LISTEN TO GOD’S CALL AND SET TO WORK DILIGENTLY IN HIS VINEYARD
(A biblical reflection on the 25th ORDINARY SUNDAY [Year A], 20 September 2020)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalms: Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18; Second Reading: Philippians 1:20-24,27
The Scripture Text
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16 RSV)
Jesus used many parables – stories about everyday affairs, well-known to His hearers – to illustrate or bring out a spiritual message. The spiritual truth He wanted to teach all the Jews, but especially the Pharisees, was that the life of eternal happiness is sheer gift of God’s generosity. It cannot be earned by any man. The fact that the Jews that are the Chosen People of God up to then was no guarantee that their future was assured, and the fact that other nations were heathens and sinners hitherto was no impediment to their entrance into heaven provided they turned to God and His Son. This story is about the generosity of God, whose gifts are not restricted to our merits and whose call can come at the latest hour.
The call to the vineyard (to the Church), through God’s gift of faith and the sacrament of baptism, is a gift for which we can never sufficiently thank God. If we remain in the vineyard and labor honestly, that is, if we cooperate with the actual graces God is continually giving us, we are assured of reaching heaven when our earthly days are ended.
The work we have to do in God’s vineyard is the fulfilling of the duties of our state in life. By carrying out these duties faithfully and honestly we are doing the will of God and earning heaven. The greater part of our day and indeed of our life, will be taken up with tasks of themselves worldly, but these tasks when done in the state of grace and with the intention of honoring God, have a supernatural value. For this we have to thank God for His goodness and generosity.
God could have made the attainment of heaven so much more difficult. He could have demanded extraordinary mortifications and renunciations and the reward (heaven) would still be exceedingly great. Instead He allows us to live our everyday life, to enjoy the love and friendship of our family and friends, to satisfy the natural desires of our bodies, within the commandments, and yet to merit a supernatural reward while so doing. As He tells us through Saint Paul: “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 RSV).
Looking back on our past life, how many years have we really given to God since we came to the use of reason? Those school years, the time spent learning a trade or profession, the weeks, months, years working in an office or factory or farm, the hours among the pots and pans in the kitchen – have we earned some credit in heaven for all of this, or is it all crossed off our paysheet through lack of right intention or through sin?
If so, those years are lost to us. We were “idle” all that time. Today’s parable, however, should give us new hope and courage. It may be the sixth or ninth or even the eleventh hour of our life but we can still earn heaven if we listen to God’s call and set to work diligently in His vineyard. If we put our conscience right with God today and resolve to be loyal to Him from now on, He will be as generous to us, as the parable promises.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, remind us constantly that our calls and rewards are totally the grace and generosity of our heavenly Father, and we cannot apply human standards and limits to His generosity. We do not ask to be treated fairly, but for our hearts that treat others as He has treated us. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 September 2020
A Christian Pilgrim