25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A | The workers in the vineyard

Introduction: Today’s liturgy gives us a most uplifting image of God. It tells us that he is not small-minded and vindictive like we often are. He is generous, compassionate, and forgiving. God rewards us, not in the measure of what we do, but according to His good will. In short God’s mercy overrides His justice and hence, God pardons us unconditionally.

Reading 1: Is 55:6-9

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds the exiles in Babylon that their God is more merciful than they are, and more forgiving.  We often look upon God in very human terms. We make him as small-minded as ourselves. But God says, “My ways are not your ways.” 

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.”

Reading 2: Phil1:20-24, 27

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.

Gospel: Mt 20:1-16

The parable is about God’s generosity, a generosity which rises far above our human standards. The Kingdom of Heaven, says Jesus, is like landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire labourers 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 labourers 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 evening.


Illustration 1: Imagine there are four houses on your street. You own the house on the corner and it is valued at $400,000. The house next to you is valued at $ 300000. The third house is valued at $ 200,000. The last house is valued at $100,000.

Imagine one of your children saying to you, “Daddy, would you sell your house if someone offered you $500,000 for it?” You reply, “I’d jump for joy and sell it on the spot.’

An hour later the phone rings and you answer it. You can hardly believe your ears. You are being offered 500,000 for your house. You jump for joy and sell it on the spot.

The next morning you learn that the other owners on your street sold their house to the same buyer, also then comes the thunderbolt. They each got $500000.

You are angry that you call the buyer and tell him off. He responds, “Did I cheat you? Or are you jealous because I was generous?”

Illustration 2: “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 favourite; that’s not fair!” A brother thinks his piece of chicken 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!” Someone is promoted for an award, or is appointed to a committee or send for higher studies… other’s cry… he is not deserving…. 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 favourites! 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.  

The parable with its seemingly unjust ending, in which the workers are paid not according to the work they have done but according to the arbitrary generosity of the landlord, shocks us.

Generosity was the last thing the Jews wanted because it equalized everything. It took away their motive for being good and virtuous, namely, an earned reward. They assumed that God worked on the merit system. According to this system, you must earn your graces by Hard work, and God will give you a commensurate reward. Work little and you’ll get little. And here Jesus is trying to say that God does not work on a commission system at all. God is not small minded like ourselves. God does not work on the merit system. A point to remember – which of us would be happy that God treat us according to what we have earned or according to strict justice?

Jesus is trying to say that salvation is not something we earn but is freely given by God. That is why no person, no caste,no class or ethnic group, can lay exclusive claim to it by virtue of birth, ability or merit. The economics of the Kingdom are not the economics of the free market.

The parable speaks of several groups of labourers who are called at different times of the day to work in the vineyard. We can take each group to represent a nation, or an ethnic group, or a social class. Some have been summoned to the vineyard long, others have only just arrived.

All throughout history, God has been calling different people to work in his vineyard. He called Abraham first and placed his descendants in charge of his work in the world. But that did not make the race of Abraham the owner of the kingdom of God. God was the owner of the vineyard and they were his labourers.

Later on, during Moses’ time, many people of all kinds, together with the descendants of Abraham, became the people of Israel. They were convinced that they were the people of God and thus continuously claimed their right to be treated better than other people were. 

With the coming of Christ, God saving history was brought to other nations. The Church today is not owned by some group of Catholics or Christians. It is owned by God. Jesus says that people already inside the church must allow others to come in an equal term. Let everyone be happy with the honour of working with Christ.

Think about the Good Thief, crucified beside Jesus, expresses belief in Christ. Jesus accepts his conversion, saying “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Constantine I, Roman Emperor, was baptised only in 337 on his deathbed and today is venerated as a Christian saint. It is said Oscar 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. As in today’s parable, he entered the vineyard – the Church – at the last hour. 

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 favour the labourers 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.  But God doesn’t see matters in the same way that we do.  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.   

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