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God is Generous

September 20, 2020

A reflection for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A, The readings are Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145 Philippians 1:20, 24, 27a and Matthew 20:1-16a

Gleichnis von den Arbeitern im Weinberg (Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard) by Jacob Willemsz de Wet (fl. 1632–1675). Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

I hate this parable. Well, ok, I don’t really hate it, but I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I think most of you can relate because we know what it’s like to have the youngest, less experienced person at work get the project or the account or the promotion, that we want and we think that we deserve. But Jesus today is not talking about job or pay equity.

He’s talking about God’s Grace.

It helps to understand what had just happened. Jesus is approached by a young man who asks him what he needs to do to get into Heaven. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. He says he does. Then Jesus says, “Then sell everything you own, give it to the poor and follow me.” Then the young man went away sad because he had great wealth. And Jesus tells the disciples, “It’s very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. At this the disciples say, “Wow! Then who can be saved?” And Jesus responds, “For human beings it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” And then he says, “But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first. Because of this, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a landowner who went out in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard…. etc.” and he goes on to tell them this parable. He’s talking about getting to Heaven.

It’s not about WHEN you answer the call, but THAT you answer the call.

Had I been telling this parable, I would have added a couple of other guys who decide to not go work in the vineyard. They are asked late in the day and they respond, “Nah… It’s already 6 o’ clock. We’re not going to go work for just one hour.” And they don’t go. They don’t get the reward. Then it would be really clear that it’s not about when you respond to the call; it’s that you answer the call.

For the Pharisees and some of the Jews this was hard because they were faithful and devout – they followed all the laws and went to the synagogue and offered sacrifice and then they saw how Jesus was saying that this beggar and that prostitute, and that sinner, that tax collector, that person who was not even Jewish – they would also get the same reward.

And when this Gospel was written – some 40 years after the resurrection – most Christians were not Jews – they were gentiles. And so the Jews were seeing how it didn’t matter that they were the chosen people and they’d been the chosen people for 3000 years. These new Christians who were just joining now – they would get the same reward.

Everyone gets called; sometimes more than once. Some people get called as children and they are faithful all their lives. Some are called as teen-agers; others as young adults or as young parents. Some are called as adults, or in mid-life or as older adults. Some don’t get called until just before death. It doesn’t’ matter WHEN you get called.

What matters is THAT you get called and that when you get called you accept the invitation.

Because the truth is that there is nothing that we can do to get us into Heaven. We get to Heaven because God is good: God is gracious and merciful. We get to Heaven because God wants us to go to Heaven. You can go to Mass every day, and pray the Rosary 3 times a day; go to Adoration twice a week. You can volunteer at the food bank or the St. Vincent de Paul Society all you want – but that is not going to get you into Heaven.

There is only one thing that matters and that is what Isaiah says in the first reading: “Seek the Lord.”

Isaiah was writing at the time of the exile to Babylon. After 70 years in exile, Isaiah begins to prophecy that God will return the Jewish people to the land of Israel. But he says that he will also summon “nations you know not”. This is when he says what we heard a few weeks ago, “if you’re thirty, come to the waters. Those without money, come.” Remember? He’s basically saying that everyone is welcome to come. Isaiah then says, “Seek the Lord, while He may be found. Call him, while He is near.” That’s all you need to do. But for the Jews that was hard to understand. So Isaiah says, “The ways of the Lord are not our ways.” He’s talking about God’s goodness and Grace.

There’s nothing we need to do to get to Heaven, except “seek the Lord.” That’s it.

And if you seek him, yes, that will make you want to come to Mass and pray the Rosary or pray in so many other ways. It’s going to make you want to go to Adoration and volunteer at the food bank or the St. Vincent de Paul Society or wherever else you can volunteer. Because you are seeking the Lord and finding that He is near.

And when you seek the Lord, you will find that you want to be generous with the gifts He’s given you. We can never be as generous as the Master in the parable. God is so generous. But we are also called to be generous with what’s been given to us. This is why this Sunday, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary time is celebrated in our archdiocese as Stewardship Sunday – because we are called to reflect on how we can best be stewards of those gifts that we’ve been given and be generous with those gifts. Maybe you have money. Be generous. Not just with the Church, but be generous with all. Maybe you have time. During COVID we need more volunteers to help as greeters and ushers and sanitizing the Church after mass. Maybe that’s where you can be generous: with your time. Maybe you have other gifts: the gift of music or communication. Maybe you have great enthusiasm and lots of energy. Be generous with your gifts. Be generous as the Master is generous.

But you can’t be generous if you don’t first acknowledge that what you have is not yours, but it has been given to you by God who is much more generous. And you can’t acknowledge that, if you haven’t responded to the call, when the call comes. And you can’t respond to the call if you haven’t first sought the Lord – called on the Lord.

And that’s when you realize that God can always be found and He is always near.

From → English, Reflections

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