(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: https://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Mass-Blog-for-the-25th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2023.mp3)
A little movie called “The Hiding Place” was released for a limited run in the theaters last month. This stage-to-screen production of a book of the same name by Corrie ten Boom is the story of her family’s work to hide refugees from the Nazis at her home in Holland during World War II. Their home is also the family clock shop, in which they create that secret hiding space for the new friends they find. The film begins with a quotation about where we hide God in our lives: “between the tick and tock of our time on earth.”
These people hiding away in this clock shop are intimidated by time. They hope for a bright future but cling to the sacred pasts of their families in fear of losing them to the war and chaos of the present. Otto, one of the Nazi officers from whom they’re hiding, was once an apprentice in this shop, learning the intricacies of watch repair in hopes of applying that training for his own future. That plan changes as he’s caught up in Hitler Youth movement and moves up quickly in its ranks—to a job calling for the hunting of Jews.
What he and the family of clock makers hiding that quarry from him didn’t expect to find was God—hiding between the tick and tock of their time together.
After the war, the lone survivor from this family (the story’s author) meets the apprentice-turned-Nazi-turned regime survivor. In this space of their meeting, God appears as a new life for both of them—along with a new way and truth by which to live those lives. This way truth and life combine to form the love with which Jesus identified and offers to us as a sanctuary from what masquerades as life in this world.
A hint of that lesson is offered in one scene of the story where the author’s younger sister reads a passage from John 12:25:
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
Eternity fills that sacred space between our ticks and tocks, and that’s how God measures the time He intends for us to fill as depicted in this Sunday’s mass readings. We are apprentices ourselves in the lives for which the Master hired us—and we have a lot to learn, as Isaiah tells us in our first reading:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Is 55:6-9)
Take our thoughts about life and death, for example. Like the people portrayed in “The Hiding Place,” Paul tells us and the Philippians that he is caught between the two:
“I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better,” he says. “Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” (Phil 1:20c-24, 27a)
Like us, Paul was put here as an apprentice, learning and teaching God’s way, truth and life. Our job is to find God hiding in each other, and in doing that, there’s not only no time clock to punch, but no time and no clock.
The idle people recruited to work in the landowner’s garden in the parable of Sunday’s gospel (Mt 20:1-16a) were rescued from the emptiness of lives in which this world’s time hung like a yoke around their necks. Yet this concept of time differed from their new master’s schedule—one by which you’re paid not by the hour, but by the space between the ticks and tocks by which we’ve synchronized our lives.
In Christ’s parable, those hired at the beginning of the work day were miffed that those hired toward the end received a full day’s wages.
“These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat,” one of them tells the boss, who says in reply, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? … Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
In that timeless and generous space between our life’s tick and tock, what does it matter if the last are first and the first are last as long as we keep learning God’s way, truth and life?