Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18; Philippians 1:20C-24, 27A; Matthew 20:1-16A
My homily, recorded at the 11:00 Mass at Our Lady of Fatima
Sunday, September 20, 2020
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. These are the words of God, written by St. Paul in today’s First reading. In her wisdom, the Church pairs this first reading with today’s gospel containing the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.
There are at least two “ways of God” for us to reflect on from today’s parable, ways which are so often not our ways. Both of these ways help us to experience life with the mind of God, rather than with the mind of man.
The first is that God is kind and extremely generous. We must imitate his generosity in all that we do.
The second is that we must not be envious of our neighbor’s good fortune, but happy for them. Likewise, we must not rejoice when others fail.
Our first lesson is to realize that God is infinitely generous. Let’s be honest, the situation in today’s gospel really seems unfair. Most of us would agree that the laborers who worked all day had a reasonable expectation to be paid more than those who worked just part of the day. They had a right to be upset. Why should the guys who only worked for just an hour or two get paid the same amount as those who worked for eight or ten hours? It just doesn’t seem fair, does it?
But today’s parable is not about fairness, it’s about mercy and generosity. It sheds light onto God’s merciful nature, on his unparalleled generosity, using the example of the landowner who was so generous with the laborers he hired later in the day.
You see, in Jesus’ time so many people lived day to day. The laborers of the parable were the lowest class of Jewish working men. They lived on the poverty level. If they were unemployed on any given day, their family went to bed hungry. Their situation was known to be so bad that when they were hired for a day’s work, Jewish law commanded they be paid before sundown.
The landowner in today’s gospel knew that these men he hired late in the day would suffer if they didn’t receive a full day’s wage. Rather than paying them what they were owed, he paid them what they needed. He was generous with them in the same way God is generous with us. Imagine if God gave us only what we deserved, rather than what we truly need. If that were the case, we’d be in a world of hurt!
God is extravagantly generous with us and we must be extravagantly generous with others. We must see their needs and do what we can to help them with the resources we have been given.
The second lesson found in today’s gospel is that we must not be envious of the good fortune of others, but we should be happy for them!
Not only did the landowner pay the men who worked only part of the day the same wage as those who worked all day, but he paid them first to be sure the others knew he was doing it. He didn’t wait until the all-day laborers left to offer the part-day laborers his generous gift privately. No, it was almost as if he was taunting the all-day laborers with his generosity.
We can easily imagine that the all-day laborers were envious of these men who were the recipients of his generous gift. Can’t you hear what they must have been thinking after learning that they would be paid the same as them after working a full day?
“Just who do they think they are to be treated this way? They only worked an hour and are getting paid for a full day!”
One of the seven deadly sins is Envy. Envy is sorrow, sadness, or anger at the good fortune or qualities of someone else because I see it as lessening my own good. The idea that something they have or have gained is something that I believe should be mine. It’s the thought that when something good comes to another, that good has somehow been stolen from me.
Envy isn’t always obvious; sometimes it’s something we do almost without thinking. For example, when there’s someone at work who is a rising star, we may engage in gossip that undermines their reputation or tarnishes their image. Almost without thinking, we diminish and belittle others we envy through careless and insensitive remarks. We often do this because we need to knock others down in order to feel better about ourselves. This is envy, and it is both ugly and deadly.
The other side of this coin is that we may take delight when someone we are envious of fails. You know, that feeling we get when someone who seems to be so perfect has a great fall or is discovered to be less perfect than he appears to be. Let’s be honest, it’s so easy to think, YES! Mr. Wonderful finally failed!
The good news is that there is an antidote to envy. It’s called Admiration. Admiration. We should be happy for the good fortune of our friends. Everything we have is a gift from God, therefore the proper response when something good comes to someone is to admire and give thanks for those gifts, regardless if they come to us or to someone else. The proper response to excellence and goodness in another is, and should always be, joy and zeal.
If they had put the virtue of admiration into practice, the all-day laborers would have rejoiced when this good fortune came to their fellow laborers. Rather than responding, “not fair!” they would have thought something like, “Good for them! Now they can feed their family tonight.”
In closing, I’m giving each of you a homework assignment. That’s right, you’re all getting homework! Here we go…maybe write this down or make a note on your phone.
Sometime in the next few weeks I want you to send me an email telling me about two things you did.
How were you especially generous with someone? How did you go out of your way to help someone in need? The next time you have an opportunity to be GENEROUS with someone, do it! Be generous with others as God is generous with you. You might want to give a big tip to a restaurant server who you know could use the money. Or, maybe offer to babysit for a couple who you know really need a night alone together. Whatever you do, do it with a spirit of generosity and don’t count the cost.
The second part of your assignment is to tell me about a compliment you made or a kindness you paid to someone you’ve been envious of in the past. Tell that person how much you appreciate the qualities they have or how happy you are for their good fortune. Do something to show them that you admire them, regardless of how you may have a felt about them in the past.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll also find it on the clergy page on the website. I look forward to receiving your homework assignment and learning how you have been intentionally generous and have shown admiration for the good you see in another.
In the coming week, let’s make it a point to respond to others with an attitude of generosity and admiration. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon us to inspire us to perform little acts of kindness for others. These simple actions will certainly help our thoughts become more like God’s thoughts and our ways become more like his ways.
God bless you.