Read Isaiah 55:6-9, Ps. 145:2-3,8-9,17-18, Philippians 1:20-24,27, Matthew 20:1-16
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15)
Last Sunday, Jesus told us a parable to stress the importance of forgiving those who hurt us without counting. We must keep forgiving others because God has forgiven us an even greater debt. God will never demand from us what He is unwilling to give. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives another parable to teach us that just as God demands continuous forgiveness from us, God willingly forgives continuously. The Master kept going out at different intervals to recruit more labourers to work in the vineyard until the last hour. As long as persons were willing to work, the master would employ them.
On the other hand, while we tend to discriminate against those who hurt us in the past (even though we pretend to have forgiven them), Jesus teaches us that God is not like that. When God forgives, we do not become second-class citizens; His forgiveness is complete. Regardless of when the sinner repents, God does not consider them inferior to those who never sinned. God does not discriminate.
The parable in today’s Gospel passage resembles the parable of the Prodigal Son in so many ways, and it was addressed to the same group of people – those who felt they were better than others. The Jews, like the elder brother, thought they deserved more from God than the “sinners” (the Gentiles who were latecomers to the faith), but Jesus told this parable to emphasise what our first reading today says – God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts.
The fact that the Master agreed to pay a full day’s salary even to those who worked only one hour tells us of the generosity of God. On the Cross of Calvary, one of the thieves said to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” In one sentence, Jesus absolved him of his past sins and gave him a ticket to heaven. This man lived a bad life, and here, Jesus was essentially making him equal to all who have worked all their lives to enter heaven.
God’s generosity may be seen as “injustice”, but who would survive if God treated us according to our sins? Why do we point fingers at others, forgetting that our so-called goodness is only by God’s grace? Imagine you were the thief who got this express ticket to heaven, the prodigal son, or the worker hired very late; wouldn’t you be happy? How would you respond to those angry with God, saying you do not deserve such love?
God’s generosity gives us hope. It teaches us that it is never too late to repent. If you hear this message today, God says, “No matter what your past has been, you too can enjoy the bliss of heaven with all the Saints.” Nevertheless, you would have to agree to work in the vineyard. God’s generosity must never be taken for granted. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking there is still time. Today is all you have. Let us now consider in detail our lessons for today.
1. Time is Ticking Out.
Someone once said: “There are no poor or rich people. Everyone has only twenty-four hours a day, regardless of race, colour, creed or family background.” No matter how influential or powerful you are, you cannot add even a minute to your allotted twenty-four hours. This also means that you cannot extend your allotted time on earth. The Prophet Isaiah, in today’s first reading, passionately appeals to us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found.”
This means there will surely come a time when the Lord can no longer be found. There would come a time when God would no longer be near, and repentance would be impossible. Dear friends, now is the time to repent. Now is the time for you to stop your wickedness against others. Now is the time to stop fighting people and wishing evil against others. Isaiah says: “Forsake your thoughts.” Change your thoughts. Return to God while you still have the opportunity to do so.
2. Honour God with Your Body
The words of St. Paul in our Second Reading today are quite profound and worthy of meditation. “Christ will be honoured in my body whether by life or death. To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death is very frightening. The only way to defeat death is to make your life meaningful. St. Paul says: “For me, to live is Christ.” That is to say, live for Christ. Make Christ your topmost priority.
How do we live for Christ? This is where our Gospel passage today comes in. Jesus, speaking through the parable, tells us to work for him. Contribute to fostering God’s kingdom on earth. Plant the faith, spread the Good News, and influence good morals. The vineyard is so big that there can never be enough labourers. There is always going to be room for more because: “The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)
3. Collaboration, not Competition.
When we begin to serve in God’s vineyard, we must watch out for the temptation to become proud. Somehow, we start looking down on others because we feel we are better than them. Like Saul, who could no longer stand David (because the women were singing his praises after the defeat of Goliath), we become envious of those we once considered neophytes to the faith. Never look down on others – the fact that you are senior to them in the faith (or older than them in the ministry) does not make you better than them.
What made the workers who were hired first think they deserved more than those hired last? Did they not agree with the master to be paid a denarius each at the end of the day’s work? Why did they grumble at the Master after getting their agreed amount? They compared themselves to those hired later. Do you desire to have peace of mind? Stop comparing yourself with others.
To avoid comparing ourselves to others, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are collaborators and not competitors as far as God’s vineyard is concerned. God’s kingdom is a relay, not a sprint. You cannot run it all by yourself. Before you came, others were on it, and after you died, people would continue the task.
4. It is the Eleventh Hour, yet God is still Recruiting
Are you ashamed of your past? Do you feel you have gone too far from God? My dear, your present is more important than your past. You may have stood idle all day, even buried your talents and hung up your work tools, but God is saying to you today: “You too, go into my vineyard.” It is not too late to repent. The Psalmist sings: “The Lord is close to all who call on him.” What are you waiting for? Call Him today.
5. Remember the Idle; Give Them Work
Finally, this parable of Jesus reminds us of one ugly truth. There are a lot of people today who are very hardworking and who desire to work, but no one has hired them. Sometime in the past, a president of an African country described the youth of his country as “lazy.” To be unemployed is not the same thing as being lazy. The fact that one is sick does not mean they are dead.
With the current hardship in our country today, we who are well-to-do must create jobs for our teeming youth population (provide an enabling environment for them to exercise their creativity and energy). Already, we are sitting on a time bomb. Don’t be selfish. Please remove as many young people as you can from the streets.
Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, help me to make the best use of my time, to repent while I can, to serve with all I have and to bear fruits for your kingdom on earth. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Isaiah 55:6-9, Ps. 145:2-3,8-9,17-18, Philippians 1:20-24,27, Matthew 20:1-16).
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu