25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 20, 2020

Every time we hear this familiar parable from Saint Matthew’s gospel – if we listen to it carefully – it just doesn’t make sense, does it?  Imagine giving someone who worked one hour the same pay as someone who worked all day.  It simply doesn’t wash.

While I doubt that a labor union would sense that such treatment was fair on the part of the owner of the vineyard toward all his workers, if you probe a bit more deeply into the parable, there really is no injustice taking place, is there?  Every worker receives the agreed upon wage.  The only problem – if there is one – is that those who worked the least amount of time are recipients of the owner’s incredible generosity.  No wrong is committed.  It just doesn’t seem fair.

Now, let’s apply these conclusions to ourselves and particularly to our relationship with God and our journeys of life and faith.  If we’re honest, most of us are not so different from the workers described in Jesus’ parable.  We’re comfortable with a system of merit and reward, aren’t we?  In terms how this relates to God, if we practice our faith, give to the poor and try to live a good life, we’ll receive not only an eternal reward in heaven, but hopefully some benefit in this world as well.

All of this makes sense, doesn’t it – until we see somebody getting ahead of us in this world who doesn’t quite seem to deserve it, at least from our perspective.  And suddenly, we find ourselves reacting just like the workers in today’s gospel.

And that places us face to face with how we believe life should unfold in the divine plan vs. how God choses to direct it.  Simply put, we more often than not expect God to deal with us – and everyone else – on the basis of merit.  God, on the other hand, treats us with mercy – unconditional love – rooted in grace.

It’s hard to accept such a concept of divine generosity when we see ourselves as better than the next person.  It may begin to make a bit more sense when we put ourselves up against heroes like a Mother Teresa – St. Theresa of Calcutta – or Saint Francis of Assisi.

If we find ourselves faced with such struggles, it may help to recall that nowhere in the scriptures does God promise us a perfect life.  He never says that if we’re faithful, we’ll have good health, perfect kids, a great job and no disappointments.  …  And in case you’re not certain of this, recall that life didn’t work that way for Jesus either.

Here’s what the scriptures do say about God’s relationship to us.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).  We are saved not because we deserve to be saved and certainly not because we see ourselves as righteous enough to point out the flaws in someone else’s life.  We are all saved solely because of God’s great mercy and love.

Yes, if our faith is authentic, it will prompt us to live, love and serve in the same manner as the selfless Jesus.  But brothers and sisters, we will always struggle to reflect Jesus’ love in our lives because of sin and the brokenness of our world.  That’s why today’s gospel parable is so consoling, even if on the surface is makes little sense.  We are promised a life of meaning, purpose and peace in this world and in eternity not because of what we do but because of who God is!

So, we can measure ourselves against this materialistic, self-absorbed world and never feel satisfied, always sensing that someone is getting ahead of us even if they don’t deserve it.  Or – we can consider the promises of our faith rooted in Jesus’ example of selfless love and service and discover that we are all richly blessed by God.

The choice is ours.  …  And the fact that we are here to reflect upon life and faith is a pretty significant reminder of just how blessed we are!