Sunday, September 20
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 20: 1-16A
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
“IT IS NOT FAIR!” “THAT’S NOT RIGHT!” Oh, how many times I have said this in my life – far too many to count. I say it many times when I think that I don’t get all that I think I deserve. I also say it when I don’t think others are getting a fair shake in life. I have said it most recently, during the Covid-19 spread after learning that it seems that the most vulnerable among us are most likely to contract the virus and are dying from it. I have said it when I know people are not allowed to visit loved ones in Care Centers or in hospitals. I said it when people have not been able to mourn their dead with the sacred rituals of their faith to comfort them. I said it when I heard about and saw the murder of George Floyd and all that has followed from that horrific act. I have said it when I watch, once again, the fires in California and other western states blazing out of control. I said it when I watch the storms battering the south, eastern coast of our country and more storms already setting their eyes on the very same areas. I have said it when I see people not wearing a mask or observing a safe physical distance from others. It has all been so frustrating.
Then I looked at this week’s Gospel passage and once again the words “It’s not fair!” and “That’s not right!” sprung from my lips. The workers in this parable would be what today we call day laborers who line up hoping for a day’s work and a day’s pay. They are usually people desperate for work, their families are in need of basic things like food, shelter and health care.
One of the effects of circumstances brought on by this pandemic crisis is the high unemployment, the collapse of small family-owned businesses, the loss of homes. These along with food scarcity and money to buy the necessities is very real in the lives of so many people. A day’s pay may not sound monumental to some but for many people in our country and in our world, it can be the difference between life and death.
In the time of Jesus poverty was severe for nearly 95% of the people. Many people were desperately poor and always on the edge of starvation. A day’s pay could make the difference between eating and going hungry, living and dying.
Some employers don’t notice or concern themselves with their employees’ needs. But this parable tells of a different kind of employer. This one noticed and cared for those he saw who needed work. And he was extravagant!
No matter how many times we have heard them this parable and the parable of the Prodigal Son still rub most of us the wrong way. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son and again in this parable one of the most common responses is, “It’s not fair” or “That’s not right!” Those who say that, probably equate themselves with the older brother or the people who were the first hired in this parable. After all, we are good people who have worked hard, played by the rules so we are entitled to more – right? That’s after all what is just, isn’t it?
Maybe – if either parable was about us. Everything is not about us. It is not about what we deserve or don’t deserve. It is not about what we think is fair or just. Do we really want God, who knows everything we have said, thought and done or not done to judge us by what we think the rules of fairness and justice should be? Not me – I want that God whose mercy is limitless, whose love for me is boundless to be my judge.
This parable and the Parable of the Prodigal Son are about God. They tell in action about the abundant, endless generosity of God. They are about a God who sees the needs of his children and responds to each.
For several Sundays we have heard about the Cost of Discipleship. Each Sunday gospel has added a new dimension. It started with the Storm at Sea and our willingness to keep our focus on Jesus. It called us to get out of the boat and jump into the storm-tossed sea. Each week we learned another facet of radical discipleship: widening the space of our tent to include those who are different from us; believing that what Jesus has built will last forever; willingness take up the cross of the Gospel; settling disputes among us; forgiving others 7 times 70 and finally this parable today.
Parables turn things upside down and invite us into a new way of seeing and being. We are called to see with the eyes of Jesus. We are called to live the life-lessons Jesus teaches. We are called to treat others, not by our standards, but to treat others the way Jesus treated others. Jesus used love as the measuring stick and when that happens truth and mercy meet. Justice and Peace kiss.
There may be times when we feel we do not deserve God’s love or forgiveness. You may feel that there are certain people that you believe don’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness. To use an old saying, “No kidding Sherlock!” No one deserves all that God pours out upon us. God does not love us because we are worthy. God loves us because God is God and that is what God does. It is not about us nor dependent on us. It is about God’s love and generosity. God is in charge.
If we believe in the God of this parable, a God whose love, mercy and generosity knows no limits or boundaries then as disciples should we not stop judging others? Should we not stop thinking we have the right to decide who and who should not receive God’s generosity? Stop thinking we can decide who is and is not worthy of God’s forgiveness?
For me, I just thank God that God is God and I am not!! Don’t entangle yourself in the web of judging. Don’t judge yourself and don’t judge others — leave all of that to God. It is not your job or my job to judge. We have only one job and in his Gospel reflection last week, Msgr. Hendricks’ reminded us of our one main job in this life.
“Often in life and especially in our society today that is charged with COVID, political polarization, civil unrest, and absolute talk, we forget the main reason why we are here, to Love God above all else and to love our neighbor as our self.” (Msgr. Hendricks)
-Sr. Teresa Tuite, OP