FIRST READING (My thoughts are not your thoughts.)
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (55:6-9)
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)
R. The Lord is near to all who call upon him. (Ps 145:18a)
Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and highly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. (R)
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. (R)
The Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. (R)
SECOND READING (For me to live is Christ.)
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians (1:20c-24, 27a)
Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.
Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Cf. Acts 16:14b)
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son. (R)
GOSPEL (Are you envious because I am generous?)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to 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.” —The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
“Is God’s generosity fair?”
As a missionary, I have always looked on the parables of Jesus as one of the best literary devices for teaching and sharing faith. Stories and storytelling enjoy tremendous popularity in every culture, and the parables are a literary form that is very much in the art of storytelling. But they are storytelling with a twist, especially because of the radical religious message at the heart of each parable.
We also know from the parable, especially those that have drawn out characters such as the prodigal son or last week’s Gospel of the unwise or selfish steward, and now today’s Gospel, that we may – at times – identify with the wrong person in the story, and thus miss the main point. But today’s parable especially can do much to dispel any doubt about the challenge placed before us in this story.
It is perfectly natural for us hearing this parable to – in our hearts – side with those who had been working all day under the heat and sun, and who – in our human form of logic – should have been rewarded with a higher payment. Many of us probably see our own role or place in the church as similar to those workers who have been faithful and working all the day long, and who deep down wish that God’s generosity was proportionate to the duration and quality of a commitment.
After all, for centuries the Israelites put their faith in a God who dealt with his people in a very precise and predictable way, a God who set down the terms of his relationship to his people in a very clear form – the COVENANT – the Law – a law that guaranteed in an almost measurable way, a reward for merit, and a punishment for sin. And the concept of a just, reliable God was the model the people would use in their relationships with one another. A concept summed up in the dictum, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” – the ethic of that time.
This is perhaps why this parable was so disturbing for the listeners. For us to understand the meaning of this difficult and challenging passage we have to approach it on two levels: the historical level and the personal level.
On the historical level, the Gospel of Matthew is written to a Jewish community that is faced with a large influx of Gentile converts – entering the same Kingdom of God and experiencing the forgiveness, compassion and grace of God. These “new” members are offered salvation and redemption as much as the Jewish people who had struggled for centuries to stay faithful to the Covenant. In the parable, the workers who went out at dawn to work in the vineyard are the faithful Israelites. The latecomers are the Gentiles. The lesson is clear: The Lord teaches us that God’s goodness and generosity is open to all, offered to all. God invites everyone to life in His presence. It is not how long one works in the vineyard that is important, but that you answered the call, the invitation when it came.
On the personal level, we can apply this parable by understanding three principles. First, it shows that people are called to Christ at different times in their lives. Some are baptized at birth or “at dawn” or in the morning hours. Others experience the call during their school years as teenagers, in “mid-morning,” or as adults “in mid-afternoon.” Even some in their senior years receive the call, “in the evening.” Just a glance at the various catechumens preparing for baptism in our parish clearly shows how true this is. At any age, we can be drawn to Christ or called closer to Christ. God calls people at any hour of their life.
Secondly, notice that the owner of the vineyard does not compare one group of workers to the other. They are all paid the same wage because they answered the call. This is true for each of us here today. Each of us has a unique combination of talents, challenges and opportunities in life. The problems and opportunities may be the same as those of others but the combination is always unique. As St. John Paul wrote some years ago about this, “Each of us has a story of our life that is our own; and each of us has a story of our soul that is our own.”
Finally, each of the times of our life, morning, noontime, midafternoon and evening enables us to bring a special strength to our work in the Lord’s vineyard.
When we are young and in our teen years, we bring questions, enthusiasm, inquiry, imagination and energy into the vineyard. In early adulthood, when we are establishing ourselves in the world with a spouse and family, job and profession, we bring competence, ability and commitment to the vineyard as we take the light of Christ beyond our family and friends into the workplace.
Our middle years, mid-life, is the time often of the “second look.” For many, it is a time of reappraisal. We start to see through the illusions of our society. It’s a time to refocus, to stabilize our life, to leave aside or turn from the excesses and focus on what is important. What we bring to the vineyard in the late afternoon is discernment, judgment, maturity and focus.
And in our senior or golden years, we bring wisdom and tolerance. As we get older, friendships become more important and we are – hopefully – more at peace with ourselves. It becomes a time for candor, honesty and contemplation as we gather the experiences of a lifetime and appreciate the graces, blessings and goodness of the Lord that we may have missed before.
Each season of life has its own gift that is brought into the vineyard – the Church. Some older people may not bring as much energy, but they have wisdom. The young may not have experiences but they make up for that in vitality and drive. As the Book of Proverbs reminds us, “The glory of a young man is his strength; the glory of an old man is his experience.” The Church – the vineyard – needs both.
As Isaiah reminds us, “God’s ways are not our ways.” Even today, the ways of God to seek and find each of us are mysterious, unique. How is the Lord calling YOU today? What strengths and gifts can you bring to Christ today? If you hear the call, how will you respond?
Celebrant: God’s ways are not our ways. Because his justice and generosity exceed our standards, we can come to him in prayer, knowing that he listens and that he will act.
READER: For our shepherds in the Church, that Christ may be magnified for them in all things, as the devote their fruitful labour for the benefit of the faithful, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For those nations where equal justice and freedom are denied to working people, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For workers and labourers and those who help them advocate for their rights for a just, living wage, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That we may not begrudge God’s generous and boundless mercy towards all and rejoice with all who are members in our community, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For all who need our prayers, especially those facing hardship, sickness, or those suffering with bereavement, that our gracious and merciful Lord may show them His compassion in healing and strength, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Loving Father, you are near to all who call on you. Welcome our prayers with your generous care, and show us once more your abundant compassion. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. (all) AMEN.