Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Importance of Developing a Divine Perspective on Reality

Kermit the Frog also likes to look out the window when he flies.  Here I think he's looking for Sesame Street.

(Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on September 24, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 55: 6-9; Philippians 1: 20-27; Matthew 20: 1-16a.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Sunday 2017]

When I flew down to Maryland to celebrate my uncle’s funeral Mass two weeks ago, I had a window seat on the airplane.  And so, once we were in the air for a few minutes, I did what I normally do after a few minutes in the window seat: I looked out and tried to figure out where we were (what we were flying over)—and especially where Westerly was.  (I wanted to give you all a little wave.)  Now sometimes I can do that: sometimes I’m able to pick out certain landmarks from the air and tell you exactly what city or town is down below.  I’m able to do that mostly when I’m flying south and we pass over Westerly early in the flight.  But I find that almost impossible to do when I’m flying into Providence.  That’s because the world looks so different from “up there”!  Things that we see “down here” every day take on a different look when our perspective changes from “the horizontal” to “the vertical”.

Which should help us to understand the Lord’s message to us in today’s first reading from Isaiah 55, where he says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

In other words, God’s perspective on the world, from his vantage point heaven, is a lot different from our perspective on the world from our vantage point here on earth!

  • ·         God sees the whole picture; we don’t.
  • ·         God sees how everything in this life—including our sin and our suffering—can work for our good, if we allow it to.  We don’t see that, most of the time.
  • ·         God sees the reality—and the horror—of sin.  We don’t always—which is why we sin.

The challenge of this life (or at least one of the challenges of this life) is to try to see reality from God’s perspective—to the extent that we can on this side of the grave.

Like St. Paul did.  In today’s second reading, for example, from Philippians 1, Paul actually talks about his future physical death as something positive.  He does that because he knows, by faith, that his death will bring him to God.  St. Paul had a divine perspective on dying—as well as a divine perspective on living.  He says there, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.  If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  And I do not know which I shall choose. … I long to be with Christ, for that is far better.  Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”

One way to test whether or not you are developing a divine perspective on things is to ask yourself this question:  In today’s gospel reading, who were the blessed ones?  Who were the real winners in this parable that Jesus tells?  Was it the workers who got the reward for doing next to nothing?  Was it the workers who came in the final hour of the day and did the least amount of work?

No!  Someone with a divine perspective would say that the truly blessed ones here were the ones who worked the longest, the ones who worked the entire day from dawn to dusk.

He’d say that because those who worked all day fulfilled their purpose better and more completely than the others did!  Notice that all the men who were hired that day were “laborers”.  That was their call; that was their purpose: to work in the landowner’s vineyard and bring him good fruit.  The ones who started at dawn did that for the longest period of time—and brought in a lot of great fruit; those who came on board at the very end spent most of their day bored and wasting time and consequently brought in very little good fruit.

Obviously, of course, this parable is a metaphor for life, reminding us that even those who convert on their deathbeds can be saved.

But those who convert at the end will often say, regretfully, “How I wasted all those years!” 

When they say that, they’re right.  For all those previous years they failed to achieve their true purpose: to know, to love and to serve the Lord.  And even though they will go to heaven at the end of it all, the fact that they waited until the 11th hour will probably effect the depth of the beatitude that they will experience there.  Remember, Jesus does distinguish between “the least” and “the greatest” in his Father’s eternal kingdom.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

Coming to see reality from God’s perspective—that is to say, understanding the Lord’s ways and thoughts—is an ongoing process.  No one—including St. Paul—has understood the Lord’s ways and thoughts completely during their time on this earth.  That’s because as human beings we are finite and sinful creatures, while God is infinite and sinless. 

And so, because we don’t see everything the way that God sees it, certain trials and sufferings trouble us.  They trouble us because they don’t make sense from our narrow, human perspective:
  • ·         Why did God allow those two recent hurricanes to do so much damage to the property of so many people in so many different places?
  • ·         Why did God allow that school in Mexico to collapse and kill 19 children during earthquake last week?
  • ·         Why does God allow the killing of the innocent to continue in our world through abortion and euthanasia and genocide?
  • ·         Why did God allow me to get gout last week?  The night I came back from our pilgrimage to Ireland my left big toe began to hurt like it’s never hurt before.  The doctor told me it was gout—which prompted me to turn to God and say, “Lord, I don’t get it.  I go on this pilgrimage to get healed, and I end up getting another cross!  There’s something wrong with this picture, Lord!  That makes no sense.”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.

It’s easy to trust God when you understand the “why” of something; it’s much harder to trust God when you don’t understand the “why”.

Today we should pray for the grace to do both.

I want to close today with a meditation that I’m sure many of you have heard before.  But it bears repeating here, because it reminds us that God is always at work—even in the chaos and confusion of our lives.  The meditation compares the events of this life to the threads of a weaving.  As most of you know, if you look at a weaving from the underside, it looks messy: there’s no pattern to it; threads are hanging from it; it’s not attractive at all.  It’s only when you look at the weaving from the other side (the upper side) that you see how all those different threads have blended together to form a beautiful work of art.

It reminds us that when, by the grace of God, we get to heaven, our vision will finally be perfected, and God’s thoughts and ways will be our thoughts and ways—forever:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.