Is God ever far away? I ask that question because the first reading (Isa. 55.6-9) encourages us to seek God while he is near. But God is always near. The French theologian and mystic Teilhard de Chardin muses that God is as close as the next word on our lips, the next stroke of the worker’s pick-axe, the next stitch from the sewer’s needle. We have only to turn to God and God is there. Yet sometimes God can seem far away. This might be caused by some desolation that we have to pass through; sometimes, very differently, God seems far away because our self-centredness has obscured him. Either way, there is a journey to be made, in faith, until once more we realise the closeness of God. So it does, after all, make sense to ‘seek the Lord while he is still to be found’. To know God when he seems close is to be given the faith and grace that we will need when he seems far away. At such times we need to take comfort from the realisation that although God may seem far away, in reality he is always there.
In the second reading (Phil. 1.20-24, 27) we find St Paul in sombre mood. Perhaps there is even a trace of self-pity in this passage, with his insistence that he would be happy to die. Perhaps, on the other hand, Paul intends to shock his listeners. He tells them that life is dear – but his faith is dearer. Would we be prepared to give up our life rather than renounce Christ? We should also be struck by the strength of Paul’s faith. The power of death may be great but the power of Christ’s love is greater. Those who are in Christ will be taken through death into the fullness of life and the joy of Christ’s loving presence in eternity.
Eternity is there in the gospel too (Matt. 20-1-6).The vineyard is an image often used in the Old Testament to describe the ancient People of God. The parable tells us that even the latecomers who join the vineyard team are rewarded. The message is that not only Jews can hope for salvation, but also the many people who have come to hear the message of God’s love through Christ. God is reaching out to them too. This is Christ’s message – that God is generous. Many more people are being added to the chosen people. There is a message for us individually also, and it links to the first reading with its reminder that we should seek God while we can. The message is that it is never too late to repent, never too late to turn to God, never too late to begin again, never too late to make an act of trust in the love and mercy of God. Lifetime saints and last-minute Christians are all welcomed by God. There is also a radical equality in this parable. We are all equal in the sight of God who gives us each the same reward: his love, his mercy, and abundant life.