Sunday Reflections

September 21, 2014
September 21, 2014

Twenty fifth   Sunday of the Year

Synopsis

Introduction: Today’s readings are all about the sense of justice and the extravagant grace of a merciful God. While God is both just and merciful, God’s mercy often overrides His justice and, hence, God pardons us unconditionally and rewards us generously by opening Heaven for the Gentiles and the Jews.

Scripture lessons: In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds the exiles in Babylon that their God is more merciful than they are, and more forgiving.  He is ready to pardon their infidelity which has resulted in their exile. Their merciful God will bless them with material and spiritual blessings. Hence, Isaiah exhorts them, and us, to seek the Lord and to put aside evil ways in order to receive mercy and forgiveness from God. Today’s responsorial psalm reminds us that, although “the Lord is just in all His ways,” He is at the same time gracious “and merciful.” In the second reading, Paul offers himself as an example of total submission to God’s grace and God’s will. He is ready to live continuing his mission if that is God’s will. At the same time he is ready to die and join the Lord if that is God’s will.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us the strange parable of a landowner who hired laborers at five different times during the course of one day to work in his vineyard but paid the same living wage for a full day’s work to all of them. This story of the landlord's love and generosity represents God’s love and generosity. It illustrates the difference between God's perspective and ours. God's provisions for our spiritual lives will never run out, and when we share our blessings with others, we tap into the inexhaustible Divine supply.  This story tells us how God looks at us, sees our needs and meets those needs generously and mercifully. The parable also shows the mercy and generosity of God in allowing the later-called Gentiles as well the first-called Jews or the Chosen people to enjoy the same eternal joy of His Heavenly Kingdom

Life messages

(1) We need to follow God’s example and show grace to our neighbor.  When someone else is more successful than we are, let us assume he or she needs it.  When someone who does wrong fails to get caught,  
let us remember the many times we have done wrong and gotten off free. Envy should have no place in our lives.  We cannot control the way God blesses others.

 (2) We need to express our gratitude to God in our daily lives.  God personally calls each of us to our own ministry and shows us His care by giving us His grace and eternal salvation.  To God, we are more than just numbers on a payroll.  Our call to God’s vineyard is a free gift from God for which we can never be sufficiently thankful. All our talents and blessings are freely given to us by God. Hence, we should express our gratitude to God by avoiding sins, by rendering loving service to others, by sharing our blessings with the needy and by constant prayer,  listening and talking to God at all times.

Twenty fifth   Sunday of the Year : Is 55: 6-9; Phil 1: 20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a 

Anecdotes

 1: “That’s not fair!” How many times, in the course of a given day, have you heard someone protest, “That’s not fair!” Children on a playground shout when they detect a foul play: “That’s not fair!” Siblings doing household chores may complain, “I’m doing more work!” or “My chores are more difficult; that’s not fair!” Students at school may resent the extra attention given to a classmate... “She’s the teacher’s favorite; that’s not fair!” A brother thinks his piece of pie appears to be smaller than his sister’s -- “That’s not fair!” Someone at work receives a raise in salary when another person thinks he/she is more deserving: “I have seniority. I’ve been here longer; that’s not fair!” The coach of the Little League baseball team always puts her child in as starting pitcher; other players are annoyed... “That’s not fair!” Taxpayers bristle at the fact that increasing numbers of people are applying for and receive welfare from the government... “I have to work hard to make a living for me and my family. So should everyone else... that’s not fair!” In each of these several examples, human sensibilities regarding fairness and patience have been offended, precisely because of the fact that they are human. Most of us think that good work, seniority and experience should be rewarded, that all should be subject to the same rules, like “First come, first served,” that everyone should be treated impartially and that there should be no exceptions and no favorites! Therefore, when confronted with a situation such as that put before us in today’s Gospel parable of identical wages for different numbers of hours of work, our sense of fairness in provoked.  (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez)

2: Deathbed conversions:  Conversions at the point of death have a long history. The first recorded deathbed conversion appears in the Gospel of Luke where the good thief, crucified beside Jesus, expresses belief in Christ. Jesus accepts his conversion, saying “Today you shall be with me in Paradise." Perhaps the most momentous conversion in Western history was that of Constantine I, Roman Emperor, later proclaimed a Christian Saint. While his belief in Christianity occurred long before his death, it was only in 337 on his deathbed that he was baptized.  A famous literary genius who entered the Church at the final moment was Oscar Wilde. He had written plays like "The Importance of Being Ernest" and novels, such as "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Wilde lived a notorious lifestyle. He did things that scandalized, even repulsed, his contemporaries. What most do not know, however, is that at the end of life he converted to Catholicism! On his death bed Oscar Wilde asked for and received baptism and anointing of the sick from Fr. Cuthbert Dunne. But he was unable to receive the Eucharist.  As in today's parable he entered the vineyard - the Church - at the last hour. While Wilde's conversion may have come as a surprise, he had long maintained an interest in the Catholic Church, having met with Pope Pius IX in 1877.  He described the Roman Catholic Church as "for saints and sinners alone – for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do." Some might consider this type of eleventh hour, deathbed conversions unfair. They might feel like the workers who started working early and received equal wage with the late comers. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deathbed_conversion )

