Thursday, September 18, 2014

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16 

All welcome to God’s Kingdom; when God is King there is a reversal of fortunes: when God is King new comers belong; when God is King the last are first and the first last; because God’s thoughts not our thoughts. 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 wisdom and 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 of justice and God’s justice. We hear that God offers salvation and forgiveness entirely 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 vineyard.  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 a 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. When God is King, God rewards all equally in the end. We are the workers who arrive at God’s vineyard (the Church) at different times. Thus before God faithful disciples, stewards and the repentant sinner who confesses and receives the Last Rites before death are rewarded equally with God’s compassion, love and mercy. Yes, this is quite unusual, but that is the way it works when God is King. 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 youth and young adults whom the Lord is inviting back to his vineyard at 5 P.M. The Church is ready to embrace them with unconditional mercy 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 we may have failed; no matter how late in life we come to find Jesus, we are always assured of God’s warm welcome. So what good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) God rewards equally all who respond to his call because God is profoundly generous. 2) The Gospel parable cautions those who might feel superior because they have been Catholic all their life and so have spent more time with Jesus! 3) When God is King new comers (the last to arrive) are rewarded equally with the first in the kingdom. Hence, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Think about it.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

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