TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Readings:Isaiah 55:6-9Psalms 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18Philippians 1:20-24, 27Matthew 20:1-16
Capitalists beware! You are not going to like this week’s gospel parable. But before we deal with the gospel, let us look at the preparation for the gospel which the the first reading from the prophet Isaiah provides.
Isaiah gives us an important perspective that we can use to interpret the gospel. Isaiah’s encouragement to ”seek the Lord while He may be found, call Him while He is near” is always timely advice. It is what Isaiah says next that is particularly helpful when reading Sunday’s gospel passage: “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Isaiah’s approach might put any hope of knowing how God thinks out of reach, something impossible for us to conceive, and there is a slight possibility that that is true. Isaiah’s point, however, is not meant to be measured in a linear fashion, as if we were to have a rocket ship we could get closer to what God was thinking. No, Isaiah is making a very definite distinction between the way God thinks, and the way humans think. While they could, and at times should, be similar, they will never be the same.
Isaiah’s thinking, and that of the psalmist who tells us that God’s “greatness is unsearchable,” might cause some despair about ever getting close to understanding God, or having some understanding about how God thinks. And we would have every right to despair, had not God decided to send His Son into the world that we might have eternal life, and that we might have a better glimpse of who God is and how God thinks. Left to our own devices, we might still identify God with a bush that burns and remains unconsumed, or see God in the thunder and lightening that so often surrounds us. But when God took on human flesh and became one of us He showed us the very image of God, and during His time on earth He taught us who God is, and how God acts. Jesus in His brief public ministry taught us what we should aspire to, and while we may never be able to fully understand God’s ways, we were made able, as Tevye says in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ to “know who God is and what God expects of us.”
In listening to the gospel being proclaimed we need to resist the temptation to be distracted by “thinking as humans think,” for we will get lost in the outrage that flows from realizing our co-workers who only worked one hour got paid the same wage that those of us who worked all day, bearing “the day’s burden and heat,” got paid. As already hinted, the gospel is not to be viewed in an entirely capitalistic way. Unions would object to the unequal pay, and would no doubt stage walk-outs or sit-ins.
It is important to remember that this is a parable, and parables were not meant to be interpreted literally. They are word images that were intended to get Jesus’ listeners to think, and in this case to think about the kingdom of heaven. The verse just before our gospel today, reads “but many who are first will be last, and the last will be first,” the exact words used to end our gospel today. The parable is meant to give us some understanding of how this is so.
The landowner, whom we can assume to be God, goes out at dawn and hires workers. Several hours later the landowner “found others standing around” and hired them to work in his vineyard, and later at noon and five o’clock he does the same thing. The workers who had worked all day expected more pay, but they are reminded that they agreed to work for the “usual daily wage,” and they are chided by the landowner “are you envious because I am generous?”
Remember, the parable is about the kingdom of heaven; it is not a lesson in economics. The Gospel of Matthew was intended for a Jewish audience, and while Jesus came into our world as a Jew, the Jewish authorities rejected Jesus and encouraged the Romans to crucify Him. They are still the “chosen people,” but the gospel is now shared with the latecomers, the Gentiles, and no matter when “they went to work in the vineyard,” they too will be first in God’s eyes. The gospel is not about remuneration, it is about being the people God intended us to be, men and women who work at spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in this vineyard that we call our world. We rejoice that God is so generous that it does not matter when the gospel becomes ours enough that we can work at spreading it – God offers all of us the same benefits – eternal life. God is anxious to gather “even those standing around idly” into His kingdom. It is not for us to ever question God’s generosity. Rather, we are to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, in good times and in bad, when it is convenient and inconvenient, and, as Paul tells us in the second reading, we are always “to conduct [ourselves] in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”