Chapter Talk – 25th Sunday of the Year – September 20, 2020, cycle-A
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways’, says the Lord” (Is 55:8). Well, these words from the prophet Isaiah should be humbling to say the least! If the way we think, or the many thoughts that flood our consciousness are not God’s thoughts, then how do we come to know the mind and heart of God? Added to this, we believe we know ways and means and yet often our ways are not God’s ways! How do we come to recognize in truth God’s ways? How do we sense that an idea or thought is from God, from the small still voice of the Spirit? Do we even ponder or reflect enough, asking ourselves what is God’s way or God’s thought on what to do in a specific situation? Are we ready to surrender our thoughts, to descend beneath the flow of thoughts, to dwell in the silence and to wait for the Word to speak?
The gospel parable of the workers in the vineyard offers insight into these questions. Those who come early for work in the vineyard and those who come much later, all receive the same wage. Obviously the first human response that pops up is ‘this is not fair’. ‘I worked longer and still I get the same wage as my sister or brother here who worked far less’. How often do we get caught in this type of inner dialogue of comparison with others, of feeling how much I did and yet my neighbor did far less and gets the same as I? When we do a service or a work, what is motivating us? Is it for what we will get back or is it a work given entirely for God and for my neighbor, and that in itself is the reward?
The Jesuit scripture scholar, Fr. John Donahue, comments on this parable: “The power of the parables [is] to orient by disorienting” (Hearing the Word of God, p.111)…So our thoughts, our ways of seeing, are turned upside down. To orient the compass of the heart and mind, by first being disoriented! To be ‘disoriented’ in mind and heart, allows the new of God’s way to have a chance to break in and to address us, to speak beyond our control, beyond our assumptions, beyond our categories and comparisons of what appears fair: those who worked very little get the same amount as though who worked the entire day! It seems to me that this is a fresh approach to look at how the parables that Jesus teaches with, are disorienting to our thoughts, of what we think is fair, true and just. With God’s mercy and love all these human limits on our thinking and understanding are shattered. God’s love and mercy will not be restricted by our very limited and hard hearted ways of seeing and responding.
The power of this parable to turn upside down our approach and attitudes is beautifully expressed by Pope Francis. He writes: “With this parable, Jesus wants to open our hearts to the logic of the Father’s love which is free and generous. It is about allowing oneself to be astonished and fascinated by the ‘thoughts’ and the ‘ways’ of God which, as the Prophet Isaiah recalls, are not our thoughts and not our ways (cf Is 55:8). Human thoughts are often marked by selfishness and personal advantages, and our narrow and contorted paths are not comparable to the wide and straight streets of the Lord. He uses mercy — do not forget this: He uses mercy —, he forgives broadly, is filled with generosity and kindness which he pours forth on each of us. He opens for everyone the boundless territory of his love and his grace, which alone can give the human heart the fullness of joy” (Angelus, September 24, 2017). Pope Francis states that the ‘logic’ of God’s love and mercy is wide and boundless…God’s logic is not our rational logic, where we evaluate in quantitative terms, or operate out of strict principles where there is no room for deviation, or our mental ‘logic’ refuses to broaden our approach and understanding. ‘God’s ways of seeing are not our ways’, says the prophet Isaiah. Can we pray daily in whatever we are facing for the grace to see and think like God sees and thinks?
One final comment: Pope Francis says our thoughts ‘are often marked by selfishness and personal advantages’. In terms of how we walk, he says, our paths are often ‘narrow and contorted’. If we could live with this insight each day would it not slowly help us to begin seeing through the wider horizon of God’s ways and thoughts, which are broad and unconditional in love and mercy? Our hearts would be lighter, and our steps forward would have a bounce to them because we would be given the grace of knowing we are acting more like Christ would act, and we would know more the freedom and salvation that is daily offered to us. ‘The boundless territory of God’s love and grace’ awaits our willingness to surrender our ‘logic’ to the logic of God’s thoughts and ways. Dear sisters and brother, we need to be disoriented in heart and mind in order to be oriented in the ways and thinking of God.
Sr Kathy DeVico, Abbess