25th Sunday O T Year – A – 17
Is.55:6-9; Phil.20-24, 27; Matt.20:1-16
I read a story long time ago that one day a great crowd gathered outside the gates of heaven. There was a great anticipation and restlessness as to what would happen next. St. Peter was seen whispering something to Jesus. After some tensed moments, St. Peter came out with an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a predicament here. If we go by the record, none of you will qualify for heaven. But God is good and generous.
On behalf of the Blessed Trinity, I hereby declare general amnesty! Open the gates and let the heavenly feast begin. There was tremendous applause and rejoicing as the gates of heaven were partly opened. Then St. Peter took the microphone again. Everyone was quiet. “There will be final test though, but the general amnesty still stands!” With that, the gates were thrown wide open and everybody started coming in.
There was a group that refused to come in. The group’s members went to St. Peter with a complaint: “We sacrificed much and worked hard on earth. We followed your Ten Commandments. We prayed regularly. We went to Mass every day. Some of us were catechists, lay cooperators, Eucharistic ministers and church workers. How come we get the same reward as the others who lived dirty and useless lives? That’s unfair!” And they refused to enter heaven.
In fact they organized a protest rally and pitched their tents outside the gates of heaven. “Well, that was the final test,’ St. Peter said. They were forever barred from heaven, why? It is because they were still selfish, arrogant and proud. They were thinking of their merits instead of rejoicing in God’s generosity. Such will be the case of people who are selfish, envious and self-righteous.
Today’s readings are all about the sense of justice and the extravagant grace of a merciful God. While God is both just and merciful, God’s mercy often overrides His justice and, hence, God pardons us unconditionally and rewards us generously by opening Heaven for the Gentiles and the Jews.
One of the things I like about this parable is that it makes me angry or at least get a strong reaction out of me. You and I are supposed to get angry at some of the conclusions of the parables, and then only we pause to reflect on why we are angry. It is then that we get the meaning of “God’s grand reversal.”
A fresh apple pie fills the kitchen with its tantalizing aroma. The expectations are high as the family gathers around and the Grandma cuts the pie into equal pieces. Even little Jimmy gets a big slice. Hey! He didn’t even help to make the pie. Why should he get that much!” complains his sister, who helped Grandma slice the apples. The other siblings join in with similar complaints, but the Grandma only smiles and hands Jimmy a fork. “We are all part of the family,” Grandma replies. “Why don’t you all just enjoy what you have got? It is plenty!”
God’s rewards are not earned. They are gifts. As someone said: Rule number one is, God is gracious. Rule number two is, leaning rule number one.” God’s ways are not our ways. And this takes us to the first reading in which the prophet Isaiah reminds the exiles in Babylon that their God is more merciful than they are, and more forgiving. He is ready to pardon their infidelity which has resulted in their exile. Their merciful God will bless them with material and spiritual blessings.
In the second reading, Paul offers himself as an example of total submission to God’s grace. He is ready to live continuing his mission if that is God’s will. At the same time he is ready to die and join the Lord if that is God’s will. Paul was a latecomer in God’s vineyard, preaching the Gospel. But he worked with zeal and interest to spread God’s News of Redemption and Salvation for all. Paul is an example of how grace operates. Being a Christian means accepting God’s word without explanation or justification.
Today’s Gospel is known as “the Parable of Workers in the Vineyard” or “the Parable of the Generous Landlord.” This remarkable and rather startling parable is found only in Matthew. A priest in New Orleans after Katrina saw a child with one shoe. He asked where she had lost the other. The girl replied, “I didn’t. I found this one.” God tells us through this parable: “Don’t cut me down to your size. You fashion God to your image, but I am an original.” This may be the most puzzling of the forty parables of Jesus.
The aim of the parable is a warning to the disciples. Jesus teaches his disciples not to claim any special honor or any special place because they are closely associated with him or because they are the first members of his Church. All the people, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God. Similarly, long-time Church members should expect no special preference over recent members.
It may be a definite warning to the Jews. As the chosen people of God, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles. Jesus warns them that the Gentiles who put their faith in God will have the same reward a good Jew may expect. Matthew, by retelling this parable, may well desire to give the same warning to the members of his Judeo-Christian community who considered the Gentile Christians as second-class Christians.
It may be an explanation by Jesus of His love for the publicans and sinners. Through this parable, Jesus describes the loving concern, generosity and mercy of God his Father for all His children, which Jesus reflects in his life.
The parable suggests that we can’t work our way into heaven because by our own strength we can never do enough good in this life to earn our everlasting reward. That is why God expects us to cooperate with His grace for doing good and avoiding evil. Salvation comes to us by God’s grace and our cooperation with it. It is a blend of faith and works. Amen
Let us reflect this reflection entitled, “Funny, Isn’t It?” by an unknown author. It runs this way:
It is Funny how a $100 bill looks so big when you take it to church, but so small when you take it to the mall. Funny how long it takes to serve God for an hour, but how quickly a team plays 60 minutes of basketball. Funny how long a couple of hours spent at church are, but how short they are when watching a movie.
Funny how we can’t think of anything to say when we pray, but don’t have difficulty thinking of things to talk about to a friend. Funny how we get thrilled when a baseball game goes into extra innings, but we complain when a sermon is longer than the regular time.
Funny how hard it is to read a chapter in the Bible, but how easy it is to read 100 pages of a best-selling novel. Funny how people want to get a front seat at any game or concert, but scramble to get a backseat at church services.
Funny how we need 2 or 3 weeks advance notice to fit a church event into our schedule, but can adjust our schedule for a last minute party. Funny how hard it is for people to learn a simple gospel well enough to tell others, but how simple it is for the same people to understand and repeat gossip.
Funny how we believe what the newspaper says, but question what the Bible says. Funny how everyone wants to go to heaven provided they do not have to believe, or think, or say, or do anything.
Funny how you can send a thousand jokes through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending message how many on your list are not receiving it because you are not sure they believe in anything.
FUNNY, ISN’T IT? Spread the WORD and give thanks to the LORD for HE is GOOD! Amen.