“[A]re you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15)

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:6-9

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. 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.

Philippians 1:20C-24, 27A

Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Matthew 20:1-16A

Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o'clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.' So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o'clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o'clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They answered, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard.' When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.' When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.' He said to one of them in reply, '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?' Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last."

“It’s just not fair!”

“I deserve it!”

“They don’t deserve anything!

How many times have we heard or uttered these powerful words? The feelings of discontent, anger, and jealousy, though real in every sense and we must not casually dismiss or ignore them, are often rooted in our misunderstanding of the big picture and our inability to look beyond the reality in front of our eyes. Further, “fair” and “deserve” may not be the right terms to express such reality. When a sibling receives more attention from the parents; when a colleague receives more recognition for the same amount of work; when a student is given more time and/or resources to complete the same task at school; when someone skips the line at the restaurant or grocery store; all these scenarios seem to be far too familiar to all of us. Such examples are certainly not lacking in the Bible: the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”; the “Parable of the Lost Sheep”; and of course, this week’s Gospel from Matthew, “The Labourers in the Vineyard”. Each of these stories reveals a truth about God’s Kingdom and vision, one that is drastically different from and beyond our perception. This week’s readings invite us to free ourselves from our presumptions so that God’s big picture, beyond the limited reality we can perceive with our eyes, can be made visible to our heart.

This week’s Gospel from Matthew offers a scenario that is quite puzzling. The landowner goes out to hire labourers to work for the agreed upon “usual daily wage” (Mt 20:2). This individual seems nice enough, and even benevolent, as he keeps hiring people throughout the day as long as people need employment. The interesting twist in the story is that he decides to pay everyone the same daily wage regardless of the number of hours they spend working in his vineyard! At this junction, even readers can’t help but protest, “It’s not fair!” That’s exactly what one of the labourers said, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (Mt 20:12). The landowner doesn’t get angry or give in, he simply says, “are you envious because I am generous” (Mt 20:15)?

Let’s not pretend that this is easy to swallow or understand; however, Isaiah explains this mystery perfectly, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9). Our human “thoughts” and “ways” are limited and short-sighted. The story of “The Labourers in the Vineyard” as well as Isaiah’s words demand a paradigm shift in our perception and understanding of what’s right and just. Does giving everyone the exact same resources, regardless of individuals’ needs and circumstances, seem “fair”? What’re the better and more merciful options? Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Indeed, such is the measure of the Kingdom of God. This certainly resonates with what St. Paul has been teaching us all along, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it” (1Cor 12:22-26).

Through the lens of God’s Kingdom, God’s mercy is ever richer to those who need it; even for the “unrighteous”, “let that person 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 mercy is without limit and is abundant for everyone who is willing to receive it. Indeed, like the Psalmist says, “The Lord is just in all his ways and kind in all his doings” (Ps 145:17). God’s justice is not our justice; God’s ways are not our ways; He does everything out of kindness. In truth, justice and mercy go hand in hand.

Indeed, at the heart of God’s kingdom is love from which God’s grace flows freely and generously. It will be presumptuous for any one of us to think that we “deserve” anything from God; our everything – our life – is a pure gift of love from our Heavenly Father. Like the landowner, God chooses and calls each of us by name to enter into His Kingdom (the vineyard); into an intimate and genuine relationship as children instead of servants.

Posted: September 20, 2020

Susanna Mak

Susanna深信,信仰需要在日常生活中顯露出來,尤其是當與別人相處時,需要分擔對方所面對的困境、抉擇和挑戰。她有着很多不同的身份:女兒、姐姐、朋友、姨姨、妻子、老師、校牧、終身學習者和偶爾替《生命恩泉》寫作的作者。在每一個身份當中, 她努力為天主的愛和希望作見証。 她在多倫多擔任高中教師近二十年,擁有英語、學生讀寫能力、青年領袖活動、校牧組等經驗。 她是多倫多大學商業和英語學士,教育學士,亞省Athabasca大學綜合研究碩士,以及擁有多倫多大學Regis學院神學研究碩士證書。她對於成為《生命恩泉》寫作團隊的一份子, 深感榮幸。 Susanna has a deep conviction that faith needs to be manifested in daily life, particularly, in one’s encounters with others as well as amidst dilemmas, choices, and challenges. She strives to be a living sign of God’s love and hope as a daughter, sister, friend, aunt, wife, teacher, chaplain, life-long learner, and occasional writer for FLL. She has been a high school teacher in Toronto for almost 20 years, with experiences in English and literacy, youth leadership initiatives, the Chaplaincy Team, to mention a few. She has a B. Comm, B.A. in English, and a B. Education from University of Toronto, an M.A. in Integrated Studies from Athabasca University, and a Graduate Certificate of Theological Studies from Regis College, U of T. She is humbled by the opportunity to be part of the FLL Writing Team.

Other Sunday Reflections

Faith Is Trusting That God Will Keep His Promises
We don’t know how and we don’t know when, but Jesus will return as he promised. When he does, we’d better be ready! Continue Reading >
For what do you live?
It is natural that we human beings have desires. A person without any desire soon loses one's purpose to live. Continue Reading >
A powerful and effective prayer
We ask God to treat us with the same measure of mercy we show to others. Continue Reading >