Sunday, September 24, 2023
Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Gospel Mt 20:2-16a
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."
Call Me Irresponsible!
Upon Reflection: Here's the scene: You are a regular "Mass goer." Every Sunday, there you are in the same pew, always a few minutes early to hear and to take note of the announcements and always remaining until the last lyric of the closing song is sung. You tithe every week, and you volunteer regularly. Clearly, you are a "good Catholic" and have no problem thinking of yourself as such. But every year, when Christmas and Easter come around, you get annoyed. You never get to sit in your usual pew. Sometimes you have to stand in the back because there are no seats to be had. "Who are these people?" you ask. "Where did they come from? They only come to Mass twice a year. Shouldn't they be the ones standing in the back? Don't I deserve more than they?"
Anyone who is a so-called "regular" at Mass has most likely thought these things in the past, maybe even verbally expressed them. I know I am guilty of it. This is why I think that in addition to the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), today's Gospel should be read before every Christmas & Easter Liturgy begins (throw in Ash Wednesday too if you would like). It is a good reminder of just exactly what kind of God it is to whom we are offering thanksgiving.
We give thanks to a God who loves indiscriminately and without any conditions. In fact, our God loves in such a way that we might even call it unfair, unjust and downright irresponsible. We say, "thank you" to our God who pays no attention to how long it took us to accept God's offer of love. There is no "first come, first served" with this God of ours - no "be the first to sign up and receive a bonus!" propositions.
This parable of Jesus reveals that our concept of the words "deserve" and "earn" do not apply whatsoever when it comes to who, how and when God loves. God's love is never deserved and cannot be earned. It is freely given equally to all at all times. (I invite you to re-read the previous two sentences over and over again until you feel it has sunk in).
When we come to know God this way, we can go down the self-righteous path: grumbling and complaining about an unfair and irresponsible God who blesses people who, in our judgment, do not deserve nor have earned that blessing as much as we have, or we can go down the humble and honest path: breathing a sigh of relief and saying, "Thank You!"
Be it today, tomorrow, Christmas, Ash Wednesday or Easter, which path will we take?