25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
September 21, 2008
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

Readings: Is 55:6-9 / Phil 1:20c-24 / Mt 20: 1-16a

In these times of increasing unemployment and underemployment, when those who have jobs are underpaid (at least compared to the cost of living that continues to rise, along with the rise in prices of petrol), and when those who do have work are not doing the job he or she has trained for, there is apparently little good news in today’s gospel.

In these times when due to underemployment in many countries, coupled with rising living standards, - all taking place as logical offshoots of globalization – not a few quizzical eyebrows would be raised in the face of the apparent injustice committed by the landowner of the gospel parable for today.

Indeed, the world is mute witness to so much inequality. We have heard enough of CEOs of big corporations in America who retire – or are fired – with huge emoluments that are patently more than enough for them to live a life of comfort and affluence, with more to spare for their heirs (up to the third and fourth generation!). We have heard enough about the unproportionately large take-home pays of the CEOs even of government institutions. We know enough to make most of us ordinary workers drool at the thought of how much those CEOs truly receive as take home pay.

In such a situation, can we be blamed if we feel a little short changed, if we feel there is something amiss in today’s parable, if we feel that there is something unjust in today’s Gospel parable.

Is there room for the Good News in such a state of affairs? Isn’t there some kind of mistake somewhere here? Is this for real? Are we to take these things sitting down, allowing injustice to prevail in the land?

Take the case of all those Filipino overseas foreign workers whom our politicians just love to describe as “modern-day heroes” who dutifully and religiously shell out a portion of their hard-earned money to so many pre-need companies, in their simple belief that this is the only wise investment they can ever think of, only to wake up one day that their hard-earned money is gone? Take now, the case of those who put in their lifetime savings, their retirement lump sums in the pyramidal schemes that make retirees and widows to part with their life savings, only to realize one day that the bubble has burst? r

There must be something wrong here. There must be a mistake!

Oh, yes, there is something seriously wrong where injustice reigns! No, there is nothing wrong with what the gospel parable today would have us understand.

For this is not all about remuneration. This is not all about what is due to anyone by justice. This is not all about what one has to be rightfully receiving or meriting on account of one’s work. This is not all about the ways of this world that goes by definite standards of calculation and quantification and rightful compensation. If it were so, I would say, the workers who just came in – the Johnny-come-latelies who pitched in almost nothing to the enterprise of the landowner deserved nothing in return for their little work.

But this parable is not about all of the above. This parable has something otherworldly. For it has to do not with compensation per se. It is not an employee manual or a how-to-remunerate-your-worker manual kind of thing. It is not about paying work here. It is about DOING SOME WORK FOR GOD. In other words, this parable has to do not with us getting what we deserve from God, but about getting much, much more than we really deserve.

Let’s face it! No one deserves to do work for God. No one has the innate right to do work for Him. All of us, St. Paul says, fall short of God’s glory! No one deserves to be called to pitch in and help God advance His cause. It is all God who calls. It is all God who makes us do His work. And it is all up to Him also to recognize each and everyone who does work for Him. This is not remuneration. This is generosity that comes from the nature of a God who makes His sun shine on the good and bad alike. This is the largesse of a God whose standards do not fit in the ordinary earthly mould of hours and weeks and months and years of service which are then to be given corresponding equivalents. This is the management style of a God whose priority is not our capability, our talent, and our efficiency – nor our productivity, but His dream, His work, His cause, His project. This is the invitation of a God whose overriding concern is what we could do to help Him save a world without divisions, borders, distinctions and separations. This is the all-inclusive nature of a God who does not discriminate for any reason. All He looks for is willingness, availability, and readiness to do His will – yes, including accepting outcasts – those who would generally not be accepted and those who would most likely be ignored. This harks back to the Gospel of the 20th Sunday which spoke of the Canaanite woman. Although a Gentile, an outcast – a foreigner – she received healing from the Lord who saw through her great faith and tenacity in prayer.

How different would have been the standards we would have used! How different are our ways from the ways of God! “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” These comforting – if, truthful – words from Isaiah, we must remember, were addressed to “scoundrels” – those who are not looked upon nicely by the mainstream crowd. To these scoundrels, Isaiah counsels: “Let him turn to the Lord for mercy…seek the Lord while He may be found, call him while he is near.”

