Homily for Mass – Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
(Saint John Fisher Church, Tarragindi: Saturday 6:00pm & Sunday 9:00am)
20/21 September 2014
[Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16]
The parables of Jesus constantly challenge our misguided instincts! They are an excellent example of what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
The parable we hear today is easy to relate to. In our day and age when people are so attuned to their rights and what they can expect (even demand) in employment, we naturally assume that someone who works longer at the same job will receive more pay.
And yet, we have the situation in the parable of tonight’s Gospel where every worker who went to work in the landowner’s vineyard gets paid exactly the same amount, regardless of when they started working, or for how long. In the first instance, the parable points out that the landowner has observed justice: he gave every worker the amount they agreed to work for. He has not done less than what is just. But he has also gone beyond justice to showing mercy. The workers who may have done less work, still receive the “usual daily wage” – in other words, they received what they needed to support themselves and their families that day. The landowner has attended both to justice and to mercy.
The word of God today challenges us to realize that the way we think can often be narrow, and we can often have difficulty seeing things the way God sees things, and the way God wants us to see things. It is a challenge for us to truly grasp God’s infinite love and mercy; a mercy which also attends to justice. “Most disconcerting,” says one commentator, “[most disconcerting] – to human ways of looking at things – [is] God’s unyielding inclination to forgive.” [Archbishop Terrence Prendergast SJ, Living God’s Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings for Year A, Toronto, Novalis, 2010, p. 140] For human beings, generally, that is not our inclination.
In many ways, we can see a parallel between the grumblers in the parable we’ve heard today and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. The grumblers seem to see their work in the vineyard as a heavy affliction. They say to the landowner: “[we] have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” We hear echoes of the elder brother of the prodigal son, remonstrating with his father that he had slaved for him for many years and had never had a party thrown for him! If we move beyond the parables, we might say that some people in the kingdom of God are not working with a JOY of being God’s sons and daughters, but rather are working with the ill-temper of slaves or servants.
We might go further and say that some people mistakenly see faith (and the church even) as something that binds and enslaves, and they see conscience as something that restricts and constrains. Such people might be secretly envious of others who seem to “live life” without such constraints. They don’t see faith and conscience as something that allows us to truly gain our freedom as God’s children. Some people might even feel that they’re entitled to salvation, or that they’ve earned it; and so they then feel a jealousy toward others who seem to be blessed by God, and who appear not to have earned it or deserved it.
The word of God reminds us of the Father’s generosity, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. He calls everyone to work in his vineyard. The psalmist reminds us, The Lord is good to all, compassionate to all His creatures.
I think a central question we might ask ourselves in response to today’s scripture: are we ministers of the generous mercy of God? What is in our heart as we do what God wants? As we live our faith, do we do so joyfully as God’s sons and daughters? Do we seek out and live God’s will as a glad duty, as contributing to our salvation and eternal happiness, or has it become a restrictive burden?
Perhaps we may discover in our hearts the grumbling that we hear in the parables. Perhaps jealousy. If so, we have a wonderful antidote in the celebration of Mass. As we come to the eucharist we have in our very celebration a wonderful example of the generosity of God: Jesus comes to us as a gift to nourish us in word and sacrament. He comes to be our spiritual food. He comes to us whether we’ve been working in his vineyard all through the day, or just for the final hour.
As we welcome and receive Christ we pray that he may change us, and change our hearts, to be more like him. Like Christ, may we become more generous ministers of the mercy and love of God.