Introduction: Today’s readings are all about the human sense of justice and the extravagant grace of a merciful God. God rewards us, not in the measure of what we do, but according to His good will. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds the exiles in Babylon that their God is more merciful than they are, and more forgiving.  He is ready to pardon their infidelity which has resulted in their exile. Their merciful God will bless them with material and spiritual blessings. Today’s responsorial psalm reminds us that although “the Lord is just in all his ways,” He is at the same time gracious “and merciful.” In the second reading, Paul offers himself as an example of total submission to God’s grace. He is ready to live continuing his mission if that is God’s will. At the same time he is ready to die and join the Lord if that is God’s will. There is Gospel or Good News in today’s Gospel parable. Today's Gospel tells us that it's never too late for God. A full wage is offered to each of us, whether one has served him for a whole lifetime, or has turned to Him only at the eleventh hour. This story of the landlord's love and generosity represents God’s love and generosity to us. God's provisions for our spiritual lives will never run out, and when we share our blessings with others, we tap into the inexhaustible Divine supply.  The story shows us how God looks at us, sees our needs and meets those needs.  The question in God's mind is not, “How much do these people deserve?”  but, “How can I help them?  How can I save them before they perish?”  It is all about grace and blessings.

First reading (Is 55:6-9): The prophet Isaiah reminds his people that if they really look at the circumstances of their lives they will recognize God’s hand in them. Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah record prophecies spoken about the end of the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judah, when they would return from enslavement to a devastated homeland.  The words were meant to give them hope and to keep them from losing faith in God.  The whole of Chapter 55 promises both material and spiritual relief.  Isaiah reminds the people that their years of ignoring their Covenant with God had brought their world crashing down around them, leaving their cities destroyed, their Temple razed, their wealth pillaged and their hopes dashed.  But because of God’s great love and mercy, His chosen people were to be forgiven.  They would return home, their land was to be restored to them and their relationship with God would be reestablished.

 Isaiah reminds us that the God of Moses and the prophets doesn't think in the same way that we do.  God is more merciful than we are, and more forgiving.  As Isaiah reports, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord.”  Perhaps we would have a better world if we were to adopt some of God’s ways instead of asking questions like, "Why should the innocent suffer?" or "Why should cruel tyrants live and prosper?" or "Why should there be natural disasters like hurricane Katrina?” Our faith teaches us that, as a loving Father, God acts only for our good.  God is always near to us in this life, and if we remain near to Him on this earth, we can trust in His love and goodness to keep us near Him forever in Heaven. 

The second reading (Philippians 1:20-24,27): St. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians either from a prison cell in Rome (61-63 A.D.), or possibly from Ephesus (56 A.D.).  Paul was a latecomer in God’s vineyard, preaching the Gospel.  But he worked with zeal and interest to spread God's News of Redemption and Salvation for all.  Philippi was a very privileged city of Macedonia and the site of the first Christian church in Europe.  Although far from Rome, it was given the status of a Roman city.  Its people didn’t have to pay taxes to Rome and the people dressed as Romans and spoke the language of Rome.  But Paul had told them that once they became followers of Jesus, their true citizenship was not in Rome, but in heaven.  Their ways were not to be Roman ways, but the way of the Gospel.  The Philippians had received the Gospel from Paul eagerly, and supported him on his further missionary travels.  So he was very grateful, and his epistle gives them mature Pauline thought for a mature community, expressed in unusually personal terms.  

Today’s passage is most intimate, indicating another difference between God’s perspective and ours. Paul is trying to decide whether to prefer death (if he was in prison, he possibly faced execution), or life.  In this reading, Paul speaks as one who has put on the mind of Christ.  He says that he does not know whether he prefers to live or to die.  The ordinary human point of view is one that greatly prefers life to death.  But the perspective of God is different.  Paul says that to die would be good because it would bring him into greater unity with Christ.  On the other hand, to live would also be good because it would allow Paul to continue his work as an apostle.  Having taken on the perspective of God, Paul is equally ready to live or die.  Paul is an example of how grace operates.  His own wishes are subordinated to the needs of the Philippians, and both Paul and the Philippians enjoy the privilege of believing in Christ and of suffering for him.  Being a Christian means accepting God’s word without explanation or justification.  That is how “we conduct ourselves worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”

Exegesis
The parable described in today’s Gospel is known as “the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard” or “the Parable of the Generous Landlord.”  This remarkable and rather startling parable is found only in Matthew.  

The parable in a nutshell: The Kingdom of Heaven, says Jesus, is like landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  He rounds up a group at 6 AM, agrees to pay them the usual daily wage and then puts them into action.  At nine AM, he rounds up another group.  At noon, he recruits a third team, and then at three o'clock, a fourth.  Finally, at 5 PM, he finds still more laborers who are willing and able to work.  He sends them into the vineyard to do what they can before sundown.  As the day ends, the landowner instructs his manager to pay one denarius each, the living wage, to all the workers, beginning with those who started at five in the afternoon.