We are back to the nature of God as one who loves unconditionally, one who welcomes with no ifs and buts, with no prior requirements. But to reach this conviction takes more than just reflecting on it. The questions the landowner posed to the complaining workers who felt shortchanged are significant here: “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”

Indeed God’s ways are as high as the heavens above the earth; so high above men’s thoughts! God is calling on us to elevate our thoughts like God’s. He calls us to rise above the usual ways of reasoning and thinking that keep us bogged down in selfish motives. The clue to the understanding of today’s obscure gospel parable is there: in the motivation with which we do things. No simple earthly motive will do. Working for pay alone will not make us happy. It is bound, in fact, to make us unhappy seeing that others get much more for less work. It is bound to make us disconcerted finding out that others who are just upstarts, as it were, who just got to the group, or just got ordained or appointed to a sensitive leadership post, are getting more than their fair share of the limelight, and the adulation or admiration of people. Former students are becoming better than their mentors. Former subjects are now taking over and taking the helm of command. People who used to be dependent on us, now have cut a broad swath of their own in the road of life and trailblazing for others in their own right. Those who used to consult us are now ruling over us. Friends who fawned on us now frown at us, perhaps dissatisfied with our performance. And the greatest seeming insult is as Matthew reports: "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.(MT 21:31) Those people we love to look down upon, those people we love to hate because they have been labeled as such by society, turn out to be as worthy of God’s love and forgiveness as all the rest of us who think of ourselves as more deserving.

This puts us right at the heart of motivations. Why do we do what we do? Why do we do work for God? Is it for the rewards that God – or other humans - can give or it is because of God Himself? Jesus shows us the way. He tells us that the only valid motive, the only valid reason for doing work for God is nothing else, nothing less, nothing more than love. This is the love that is behind the generosity of the landowner who gave all of one day’s worth of work to those who were given work at the last hour. Through no fault of their own, they could not work, and when given work, they applied themselves to it with unfeigned alacrity. This is the same love as motivation that would make us accept the basically unacceptable, that would help us take the back seat and allow others to shine too, to strut their hour upon the stage, as it were, and become, either like us or even better than us. The questions of the landowner are, therefore, also a call to humility, a reminder that, after all, no one has the monopoly of anything in this world, that – excuse the analogy – every dog, too, has his own day, and that God is free to love whom He wills, and makes his sun to shine on all, bad and good alike.

This understandably high level of motivation – to think as God thinks – is not possible without prayer. Isaiah counsels us to “seek the Lord while He may be found.” To think as God thinks… this has to take place through active seeking. It cannot happen only through wishful thinking. We have to make it happen.

What better way is there for us to make it happen as in this Eucharistic event, where there are no boundaries, no divisions, no distinctions? Here in the Eucharistic celebration, where we ought to feel welcomed, loved and accepted as we are, here is the opportunity, like no other, where we can immerse ourselves in the best prayer that hopefully, through God’s grace, we may gradually grow and think as God thinks, love as God loves. For although God’s ways are not our ways, we are called to become like Him. It is now time to begin… to seek God while He may be found.


Anonymous said…
Father.. thanks for your reflections.. i learned a lot of things!! ...Kudos! -Junette Gonzales
Overall I really like what is said here! I like your call to action in spite of circumstances. That is the most important thing mentioned I got. Actions are a byproduct of Christian living, not a choir, nor something we have to do. As you pointed out the most important of these is LOVE and Christian's lack that more then most. I shamefully say that as a Christian.

I was a little confused on the headline though, as I was drawn to this site because of the headline.
MY THOUGHTS ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS, NOR ARE YOUR WAYS MY WAYS! While very true to the basic principal of that philosophy, it is not the accurate representation of a Christian's life. We become one with God and His thoughts through our daily living with Him. (I think that is what you are saying) I just sometimes hear that used as a cop-out to no action (not doing) because we can't figure God out. (If I heard you correctly, you are trying to re-aline that way of thinking?)

I certainly do not want to seem as if I am negating what you had written, as it bears good witness to my spirit. I simply want to point out the context to whom Paul was writing. That phrase you wrote about in the headline, Paul is talking ABOUT unbelievers.
(1 Corinthians 1:18-31) The Unbeliever does NOT know God's thoughts & ways. The believer WILL know God's Thoughts & Ways through a relationship with Him. God's thoughts are to do just as Christ did. Jesus was a perfect reflection of God's WILL.


I claim Prosperity for 2009! In Jesus name, Praise God!

Love, Praise, Renew, Persevere-