25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 55:6-9 – Philippians 1:20-24,27 – Matthew 20:1-16.
Today’s Gospel sets before us an illustration of the generosity of God, which is beyond human experience. Our Lord is from heaven, so He’s telling us what God ‘is like’ (Mt 20:1). God’s love for us boundless: His mercy extends to those who have laboured all their lives in His service, and to those who live with broken faith or no faith but who turn to him even in their dying hour, at the ‘eleventh hour’. Today we celebrate the God of our salvation who wants everyone to be saved (1Tim 2:4). God generously offers salvation to everyone who is willing to accept it. God doesn’t want anyone to be lost, but He gives people the free will either to choose Him or to be lost (Jn 17:12). God has an infinitely bigger picture of reality and of this life than we do in space and chronological time, because He and heaven are limitless and timeless.
God’s generosity. Our picture of God is influenced to some extent by our human way of looking at things; and that is why, as we listen to this parable, we are tempted to share in the grumbling of the workers who have laboured in the vineyard since early morning. In human terms it seems a bit unfair that, after slaving all day in the hot sun, they got the same pay as those who were taken on for just one hour, even though that was what they had contracted to do. If we get distracted by the apparent injustice to those who toiled all day, we miss the point. The parable is not dealing with equal rights for all, or with an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Its main thrust is to show the limitless generosity of God in throwing open the doors of the Kingdom of heaven to everyone who says ‘yes’ to Him. We do not deserve His generous gifts, but we have to put them to work for Him.
The labourers. To appreciate what Jesus is teaching us here, we need to understand who the labourers were. We need to bear in mind that the latecomers who went into the vineyard were not wasters. They were labourers who were prepared to work and who needed a job. The fact that they were still there waiting at 5:00pm shows how badly they needed work. In Jesus’ time, if a man didn’t find work each day, his family didn’t eat the next. A man who found work early in the morning rejoiced all day because tomorrow’s meal was assured. The labourers represent everybody who is seeking God and want Him in their lives, who see beyond the comforts of the present life and who desire the blessing of eternal life (a ‘satisfying tomorrow’) with God, Some people make the most of this life by finding God early on, but others can take longer to have personal experience of God. One important point is that all these labourers, these people who needed to serve Him and gain His blessings, were rewarded. What a message of hope this is – that many people who are not yet busy for God still have an opportunity to do so and be saved. As long as we are alive, it is not too late. But then, no one should purposely delay until the ‘eleventh hour’ to respond to the Landowner’s voice calling them to His vineyard, because no one knows the day or the hour when The Son of Man will come (Mt 24.36; Mk 13:32). Delay risks missing out on God’s offer of heaven. From this perspective, you will notice that the early labourers – the apostles – had the additional reward of being with Jesus and participating in His mission. We can be rewarded similarly in our time.
They got it wrong. We may well ask ourselves why those who were called early were unhappy with the good fortune of the latecomers. The answer is: envy. Envy is when we are upset that somebody else has something that we think we ought to have, or have our noses put out of joint when somebody else is more favoured than we are. Before God, everyone is as favoured as those who were called late to the vineyard. Had the early workers not learned what the Landowner paid the latecomers, they would have gone home joyful and thankful. As it was, they were envious. If we’re going to get to heaven, we have to adjust to God’s open-handed generosity.
Unfortunately, we can be sure that envy is sometimes found among people who regard themselves as devout Christians. They cannot accept that after devoting their lives to the service of God, giving time to prayer, Mass, the sacraments, and in the service of other people, they end up no better off than those who didn’t bother God or turn to Him until the very last moment. Quite apart from the fact that nobody can judge how any person stands before God, such an attitude betrays a complete lack of understanding of the Christian mission on earth, which is to bring salvation to all people! Entry into heaven sooner or later, regardless of the date and time, makes no difference, because it is given to all who do the will of God the Father and who seek Him with all their heart.
In conclusion, everything we have is a free gift of God’s love and mercy. We cannot fathom His generosity, but one thing is certain: God’s ways are not our ways (Is 55:8). Our talents and paths in life might be different, and it might take some longer than others to love God, but it is important that we look for Him and find Him and help others to find Him and serve Him in this world as we ourselves prepare for heaven. We must love Him for the salvation He has given us, and love Him simply because of His glory. What He does in-and-for other people is no cause for envy. There is no need to compare ourselves with others, because each of us is beautifully and wonderfully made by God (Ps 139:14). You are unique and precious to Him (Eph 2:10). Rest assured that God offers salvation to every soul, even at the last moment of life (Lk 23:43). Amen. God bless you.