Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The 25th 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; where new comers belong; where the last are first and the excluded are included; because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s standards are not our standards. The readings of this Sunday especially the Gospel invite 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 God’s generosity. 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, color or creed may be. That is God’s standard that will be applied at the end of times. It is important to notice that from this Sunday to the end of the liturgical year we shift from previous Sundays themes of the demands of discipleship to the end of time themes of Christ’s coming, God’s last judgement and final reward (the wage at the end of the day’s work).

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a generous landowner who hires workers at different hours throughout 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 us the sharp contrast between God’s justice and human justice; between God’s ways and our ways. The parable is not about fair or unfair compensation. Regarding this parable the great nineteenth century thinker, Blessed John Henry Newman, said, "This was the sole question, whether they had worked in the vineyard. First they must be in the vineyard, then they must work in it; these were the two things. So will it be with us after death. When we come into God's presence, we shall be asked two things, whether we were in the Church, and whether we worked in the Church. Everything else is worthless." What matters at the end of the day is not whether those not hired and unwanted got into the vineyard. The point being made is that God rewards us equally in the end. We are the workers who arrive at God’s vineyard (the Church) at different times of God’s day. Some stand outside the vineyard for whatever reason perhaps with a feeling of not being wanted. Others may be simply turned off from involvement in Church life. Some of us may probably know of people who worked in the Church, then at some point for some reason left. We may also know people who embraced Christ at the final hour. I once heard about a man who rejected the Catholic faith all his life, but as he was dying his wife handed him a small crucifix. In front of his family, he lifted the crucifix to his lips and gently kissed it. It must have taken tremendous humility to make that gesture. 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, ready to embrace them with his compassion and forgiveness. 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, of God’s goodness and salvation. Unlike us humans, God does not make comparisons between our lives and those of others.  He rewards us according to the way we respond to His call and live out the Grace He gives each of us. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The First reading reveals God’s universal generosity in the way God rewards equally all who respond to his call for repentance; 2) The Gospel parable cautions those who might think they are advantaged because they were born Catholic or because they think they spent more time in Church with Jesus; 3) The Gospel speaks of new-comers (the last to arrive), assuring them of God’s grace and that they too belong. Hence, “the last will be first, and the first will be last”, but all will be paid according to God’s justice founded on God’s mercy and compassion.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

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