25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME A
Recorded at the Australian Catholic Radio Online:
The parable this Sunday seems to defy not just reason but most especially social justice if we do not understand it in its context. The Kingdom of heaven is likened to a landowner who looks weird and unjust. Why would he hire workers four more times? Something was wrong in the mode of payment: those who came last got their pay first and those who had been working the whole day were given the last. And the mind blowing of all was that everybody got the same pay. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading holds the key in understanding the parable: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,” declare Yahweh. So how do we understand the parable in the context of our faith journey?
The first workers hired by God were the Israelites and they were promised a “wage” which is salvation. The consequent workers, the wastrels, were the Gentiles, the prostitutes, the sinners and the outcast. They have also been called by the landowner at a later time in fact in different hours of the day to work in the vineyard. Social justice demands that the first workers will have more because they worked longer hours than those who worked later in the day. Simple justice will also demand that they should be paid first. This is the way we think; this is the way we expect justice should be served. But God’s justice is beyond our expectation and his generosity is unbelievable!
The Jews expected that they would be favored more than anybody else simply because they were the People of God. But because they rejected the gift of salvation, it was offered to the Gentiles and sinners who accepted it, thus: the first will be last and the last will be first.
As the new People of God, we can never demand from God to reward us because we think we are good, holy and deserving. This becomes more real when bad things happen to good people: “Why did God allow this tragedy to happen to me when I am good and faithful to him?” In the midst of pain and suffering, some would say “God is unfair! I do not deserve this.”
In our own workplace justice demands that we should fight for our right, that we should be rewarded with the right compensation commensurate to our work done. But this is not so with the first workers who agreed on a day’s wage which was given by the landowner. They were not happy because they expected more and they became embittered when they looked at others who were given the same pay with them.
One of the cardinal sins is ENVY; it poisons the heart. When we are envious of others, we are not happy and contented with what we have and we feel sad when others possess what we do not have or they possess more than what we have. When it happens, our life becomes miserable!
On one occasion I told Most Rev. Chito Tagle, a very gifted, holy and intelligent bishop in the Philippines: “Bishop Chito, God is so unfair, he has given you all the talents in the world, what about us?” His response consoled me: “Vlad, that is not true; look unto yourself because you will discover many gifts that were not given to me.” After that I realized that I am swimming in an ocean of personal blessings.
Let us rejoice in our own giftedness and equally rejoice in the giftedness of others. Our giftedness is the manifestation of God’s super-generosity. We can never thank God enough.