WORDS OF LIFE 21st September 2014 Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday Readings: ISAIAH 55:6-9; PHILLIPIANS 1:20c-24, 27a; MATTHEW 20:1-16a
Theme: Our God is a God, who surprises us!
Once God took a stroll around heaven and found everyone there. In contrast, hell was empty! Annoyed by God's leniency, Fr. Pius protested. To pacify him God ordered Peter to re-examine the entries into heaven. Peter read out the Ten Commandments aloud. "Whoever has broken these commandments," announced God, "shall proceed to hell!" One by one people began to admit their guilt and went to hell. By the time all commandments were read out there was no one left in heaven except Fr. Pius. Feeling lonely, God said, "Tell them all to come back!" Fr. Pius grumbled, "O God, that's unfair! Why didn't you tell me this before?"
Admittedly pious Christians like Fr. Pius, you and me, might find God's ways very awful and strange, most often cannot comprehend them. That's what the first reading asserts: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord"(Is.55:8). He is a God who surprises us! Hence He invites all: "Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Is.55:7). God's mysterious ways are revealed in today's parable, 'The Labourers in the Vineyard' found only in Matthew's Gospel.
In the parable all the labourers – whether employed at the first, third, sixth, ninth or eleventh hour - were poor and needy. Moreover, all wanted to work but couldn't because in their very words, "no one has hired us" (Mt.20:7). Sensing their dire need and willingness to work, the landowner not only hires them but also gives them a just wage. However, those employed first consider this as injustice and grumble. The landowner clarifies, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?" (Mt.20:13).
This parable isn't simply about life, but about the ' Kingdom of Heaven!' God alone will decide who is to be honoured in heaven. Heaven is not our birthright! We cannot earn heaven by our own efforts but it is a sheer gratuitous gift of God. The questions like, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Mt.20:15) are really challenging questions that remain unanswered. The grumblers are contesting against God's astounding generosity!
Obviously, Jesus narrates this parable in the context of the 'early workers,' the Pharisees, who were furious to see the 'latecomers,' namely, the tax-collectors and sinners, repenting and regarded as the heirs of heaven! Jesus was giving them a foretaste of the gratuitousness of God's love. Indeed he is a God, who surprises us! "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mt.20:16).
Along this line, today's responsorial psalm proclaims, "The Lord is good to all" (Ps.145), for, God is truly a generous parent (Father) to all people. We who believe and follow this great generous God and a God of surprises, without judging or envying anyone, let us follow God's ways and not man's, since, "Man's ways lead to a hopeless end, God's ways lead to endless hope!"
Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to be gracious and generous like you and to understand your thoughts and to follow in your way. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Anil Kiran Fernandes SVD