel lesson, if we listen to it carefully. It's the same thing, really. What God is trying to show the people to whom Jesus told this parable and is saying to us today, "I have first loved you." See, we tend to want to put our relationship to God in a way that we feel we merit something. We earn God's love, we earn the gifts that God pours into our lives. Not true; God first loved us -- not before we ever did a thing, or before we ever did a thing. God first loved us; God loved us into existence.

God continues to love us every moment of our existence. God supports us, maintains us in existence. Every gift we have is a gift from God, and it all comes to us first. We don't earn that love of God, so we should simply be rejoicing in the fact that God loves me. And if we can experience that, it will change our whole life, especially our whole relationship with God. It's not something we earn, not something we merit. God is simply waiting to be gracious to us whenever we turn toward God.

And that needs to be played out in our everyday lives, because Jesus tells us, or God tells us, "As I have loved you, you must love one another." See, just as God reaches out always in love to us first, we have to learn to reach out in love to others. And isn't that what Pope Francis is doing within our church today? He, a while ago, he called, he said, "The church has to be like a field hospital. It's a place where people come who are wounded, who are needy, who are ill, and in need of healing."

That's what the church needs to be so we welcome people into our midst. We don't push them away because they've disobeyed this law or that law; we draw them in. Two Sundays ago, Pope Francis carried out, or performed, weddings for 20 couples. I don't know if you've read about it or heard about it, but it's amazing in this way: He didn't set up a whole bunch of rules that the people had to observe or maintain, or follow certain disciplines in order to be part of that group.

According to what has been written about it, some of the couples married by the pope had already lived together, and one had a grown child. Some were in second marriages. Pope Francis welcomes them, draws them in to show us that our church has to be a church that is a church of welcoming, of love -- that we draw people to ourselves first of all because they see us loving one another, and then because we reach out in love to others.

Do you remember back when you were in high school -- I'm talking especially to the reunion classes here -- when you had retreats, vocation retreats? It was always about priests, nuns and brothers, right? Whoever thought the main vocation in the church is the vocation of marriage? That's really the most important vocation. Do you know why? Because this is the vocation where we carry out, you who are married, carry out in a special way more than us who aren't, the way of love -- God's way of love.

Probably you don't remember because it was so many years ago, but here's the prayer that was said for those who are married. We pray, "God, you have made the bond of marriage a holy mystery, a symbol of the love of Jesus for his church." See, a love that's without limit, a love that's unconditional, a love that's faithful. That marriage, the sacrament, is a symbol of that.

Or here: "Hear our prayers now for Joseph and Mary," whoever. "With faith in you and in each other, they pledge their love today. May their lives always bear witness to the reality of that love." See, people who are married have a responsibility to carry out their vocation, that their lives always give witness to that love to Jesus that God has for us -- a love ... that's unconditional, a love that's not merited, a love that's always there.

And don't we need that kind of witness in our world today? We're very much aware recently of domestic violence because of what's happening among professional athletes. Terrible domestic violence, but it doesn't just go on there among athletes. It happens elsewhere in other homes. And we're also aware that we live in a culture of violence in our country, a culture that's built on hate, brings about violence. We live in a world where we're so quick to go to war, to hate, to kill, against God's word, against what God is teaching us today about God's love and how we have to be witnesses to that love.

And so each of us, I hope, will listen deeply to the Scriptures this morning and understand that God is teaching us how God loves us, always loves us, always is waiting to love us, to be gracious to us. And then if we experience that love, we try to reach out in love to one another in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our parish community, in our country, in our world.

If we truly lived as witnesses to the love that God has for us, then what Jesus intended when he told that parable, we would really understand more completely the reign of God, and we would be helping to bring that reign of God about -- where God's love would be there for everyone, all people of all nations, all races. And the reign of God would be breaking forth in our midst.

[Homily given at St. Alphonsus Church in Dearborn, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for Sept. 21, 2014

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