Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Even though we acknowledge that there are mysteries in our faith that really constitute the heart of our relationship to God, nonetheless we take consolation in the way that the faith often makes eminent sense to us, providing "answers" to life’s problems. For this reason we recommend our belief system to others, assuring them: "try it; you’ll like it", meaning that others will find it meeting many of their life difficulties.
Today’s bible readings, however, call us back to the incontrovertible presence of mysteries that just don’t fit themselves easily into our daily lives.
Isaiah gives shape to God’s role in our experience with the reminder that "…my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…," illustrating the point by noting how distant heaven is from earth.
And St. Paul gives us a peek into his dilemma as he wrestles with the desire to leave this life so as to be with Christ in heaven, but, on the other hand, recognizing that he has some unfinished business here below, amounting to fruitful labor for himself while also being beneficial to others. And Paul ponders which is better for himself.
St. Luke rounds out this puzzling mélange with a parable of the Lord about workmen spending varying amounts of time in a vineyard, while, at day’s end, receiving the exact same compensation. There is the anticipated complaint about the inequity in this transaction, and the unexpected rejoinder from the owner of the land about earlier agreements to this arrangement, and his own role in this project: he "calls the shots".
These are challenging predicaments: are they exceptions to the way faith operates, or its normal procedure? While it may be unsettling to base our lives on an elusive faith, yet it is comforting to have a faith embracing so much more than we can comprehend.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionists community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.