The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time “A”

How many of us think that Jesus' parable today is telling us a story about a situation that is both unfair and unjust. I’m pretty sure every one of us can think of some injustice in our lives. If we think back over the years can we remember some things that have happened to us that we figure were pretty unjust?

I think most of us have some experience of injustice in our lives. Sometimes that injustice that has happened to us leaves a wound that takes a long time to heal. However Jesus’ story today is not about injustice because really there is no injustice done to anyone in it.

And Jesus’ parable is not about justice either, although for sure the story goes out of its way to tell us that justice is done.

Justice is a great thing and it is one of those things that is stressed over and over again in the Bible. But as I said, Jesus' story is not about justice either.

If it’s not about justice or injustice what then is this parable all about? The owner of the vineyard says 'Are you envi­ous because I am generous?' And that phrase is the key phrase of the whole story. This parable is about generosity, a generosity unlike anything we've ever known or seen in our lives.

The eleventh-hour workers were not lazy people who didn't want to work. But they were people no respectable employer would hire. These people were the leftovers, the rejects. All the good workers were gone to work already.

And so the idea that any employer would take these peo­ple on at the eleventh hour, and pay them a full day's wage, was really unthink­able. Yet this is exactly what the owner of the vineyard did. And that action is the whole point of the parable. In this story Jesus isn’t talking about human generosity but rather He is talking about the generosity of God. In today’s First Reading it was said, 'God's ways are not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts'. And so, in today’s Gospel God's generosity is totally unlike human generosity.

I mean who among us would have done what the owner of the vineyard did? Think about it. In today’s world, truthfully, who among us is going to pay someone the same wage for one hour’s work as we would for eight hours work. It’s not going to happen. Jesus aimed this parable directly at the Pharisees. You see, the Pharisees were critical of Jesus because He befriended sinners and so Jesus gave them His answer in this par­able.

In this parable Jesus shows them and shows us what God is like: God is generous and full of compassion for the poor, the outcast and the sinner. God is generous and full of compassion for all of us. God deals with us in ways that are very different from the ways we normally deal with one another. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is God's generosity above our generosity. The goodness of God is a great comfort to us. But it is also a great challenge to us, because you know what? We are called to imitate it. We are called to deal with one another the same way as God deals with us. And that is a great responsibility.

Therefore we are called to conversion, because a conversion is required before we can begin to act like God. Not an intellectual conversion, not a conversion of the mind but a conversion of the heart.

St John says: 'Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.' Once God has touched our hearts, and warmed them with His love, we will begin to love in our turn. And then we will truly know what God is like. God is love. This parable is about God's gen­erosity to all of us. This parable is about giving. Giving what? This parable is about God giving us that free and utterly undeserved gift that we call grace and our response to that gift.

If we accept that view then we can see that it is about God's call to us, and blessed are those who listen to Him and respond to His call and in turn 'call to Him', realizing that 'He is close to all who call on Him, who call on Him from their hearts'. The landowner in the parable calls workers into His vineyard at daybreak, at the third hour, at the sixth and ninth hours and finally at the eleventh hour. When we listen to this story we have to all agree that this is a most peculiar way of going about things.

This parable is telling a story not about unemployment, it is not about wages, but rather it is teaching the Pharisees and us about how God has dealt with the human race throughout the ages. Jesus was speaking to His disciples who knew their Scriptures very well and, as He spoke to them, they remembered the call to Abraham who was called by God three times and each time Abraham answered the call, believing and trusting in God, obeying God and doing what God told Him to do.

That same call came to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, to Moses who led the people out of the captivity of Egypt into the freedom of the desert. And it is here we can begin to understand the meaning of the divine call. It was there in the desert that God made a covenant with the people, a covenant, a union that later in the Old Testament is called a love-pact, a marriage between God and His chosen people.

God gave them a way of life called the Torah, which literally means “the law”, which includes the Ten Commandments but also a great deal more. Through Moses the people were called upon to promise that they would keep the law, and God promised to bind Himself to them and so they would be His people and He would be their God. This was all sealed by sacrifice when Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrificed animal saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.'

All seemed pretty good for the future of the chosen ones, but unhappily it was not so. As we know, in spite of repeated calls through the prophets over the centuries, in spite of all the various and painful turns of fortune for the Jewish people, time and again they failed to make an adequate response to God

And so it was in the fullness of time that God sent His Son, born of a woman, Mary of Nazareth, born a subject of the old law, that He might redeem those who were under the old law. And He came and dwelt among us and taught and called people to Himself, among them He called the twelve disciples and He called all the others, men and women, of whom we read about in the gospels. He called them, they responded, they followed, and they like ourselves were those who were called at the eleventh hour to experience the generosity of God. And our calling at the eleventh hour was completed by the New Covenant.

At the Last Supper, on the night before He died to show us and to show the whole of the human race how much He loved us, He said a prayer of blessing over some bread - Jesus said, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' He said a prayer of thanksgiving over the wine and offering it to the twelve said: 'This is my blood of the covenant. Take and drink.' This was and this is the sacrament of the New Covenant with the new People of God, brought into existence by the shedding of Jesus' blood and the complete free will of­fering of Himself to His Father.

As we read in the Gospel of St John, greater love, (and we could say here, greater generosity) no one could have than that He should give His life for others. That is the generosity shown in today's gospel.

So let us not forget that we also are being called. We are among the last to be called, those called at the eleventh hour, and therefore we have an obligation to re­spond to God's call by our daily living, by our lived faith, and by the love of God and for each other which we should return for the love that Jesus has shown us. We are in a sense privileged and at the same time we are not privileged. We are privileged in that through no merit of our own we have been called freely by God‘s grace into God's church out of the infinite goodness of God.

At the same time not privileged because, if like the people of old we fail to respond to God’s call, to God’s grace, if we fail to live for Him, if we fail to take our place in co-working with Him to bring about His kingdom, His reign, then we shall have forfeited whatever may seem to have been a privileged position. For by our disobedience and rebellion then the last shall become first but we who are first can also become the last.

And so, these are the questions that Jesus asks us in this parable: In our lives as faithful Catholic Christians, how are we responding to God’s grace? Are we responding to God’s call to live for Him, to put Him first in our lives, to obey Him and His church in order to help Him bring about His Kingdom, His reign?

Are we keeping our part of the bargain? Are we our brother’s keeper as God asks us to be? How are we responding to His call to forgive each other, to help each other, to guide and teach each other, to pray for each other? Are we truly obeying His command to love one another with the generosity that He has loved us?

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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