At the outset of this week’s reflection it is helpful to remind ourselves of the real meaning of one section in both versions of the Creed we proclaim as our basic profession of faith. This is section when we confess our belief
in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Here we are not professing faith in theCATHOLIC Church but, rather, in the CHURCH of Christian believers which is worldwide.
Then, we must be aware of Matthew’s plan and focus for his record of the Good News. We have seen that the apostle has, firstly, outlined the nature of the
KINGDOM. Then he proceeded to outline the Lord’s formation of the Church which is at the service of the Kingdom. We have now begun to read Matthew’s final major thrust which is theUNIVERSALISM of the Kingdom. The Church is catholic because its very purpose if to serve the kingdom which is universal.
TODAY’S GOSPEL READING [MATTHEW 20: 1 – 16]
begins with a simple but vivid picture of the never-ending and basic MISSION of the Church at the service of the kingdom. The householder of our Gospel can easily become a powerful sign of the Church constantly seeking out new additions to the household. “The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.” He went out again “about the third hour … (and) going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour … and about the eleventh hour.”
The number of labourers required is not the issue. What needs to be first seen and appreciated is that there are always people around who are searching for God, waiting for someone with an immediate desire to seek them out and point them in a precise, specific and clear direction – “you go into the vineyard, too.” This is the exact message repeated on each occasion the householder goes out actually LOOKING FOR PEOPLE – not statistics nor converts! He does not place an advert in the local baker’s shop or a ‘labourers for hire’ sign at the entrance to the vineyard. I suppose, however, that even that is an improvement on a notice which states – NO VACANCIES! I fear that too often this is the unwritten message communicated by too many of the churches of the CHURCH.
Secondly, we must recognise that our Gospel emphasises that the Church’s primary focus in its service of the kingdom is MISSION – not maintenance. The householder went out again and again – looking for and seeking out. I personally see this as an almost perfect description of the word outreach. However, there is one particularly important element to be appreciated. This is the fact that the householderINVITED. He did not badger, bully or threaten with hell fire and damnation if the offer was not accepted. Matthew does not tell us whether each person approached responded positively or not. He does tell us that the householder was persistent in the outreach made. However, TODAY’S PSALM [145 or 144] confirms that “the Lord is close to all who call him, and call on him in truth.” In other words the outreach of mission does not ‘win them all’. Yet, those who are genuinely and honestly searching – calling on him in truth – will respond positively.
Our Gospel reading adds an all-important element to our efforts at missionary outreach. This is the attitude, response and reaction of those who from the beginning or an early stage are already involved in the vineyard. Hear the complaint – “these last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” Are we really welcoming of newcomers into our worshipping community? How willing are we to invite and encourage them to integrate their talents into a community which is focussed on mission and outreach? We are not a real church if we merely want to ‘consume’ what we personally want and prefer. We are only real when we ourselves participate in the mission and are eager to empower newcomers to participate with us in the same outreach – and rejoice when a newcomer is better equipped to assist or even replace us in a particular outreach.
The universalism of mission we have referred to cannot be achieved if, as we mentioned some weeks ago, our church remains a boat safely berthed in the harbour. The Church must serve its Mission. A church without a mission is not a Church!
All that we have said and considered this week points to two basic truths of faith. Both are outlined in TODAY’S OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [ISAIAH 55: 6 – 9]. Firstly, “seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him when he is near.” The Lord cannot be found or called upon when he has been securely camouflaged within a rigid structure of an uninviting focus on maintenance. Secondly, we need always to see beyond our own personal preferences and conveniences – “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.“