Friday, September 19, 2008

September 21: 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

September 21: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24,27; Matthew 20:1-16

The Gospel reading of this Sunday invites us to reflect on God’s generous love, mercy and justice for all people without exception. As human beings, we find it extremely difficult to understand the mystery of such generous love. Our God is a God of surprises, at times contradicting our human expectations. Throughout the Old and New Testaments justice is a very central theme. But what do we understand by justice and what do the Scriptures tells us about it? In the First Reading from Isaiah we discover a surprising difference between our human understanding on justice and God’s justice. We hear that God offers salvation and forgiveness sorely out of generosity. Indeed the prophet Isaiah calls us to make some adjustment in our ways of thinking, because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts nor are God’s ways our ways. Psalm 145 highlights God’s justice. “The Lord is just in all his ways.” By human standards, it appears strange and foolish that God loves all human beings equally, no matter what their social status may be.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a generous landowner who hires workers at different hours of the day for his vineyards. At the end of the day the landowner pays them all a day’s wage as agreed. Jesus cleverly puts this twist in the parable in order to show us the sharp contrast between God’s justice and human justice; between God’s ways and our ways. The parable is not about fair compensation. What matters at the end of the day is whether one gets into the vineyard or not. God rewards us equally in the end. We are the workers who arrive at God’s vineyard (the Church) at different times. Thus before God the faithful servant and the repentant sinner who confesses and receives the Last Rites and dies at the hospital are rewarded equally with God’s compassion, love and mercy. Yes, this is quite unusual, but that is the way our kind and generous God works. Therefore we should not resent anyone who turns to God and repents at the last moment of life like the Good Thief on the Cross. The parable also contains an urgent question about the unemployed outside the vineyard, asking them the question: “why do you stand here idle all day?” That question applies to many of our alienated Catholics and particularly many young people whom the Lord is inviting back to his vineyard and ready to embrace them with his compassion and forgiveness. The bottom line is that the parable underlines God’s generous love in welcoming all to his kingdom. No matter how many times I may have failed; no matter how late in life I come to find Jesus, I am always assured of God’s warm welcome. What message do we take home? 1) The readings reveal God’s universal generosity in the way God rewards all who respond to his call equally; 2) The Gospel parable cautions those who might feel superior because of heritage or favored position; or because they have spent more time with Jesus; 3) It speaks to new-comers (the last to arrive), assuring them of God’s grace and that they belong. Hence, “the last will be first, and the first will be last;” 4) God’s love and mercy is given out of God’s abundance and goodness completely apart from what we deserve.

©2008 John M. Mbinda

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