I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | To be an effective evangelist, allow Jesus to transform your inner being

Every time God speaks to us through His word, it's obvious that He desires to share with us His inner life so that we might become more like Him. We see this in the three readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In the first reading from Isaiah, God tells us: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call Him while He is still near." We seek the Lord when we relinquish sinful behavior. "Let the scoundrel forsake his way and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy."

God's mercy is His love, and He desires to share the wealth of His inner life of the Trinity. God rations neither the gifts of the Spirit nor the gift of His mercy. He has far more mercy than we have sins; therefore, He is willing to make a blockbuster trade with us: total forgiveness for every sin we turn in for mercy.

He emphasizes this when He says, "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts." So, if ever you thought that God was stingy in doling out mercy, you are invited to think like God thinks. Besides, thinking like God thinks is more fun than thinking like we have always thought. The Gospel invites us to more of the same.

In the letter to the Philippians, St. Paul celebrates the fact that He belongs to God and it's up to God to call the shots. His personal preference is to enter eternity as soon as possible, but because he belongs totally to Christ, he leaves it up to Christ as to when his ministry is over. Paul has a sense that God isn't done using him, which is OK with Paul, because he trusts God's goodness.

The Gospel presents a number of conundrums. Matthew was a tax accountant and knew all about contracts and legality. Obviously, the landowner is Jesus, looking for disciples to help harvest the kingdom for His Father, so He goes out engaging potential workers in contracts.

Since we contract our daily labor in exchange for daily food, we readily get the details of the agreements the landowner makes with the workers. He went out at dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon and at five to hire workers, agreeing to pay them what was just.

When it became time to pay them, he paid each a full day's wage, beginning with those hired last. When those hired at dawn got the same wage as those hired at five o'clock, they began to grumble, because they thought they should get more, even though they got what they had agreed to at dawn when they began their work.

Now we need to take a step back to reflect on what is really going on in this parable. The landowner is up long before dawn, organizing the day's work. He repeatedly goes out to look for more workers.

He seems less concerned with bringing in the harvest than with providing for the spiritual and material welfare of the workers. First of all, work provides each of the laborers with profound meaning. Not only did the landowner offer them the dignity of providing food for their families, but they are also participating in a larger effort of bringing in the harvest.

But at another level, the landowner is also concerned with the inner thought life of the laborers. When those who were hired first grumbled when they received only a just day's wage, the landowner responded, "My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is thine and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last."

Obviously, Jesus is talking about discipleship and inviting disciples to follow Him and help Him bring in the kingdom. To be effective evangelists, they first have to allow Jesus to transform their inner being. "Take up your cross and follow me." The Son of Man came from the realm of glory and took on our humanity. At the Last Supper, Jesus laid aside His robe and washed the feet of the apostles.

In this parable, Jesus implicitly tells us that if we wish to be His disciples, we need to surrender our lives to Jesus and allow Him to first transform our hearts and purify them of greed, self-centeredness and everything that doesn't reflect the heart of our Savior.

Only then can Jesus use us to evangelize others. Only when others see Jesus' value system alive in our actions, can He use us as living Gospels to give them hope. Simply repeating the words of Jesus doesn't hack it. The people need to see behavior that reflects God's love for them, if they are to have hope. They need to see that living the Gospel brings us incredible joy.

This joy doesn't come about overnight, but it does come about over every day and over every night successively, as we daily pray, reflect on God's words, repent and embrace our daily crosses out of love for Him. The real secret to joy is saying to Jesus, "I hope you are having fun in my life, even when I am not!" 

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