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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

Those who choose to live lives of faith, choose to live with tension. That’s certainly clear from today’s three readings. Instead of dealing with either/ors, they’re constantly forced to cope with both/ands.


Isaiah 55:6-9
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a

Those who choose to live lives of faith, choose to live with tension. That’s certainly clear from today’s three readings. Instead of dealing with either/ors, they’re constantly forced to cope with both/ands.

Nowhere in Scripture is this stated more emphatically than in our Deutero-Isaiah passage. “Seek Yahweh while he may be found, call him while he is near. . . . As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Scholars refer to this phenomenon as God’s simultaneous “imminence and transcendence.” In other words, God’s as close to us as our breath; yet as far from us as night is from day. No matter which presence we experience today, only God knows which one we’ll experience tomorrow.

Today’s pericope from Matthew has bothered me since, as a child, I heard it proclaimed every year in church. It’s totally unfair! How can anyone justify paying someone who works one hour the same amount of money another person earns for working a full day? (My father, a strong union man, would, from personal experience, always remind us kids, “That’s why you need to unionize. If you don’t have a union, you’ll always get jerked around like that.)

As “unfair” as the landowner’s actions are, one must appreciate the tension which prompted this unique story, a tension deeply felt by Jewish Christians.

These faithful Israelites had followed the 613 Mosaic laws their whole lives, looked forward to the arrival of a Messiah, and were among the small minority of their people who recognized Jesus of Nazareth as being that promised savior. Now, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they were receiving the “rewards” to which their years of faithfulness entitled them.

There was just one problem: non-Jews were now being accepted into the Christian community on the same level as they had been accepted. These Gentile-Christians didn’t even know the difference between a lox and a bagel. Yet they were regarded as full-fledged disciples of Jesus. (Reminds me of patiently waiting three years to finally play ping pong in the seminary’s senior rec hall, only to discover on the first day of school that the administration had transformed those glorious precincts into the junior/senior rec hall!)

Matthew’s Jesus simply reminds the gospel readers that at the same time God treats people fairly, God’s also tremendously generous. Those who freely give themselves over to God must learn to live in that biting tension. We follow a God who, though he/she loves us, doesn’t always treat us fairly, especially when we discover how God treats others. That’s just part of the price we pay for being people of faith.

But, as Paul reminds the Philippians, he lives in the midst of an even deeper tension. “I long to depart this life and be with Christ,” he writes, “For that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” Do I pray for God to do what’s good for me, or for what’s good for those around me? Just how much of myself does God expect me to sacrifice for others?

At this point of his life, the Apostle simply wants to be completely one with the risen Jesus, the oneness that only comes from his physical death. He certainly doesn’t regard that death as an evil. Yet, for the good of others, he’s still here on earth, experiencing all the painful daily deaths a generous Christian life entails. As with all other tensions, there’s no one perfect answer.

None of us can avoid tension in our lives. We just pray that, as Christians, we have the “right” tensions, not a bunch of “wrong” ones.


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