Aim of the parable

(A) As a warning to the disciples: Jesus teaches his disciples not to claim any special honor or any special place because they are closely associated with him or because they are the first members of his Church.  All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members.  (2) As a definite warning to the Jews.  As the chosen people of God, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles.  Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect.  Matthew, by retelling this parable, may well desire to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.  (3) As an explanation by Jesus of His love for the publicans and sinners.  Through this parable, Jesus describes the loving concern, generosity and mercy of God his Father for all His children, which Jesus reflects in his life.

(B) Why this strange type of recruiting? The grapes ripened towards the end of September. It was the monsoon time of heavy rains.  If the harvest were not finished before the rains started, the crop would be ruined.  Hence, the vineyard owners recruited every one willing to work, from the market place.  The fact that some of them stood around until even 5 PM proves how desperately they wanted to support their families.  One denarius or a drachma was the normal day's wage for a working man for his work from 6 AM to 6 PM.

(C) The seemingly unjust remuneration for work: This story illustrates the difference between God's perspective and ours.  Perhaps it disturbs our sense of fairness and justice.  Our sense of justice seems to favor the laborers who worked all day and expected a wage greater than that given to the latecomers.  Perhaps most people would sympathize with the workers who had worked longer and seemingly deserved more.  We can understand their complaint since, for most of us, salaries are linked to the number of hours of work.  A skilled worker gets more than an unskilled worker.  If workers have the same skills, the same hours of work and similar responsibilities, we expect them to get the same wages.  

 But God doesn’t see matters in the same way that we do.  God thinks of justice in terms of people’s dignity and their right to a decent life.  In other words, God's perspective is that of the owner, who gave some of the laborers more than they earned.  God’s justice holds that the people who have come late have the same right to a living wage and decent life as those who have worked all day and, hence, all must be treated identically. We are actually laborers who have worked less than a full day.  If God treated us justly, none of us would be rewarded.  We have all been unfaithful to God in many ways; what we have earned from God is punishment.  However, because God is generous rather than just, we all receive a full day's pay, even though we have not earned it. Jesus understood the value of all people, regardless of what the community thought of them.  He gave all people equal value.  Hence, our challenge is to recognize and accept with gratitude God’s Amazing Grace.   We must remember that there is more to life than the logic of action and reward.  There is the generosity of Life, that is, the Trinitarian God, who has made us His co-workers on this Earth of His.  

(D) The parable’s teaching on the grace of God. 
The parable suggests that we can't work our way into heaven because by our own strength we can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward. That is why God expects us to cooperate with His grace for doing good and avoiding evil. Salvation comes to us by God’s grace and our cooperation with it. It is a blend of faith and works. We are saved by receiving and using God's gifts of faith, hope, and charity.  At the same time, we are all in need of God's grace and forgiveness. Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the Divine Nature and of eternal life (CCC #1996). In God’s kingdom, we can be grateful that He chooses to be generous.  What we really deserve for our sins is death.  We learn also that in God's service we have different tasks to perform.  No matter how menial the task, however, we all get paid the same amount.  In God's eyes, we are all equal.  At the end of the day, we are all paid the right amount.  In the Church, we're all co-workers, and, hence, we all receive exactly what is right from a God Who is notoriously generous and lavish. 
 
The paradox of grace: What really bothers us in the parable is God’s equal rewarding of latecomers and newcomers. We are tempted to ask the question "Is it fair that we, the hard-working Christians, are going to be treated like these workers?  Is the man who lives a life of sin but who converts on his deathbed going to get the same reward that we receive?  Surely we must warrant at least a higher ranking in heaven on a cloud with the Apostle Paul or Moses or one of the saints!”  But the parable tells us that our Heavenly reward is not something we earn but rather a free gift.  God has made His rewards available to all through faith in Christ Jesus.  Is it fair that God gives his grace to all?  Fair is the wrong word.  God does not deal with us “fairly” and it is a good thing!  We should be thankful God does not give us what we deserve.  The word we are looking for is grace.  The question should be "What is grace?"  And the answer is, it is that "undeserved love" that God has shown us through the death and Resurrection of His only Son Jesus Christ. 

Life messages

(1) We need to follow God’s example and show grace to our neighbor.  When someone else is more successful than we are, let us assume he needs it.  When someone who does wrong fails to get caught, let us remember the many times we have done wrong and gotten off free. We must not wish pain on people for the sake of fairness.  We become envious of others because of our lack of generosity of heart.  Envy should have no place in our lives.  We cannot control the way God blesses others. 
 
(2) We need to express our gratitude to God in our daily lives.  God personally calls each of us to our own ministry and shows us his care by giving us His grace and eternal salvation.  To God, we are more than just numbers on a payroll.  Our call to God’s vineyard is a free gift from God for which we can never be sufficiently thankful. All our talents and blessings are freely given by God. Hence, we should express our gratitude to God by avoiding sins, by rendering loving service to others, by sharing our blessings with the needy,  and by constant prayer,  listening and talking to God at all times.

Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (akadavil@gmail.com) and published in the CBCI website by the Office for Social Communications. You may contact akadavil@gmail.com for weekday homilies, and a dozen more additional anecdotes

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