Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2017
Reading 1 IS 55:6-9
Responsorial Psalm PS 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
- (18a) The Lord is near to all who call upon him.
Reading 2 PHIL 1:20C-24, 27A
Alleluia CF. ACTS 16:14B
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
Gospel MT 20:1-16A
Homily— September 23 & 24, 2017
Today’s readings again present us with strong reminders that the ways of the Lord are often quite different from the ways of human societies, including our own. The first reading says it explicitly: “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.” The gospel parable offers us a clear example of that truth. I am sure that many of you, hearing that parable, are inclined to agree with the workers who complain about the master’s generosity. Those who worked all day should get more pay than those who only worked an hour, right? For the sake of simplicity let’s say the usual daily wage was $120. Some received that for one hour of work and others received if for 12 hours of work!! The parable reminds us that God works with different principles than our capitalist society.
Did it occur to you that the vineyard owner in this parable could have saved a lot of hard feelings had he simply paid the longest-working laborers first? After 12 hours of toil, they probably wouldn’t have hung around to see what the others were going to get paid. But, then Jesus wouldn’t have had a maddening story. So, we should probably ask what he wanted to teach us.
In the passage just before this reading, the rich young man went away sad his question answered. The apostles ask “Who then can be saved?” Jesus tells them that they will sit on thrones and judge Israel. Any who gave up parents, children, or land for him will receive 100 times more (Mt. 19:26-29)
In today’s parable, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a person: a living, breathing, decision-making landowner who gives to everyone equally. Are the apostles being called to be this kind of judge? Are we?
Jesus used this parable to provide some hints about God’s perspective. He begins with a landowner—later referred to as the lord—whose vineyard needed work done, and there were people who needed a job for the day. As the day went on, it became obvious that the field work was not as important to the owner as were the laborers.
Each time he returned, he found more workers waiting to be hired, and each time he hired them, promising them a just wage. As the day was waning, he found still more guys waiting in the labor line, and he asked them directly why they had been idle all day. Their answer: “It wasn’t our choice. Nobody gave us a job.” What they didn’t add, but what anyone who ever stood in their position knows, is that “Nobody hired us,” also meant, “After being here all day, we’ve still got nothing with which to buy food for our children.”
The question lurking underneath this parable is, “What is just?” The disgruntled workers, who were fortunate enough to spend the whole day employed and certain that they and their families would eat that day, ended up thinking that they deserved more than others. It never occurred to them that they had already earned what they needed. Apparently, the lord thought that justice had more to do with what someone needs to survive than with the luck of landing a good job.
The workers, like the landowner, are persistent. Instead of giving up and going home, they remain in the marketplace seemingly “standing idle.” Actually their idleness was not simply doing nothing—theirs was an active waiting; these workers persistently remain ready and willing to work. Of such is the “kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom of heaven” consists of those who persist in awaiting God’s recurring call, and who respond willingly no matter what hour the call comes. The last are first not because of the number of hours they work, but because of their openness to God’s call no matter when it comes and their faithful response. The “kingdom of heaven” subsists in persistent openness, active waiting, and faithful response. The laborers’ wage is beyond monetary expectation—it is salvation.
In this gospel parable the landowner’s behavior is remarkable in two ways: his care for idle workers not able to put their skills and energy to good use, and his manner of paying wages. His behavior describes aptly the kingdom of heaven: God calls each of us to use whatever our gifts are to advance the growth of the kingdom; God “pays” us not in dollars and cents, but with the free gift of salvation which is immeasurable, unlimited, endless, and overflowing. Yes, in God’s kingdom there is no cause for idleness, no limit on “wages,” and no reason to regard waiting as an unproductive effort.
We might think that the gospel landowner is just to those he called first and generous to those he called last. In fact, our gracious and saving Landowner-God is both just and generous to all the laborers simply because the divine “wages” are always a free gift, undeserved, and more than we can earn or expect. God’s “wages” are a share in divine Life.
Questions to ponder: Have you ever thought God treated you unfairly? Have you ever been angry with God because others have more than you?
Remember God’s ways are not our ways. People can lose all of their material possessions in a moment. Let us value our spiritual gift of salvation.