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The Sunday called Septuagesima
excerpt from
COMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 2: Septuagesima to Easter Eve 
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
The Church teaches us about virtue most clearly during Pre-Lent through her choice of readings for the Holy Eucharist. Today she asks us to consider temperance, hope, and justice.

St. Paul speaks quite vividly about temperance in todayís Epistle. He compares the Christianís struggle against the desires of the flesh to competition in the athletic contests so popular among the ancient Greeks. Just as the runner or boxer restrains his appetites for food, drink, and sexual relations so that he may earn a laurel crown and win human honour, so the Christian must govern his appetites with temperance, so that he may obtain the crown of glory and see God.

This is not to say that food, drink, and sexual desire are wicked things. They are gifts of God and, therefore, good. Nevertheless, they were made for certain purposes, and to use them either more or less than those purposes require, or even apart from those purposes, is a sin against temperance.

The abuse of food and drink is called gluttony. The abuse of sexual desire is lust. Fasting, which will be discussed in some detail on Ash Wednesday, is a useful discipline against both gluttony and lust.

Temperance is, for the Christian, a practical expression of hope. Hope, the desire of the faithful soul for the heavenly kingdom, makes itself felt in action by the prudent control of the bodily desires, lest they become entangled in the things of this world.

The opposite of hope is despair, which is born of sloth, a spiritual apathy or boredom. The slothful neither hope for heaven nor fear hell. It is no wonder that it is the bored who commit the wicked deeds which so unsettle our civilization today.

Todayís Gospel, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, is about justice. Our Lord tells of the owner of a vineyard who hired labourers early in the morning, and then as he felt the need, at succeeding hours throughout the day. The first group agreed to work the whole day for a penny, which evidently they felt to be a fair wage. The succeeding groups all agreed to work what remained of the day for whatever the owner should feel was fair.

At the end of the day, the owner paid all the labourers a penny, whether they had worked only an hour or all day. The men hired earliest complained that this was not fair, but the owner in replying made two points. First, these men had received all that they were justly entitled to by their agreement with the owner. Secondly, his money was his to dispense as he wished. If he felt that it was fair to pay the last the same wage as the first, then it was his right to do so. In both cases, justice was satisfied.

Justice is shown in our steady determination to give each man his right or due. Justice comes from the principle that we are not valuable for what we do or own, but for what we are. Each of us was created by God for himself. Thus, we all have a right to whatever we need to help us grow closer to God. Since we are all equally deserving of this growth in the love of God, and we must all respect this fact, the basis for justice lies in the sanctity of the individualí (Mortimer).

Justice governs all relations between and among people. It is thus the basis of all social life, governing the relations of individuals to their community, of the community to individual members, and of individual to individual.

Envy is the vice most opposed to justice, as it is to charity, for justice is the concrete expression of charity. Envy begrudges another what is rightly his. Covetousness is also directly opposed to justice, in so far as justice so often has to do with business and finance. Both vices can be seen in the reaction of the labourers hired earliest, and both are principal causes of the political and economic turmoil surrounding us today.