TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
In the first reading, we are told that “God’s ways are not our ways.” In the Gospel, we have a concrete example of this truth as we see how the latecomer to the vineyard is treated. In the second reading, Paul speaks of his desire to have Christ exalted in him.
FIRST READING: Isaiah 55:6-9
This reading, issued to the Israelite exiles in Babylon, is a call to worship, a call to conversion, and a call to believe in God’s ways. It begins with an exhortation to “seek the Lord, while he may be found … and while he is still near.” We can assume that the author does not literally believe that God is moving soon to a distant place where he cannot be found. God can always be found and he is always near, but our dulled hearts may not recognize his presence. Perhaps the writer is saying, “Seek God while you have some spiritual sense in you. Seek him before you lose all belief in him.”
The writer issues a call to the sinner to turn from his sinful ways. The reading concludes with a reference to God’s mysterious ways. In general, this verse is a reminder to us that we do not understand the ways of God in our lives or world. But in the context of today’s Gospel, where a latecomer receives the same wages as the one who has worked all day, the saying is probably a reference to God’s great mercy. Despite the fact that we may have been huge sinners and have spent most of our lives in a state of indifference to God, he will have mercy on us if we turn from our sinful ways. This way of acting is probably unlike how we would behave if we were God.
SECOND READING: Philippians 1:20-24, 27
This is an amazing reading. Paul is writing from prison and is not sure whether he will get out alive. But it does not matter because for him “life is Christ and death is gain.” If he gets out of prison, that’s okay too; it will give him another opportunity to preach the Gospel. The bottom line for Paul is to serve Christ and his Gospel. He urges his readers to have the same attitude.
GOSPEL: Matthew 20:1-16
Eternal life is a gift, not something anyone earns by his/her own hard work. In order to drive home this truth, Jesus tells his disciples a parable that defies their sense of “equity.” It is probably because the parable defies our own sense of equity that so many of us may have a problem understanding it.
In this parable, no one is lazy. The men are standing around only because no one has hired them. But once hired, they go to work and are paid the agreed wage at the end of the day. However, their sense of justice is upset when those hired later in the day receive the same amount. They object to the fact that the late workers are getting more than they should be paid. In truth, however, the landowner has not been unfair to the all-day workers, having paid them the agreed wage. Rather, he decides to be generous to the latecomers; hence, the second to the last verse of today’s Gospel: “Are you envious because I am generous?” Envy on the part of Jesus’ followers is unwarranted since every gift of God completely comes from his generosity, and not from any individual’s ability or activity. God’s justice looks more like human mercy.
The parable may have had specific application to Matthew’s mostly Jewish audience who notice the influx of Gentiles into their Christian community. Why should the Gentiles (the latecomers) be accepted as equal to the Jews who have been faithful to their covenant with God for almost 2,000 years? Here again, their focus is on earning. But earning has nothing to do with entry into the Kingdom, which is a gift for all. We do not place God in our debt just because we have been faithful to him (more or less) for many years. We do not gain heaven with good works but rather by opening our hearts to God’s saving grace. Whether we have served him from sunrise to sunset or enlisted for service only at the eleventh hour, God blesses us with his bounty not because we have earned his goodness, but because of who he is, namely, a God of mercy and compassion.
How easy or hard is it for us to accept and embrace a God whose ways are sometimes not our ways?