Opening the Word: The inclusive kingdom

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Timothy P O'Malley How seriously do you take Jesus’ final words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19)?

Notice what Our Lord asks of us. We are to baptize all nations. This means that the Gospel — the pronouncement of the advent of the kingdom of God in Christ’s death and resurrection — is intended for every single human being.

And yet, the inclusiveness of the kingdom of God may not be precisely what we desire. Fallen men and women prefer to belong to exclusive societies. Such exclusivity is about power. Setting myself above the hoi polloi, my group can look down with judgment on everyone else who does not belong. If you are to belong to my group, you must really earn it, show yourself worthy of the prestige you are to receive.

September 20 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 55:6-9
Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Phil 1:20-24, 27
Mt 20:1-16

The kingdom of God operates out of different membership rules, Jesus tells us. Laborers arrive at a vineyard starting at dawn. They work all day long. Then, some folks arrive at 9 o’clock, noon, at 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock.

The landowner begins to pay the workers. The recent employees receive a full day’s wage. The dawn crew looks on. If the landowner has given these 5-o’clock workers this kind of cash money, imagine what we are to receive! And yet, everyone receives the full day’s wage.

The dawn workers begin to complain: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat” (Mt 20:12). Notice the nature of their complaint. The last-minute laborers have been made equal to the crew who worked all day. They were not worthy to receive the landowner’s generosity. They are not worthy, unlike us.

The context of Jesus’ preaching is likely the reaction of Jewish leadership to the expansion of the kingdom on the part of Jesus to those who seemed unworthy. And yet, the Scriptures speak not to that context alone but to those of us who have the ears to hear.

Let us be honest. Our parishes can easily become exclusive clubs of the righteous. We set up hierarchies of order where the pretty, the powerful and the rich are treated differently than the rest. We want respectable parish communities.

And yet, Jesus did not come to call the socially and politically respectable alone. He came to announce a kingdom in which the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the homeless — everyone — will be invited to the kingdom of God.

Catholics are uncomfortably inclusive, not because we do not believe in the truth. Rather, our landowner announced that every single man and woman is invited to be a laborer in the vineyard.

To be a laborer in the vineyard requires conversion. But it also requires that you must be invited in the first place. And the generosity of the landowner is so excessive, so beyond what we think anyone deserves, that we must invite every single man and woman to this gratuitous labor.

Power and prestige are not the currency of the kingdom of God. If our parishes are infected with this country-club Christianity, we must experience conversion to Jesus’ way of thought. We must leave our comfortable confines and announce to the hungry, the thirsty, the drug-dealer, the politician who supports abortion and the philandering spouse that the kingdom of God is at hand.

And there’s work to do.

And they’re invited.

And they matter to the kingdom, even if they arrive at 5:55 p.m.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Timothy P. O'Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.