God’s ways are not our ways - Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year – Cycle A – September 20, 2020
God’s ways are not our ways - Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year – Cycle A – September 20, 2020

God’s ways are not our ways 

Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year – Cycle A – September 20, 2020  

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

My ways are not your ways — it is the Lord who speaks” (Isa 55:8) 

Prologue: We normally judge people with our own Manmade binaries of good-versus-bad; saint-over-sinner;  meritorious-against-unmeritorious; fair-versus-unfair. However, God is beyond all this and God’s generosity  and mercy are not only incomparable but also scarcely understandable by us, humans, who are so calculative,  conditional and condemnatory of others. The readings urge us to see and act as God, not Man, does.  

Three Scriptural Signposts: 

1. The Prophet (second-Isaiah) speaks words of comfort to his people in Exile sometime after  the middle of the 6th century BC on behalf of Yahweh: God. He tells them to “Seek the  Lord … and call upon him while he is near” (v.6). The “seeking” here refers to turning to  God with humility. Making them aware of their sinfulness and their straying away from  God, the prophet exhorts them to return to God with repentant hearts, for God “will  abundantly pardon” their sins (v.7). He then reminds them that, though they are created in  the image and likeness of God, there is an inestimable difference between the way God  views reality and acts and the way that human beings do. God reminds us: “My ways and  not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts!” (v.8). Truly, who can fathom God’s  mind and the manner in which God deals with us, God’s children? 

2. God’s mysterious yet marvelous way of dealing with human beings is seen in today’s  ‘parable of the generous landowner’ found only in Matthew’s gospel. It is narrated in the  context of Jesus’ promise of reward to his disciples — when Peter asks Jesus: “Look, we  have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (19:27). In reply, Jesus  assures him that that they “will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life” (19:29)  but with a caveat: “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (19:30).  Through this parable, then, he shows them how God’s ways are very different from ours.  Jesus’ disciples must have surely been aware of the pathetic plight of daily wage labourers  waiting to be hired, while facing the very real prospect of returning home unhired,  moneyless. These poor workers had no land of their own and thus depended on the largesse  of landlords to hire them and pay them enough to quite literally buy their ‘daily bread’. All  of these labourers—whether employed at the first, third, sixth, ninth or eleventh hour— were needy, since all were poor and had many mouths to feed. Moreover, all wanted to  work but couldn’t, since, in their own words, “no one has hired us” (v.7). A denarius was  a just wage for a day’s work, and would just about be enough to support a family’s basic  needs; anything less—and especially payment for a single hour—would have been totally  inadequate. Sensing their will to work and surmising their needs, the landowner not only  hires them, but also gives them what is, legally, a just wage: a denarius. Had he given  anything less, he would have been ‘just’ by worldly, calculative standards; but the workers  would never have been able to make both ends meet.  

3. Treating everyone as being equally in need and therefore paying everyone the same wage  without any consideration of how long they worked, is perceived by those who came first 

and worked longer as injustice. They grumble. The grumblers actually contest not the  landowner’s skewed sense of justice, but his astounding generosity. The landowner calls  these grumblers “friends,” and explains, “I’m not being unjust to you; did we not agree on  one denarius?” Indeed, he had honoured his part of the labour contract by paying them not  only what was agreed upon but also what was a just wage for their work of that day. Anyone  seeking work would have been happy to get a denarius. The parable isn’t simply about life,  but about the ‘kingdom of heaven’. God alone will decide who is to be honoured in heaven. The landowner coolly asks: “Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be jealous  because I’m generous?” With these challenging questions remaining unanswered, Jesus  ends the parable repeating the same punchline used earlier: “the last will be first, and the  first will be last” (v.16). Obviously, he narrates this parable in the context of the ‘early  workers’, the Pharisees, who were furious to see the ‘latecomers’—namely, the tax  collectors, harlots and sinners—repenting and regarded as heirs of heaven. In his ministry,  Jesus was giving his contemporaries a foretaste of the gratuitousness of God’s love.  

Linking the Psalm and the 2nd Reading to the Theme: The responsorial psalm proclaims, “The  Lord is good to all” (Ps 145:9) and “The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings” (v.17). God is truly a generous Parent to all people. However, just as a family specially cares for its handicapped members, so does God apply a ‘principle of difference’ in dealing with the  disadvantaged and dispossessed of the kingdom. Paul’s words to the Christians at Philippi are  written from prison in the midst of manifold suffering. He does not view his possible, imminent  death in a morbid way but as an occasion to be totally united with God. However, should God  want him to continue working—i.e., to “remain in the flesh” (v.22)—he would gladly obey God’s  will, for Christ was the be all and the end all of his life.  

Two Contextual Challenges

The Last will be First Challenge: While Jesus’ “last will be first and first will be last” axiom sounds  logical and acceptable in theory, many so-called ‘original’ Christians are unhappy about  so-called ‘converted’ Christians being given church benefits equal to what they receive. 

The Communist Challenge: The Marxian maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each  according to his needs,” seems similar to Jesus’ logic in the parable. Could it be possible  that many Communists/Marxists practise Christ’s gospels more radically than I do? 

In Lighter Vein: A holier-than-thou self-righteous priest, Fr. Pious, reached the Pearly Gates after  death and was surprised to see—according to him—his most unworthy parishioners: drunkards,  womanizers, atheists and sinners of all hues. Heaven seemed overcrowded with the scum of  society; hell, by contrast, seemed quite empty. Irked by God’s leniency, Fr. Pious protested. To  pacify him, God told St Peter to reexamine all those already admitted into heaven, whereupon  Peter read the Ten Commandments aloud, saying: “Those who have broken these commandments  shall dissociate themselves from this celestial company and descend to hell!” As Peter read the  commandments, one by one, people confessed their guilt and disappeared. When the fifth  commandment was read, few were left, and after the sixth, everyone went to hell except Fr. Pious.  Feeling lonely, God said, “Tell them all to come back!” Pious grumbled, “O God, that’s unfair!  Why didn’t you tell me this before?” God reminds us: “Are you jealous because I’m generous? My ways are not your ways.” Thank God! 

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God’s fore-giving love Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year – Cycle A – September 13, 2020
The One binding two and threes Twenty-third Sunday of the Year – Cycle A – September 6, 2020
Seek Wisdom for God’s Kingdom Seventeenth Sunday – Year A – July 26, 2020
God works from within Sixteenth Sunday – Year A – July 19, 2020