Completely Other

This Sunday’s First Reading presents a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Chapter 55:6-9 speaks a message far louder than the words themselves.

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near.

7 Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

9 As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Hidden between the words and phrases is an enticing concept: God is completely Other. Who we are as humans is definable in some sense, but God is beyond that realm. Ever present, he is not easily visible. Clearly, His ways and His thoughts defy human imagination. And so it is that over the centuries and millennia, the sharp insight of Thomas Aquinas gains audience: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary; to one without faith, no explanation is possible.” In a world swirling with uncertainty, groaning with tragedies, bleeding with bitterness, there is a quiet faith sustaining hope and promise, a sense of presence.

Sustaining that faith means nurturing it personally, taking a moment to acknowledge Other or quietly praying the gentle cadence of the Hail Mary or the Our Father or the Sign of the Cross. Each whisper is a consciousness of a dimension that exists but may not be understood or explicable to one without faith. But that need not change the reality of faith or even challenge it. Faith is founded on trust and lives in hope, has the courage to entertain doubt and the depth to be explored. And it is the second reading of the day that highlights a second aspect of living faith: team work, community. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians opens with the words, “Christ will be magnified in my body whether by life or death…” and closes with, “I shall find that you are standing firm and united in spirit, battling, as a team with a single aim, for the faith of the gospel.

In other words, we cannot live this alone. We need one another to uplift, encourage, challenge and comfort, confront engage and grow. Believers are in this together at all times and especially in crisis. Sustaining faith means being aware of and maintaining community connections, reaching out and being reached out to. It means finding strength and courage in one another, entrusting the process of living to a wider community, sacrificing the self-centered certainties to something other, all in pursuit of the more. It is about living a message of respect for one another, for creation itself, in a generosity of spirit that defies human conventions.

That is where the Gospel reading, Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard, comes in. In paying all the laborers equal wages in spite of the fact of various start times, the owner of the vineyard completely defies human imagination about fairness or justice. In so many ways, the story epitomizes what “other” means. It is left to the person of faith to discover that Other in each day, each person, each experience. And slowly, with practice deepening convictions, Other becomes more real, more visible and even tangible in the world. For those who have faith, and those who do not, the world becomes a better place. Maybe that was the whole purpose from the very beginning.

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