24Sep 24 Sept. 25th Sunday in OT

“Seek the Lord while he may be found.” But on the other hand, God’s mercy is beyond measure, so that even those who come late to his vineyard will be welcomed by his infinite love. We all can identify with those workers of the eleventh hour, whom the master of the vineyard treats so well. As Isaiah said, God never ignores the needs and prayers of those who are humble in heart

1st Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Turn to the Lord in prayer; for he never ignores the prayer of the humble

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundanly pardon. 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.

2nd Reading: Philippians 1:20-24, 27

Though Paul longs to get to heaven, he will live this mortal life as long as God wills it

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

The parable of the workers in the vineyard; God welcomes all into his kingdom

Jesus said to his disciples: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.

Now when the first came they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “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.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


The point of this parable

Kieran O’Mahony

The parables in the Gospels are designed to take us up short and make us think again. Today’s is a good example. The employer’s treatment of the workers would not work today as a labour relations strategy and neither would they have worked in the time of Jesus. But what is the point at issue? That it really doesn’t matter when or how we come to the Gospel, whether early, middle or late, by routes direct or circuitous, in full stride or falteringly. All that matters is that we actually embrace the Gospel. Achievement counts for nothing; grace is everything, thanks be to God!

(Click here, for Kieran’s full commentary on today’s texts.)

Only God sees the full picture

The core of today’s parable reflects God’s word to Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” Try as we may, it is impossible in ordinary social terms to justify the payment of the workers in the vineyard. It’s just not fair. Yes, the owner is generous to the last comers, but why is he not generous to the others too? It is simply that there is no reckoning up deserts when man meets God.

In our Lord’s time Judaism had reached a legalistic state, and the mentality was prevalent that salvation could and must be earned. There were many commands which must be fulfilled, and people were divided into two classes, the righteous who were on the road to salvation by fulfilling the commands, and the unrighteous, outcasts despised by those who kept the law. It was this slot-machine conception of God that Jesus opposed by his emphasis on love, for in love there is no calculation of duties, rights and obligations; there is only an open-handed giving without counting the cost, and a grateful receiving. We can never say that we have earned our salvation, or anything from God, but can only stand suppliant before him. The latest workers in the vine-yard have not earned what the owner gives them, and the mistake of their envious colleagues is to think that they can deserve well of the owner.

Some may find it hard to stomach that a deathbed penitent is admitted to the kingdom no less than those who have struggled and suffered all their lives for what is right. But this would presuppose a commercial or accountancy attitude of reward and punishments from God, and it forgets the nature of love. The right relationship of the believer to God is one of personal love, and as such it is its own reward, for it brings its own happiness also in this life. The greater the struggle, the more a Christian turns to God and finds comfort in the security of his love.

On the other hand, fidelity through a long life is preferable to a skimpy final conversion, for a relationship of love deepened over the years has more capacity for the full enjoyment of God’s company than one who comes to God only at the last moment. Is not a matter of God giving a greater reward, but of the person being more capable of receiving it. Of this deep relationship with Jesus Christ Paul gives a shining example. Writing as he does from a cramped prison cell, he seems filled with the joy of being with Christ. His life is already united with Christ’s life, and he longs for the fulfilment of final union.

The parable of the vineyard-workers is no blueprint for labour relations, but it illustrates Jesus’ teaching about grace and mercy. There are consequences to be drawn. As Pope Francis  eloquently writes in The Joy of the Gospel (§114): “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”


6 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    For me this parable is all about our personal presumption before God’s Mercy, hence “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”

    “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do”

    There are no vineyards in Leeds but nevertheless even to this day labours stand in the City Centre waiting to be hired. In the fifties and sixties I was aware of many Irishmen standing outside of Public houses waiting to be hired for work in the construction industry, the custom was to congregate at about 7-30 am and wait to be hired for the day, I know this because on a few occasions I had participated in this ritual.

    Different employers would turn up and offer a standard rate and then select those he wanted, some workers would be known to him others not, in choosing he would choose those who appeared more capable of performing a hard day of labour, there was always joy on the face of anyone chosen, this joy would often dissipate during the day due to the drudgery of the work.

    As the morning progressed it could be said that the weaker, impaired, aged, etc were left and some would wait all day in the hope of employment, which at times was occasional offered, later in the day, it was quite apparent in comparison to those original chosen, the value that these late arrivals placed upon the call to work, in accepting in humility their own physical shortcomings, their gratitude was manifest before all.

    This same scenario would have applied in our Lords time and many workers who heard the parable instantly would have been drawn towards the generosity of the landowner in his compassion towards the afflicted but also to the selfishness of those who complained as they had taken for granted the good fortune of their own abilities (in forgetting He who gave them, to them), while begrudging the weak and vunrable the opportunity to earn a living (Participate in the harvest) and ‘live’
    “The first shall be last and the last first” as only God sees the full picture of our gratitude before the generosity of His divine Mercy.
    Aligned with my post of last week; (See link)
    “Who Is Forgiven Much Loves Much”. … On the other hand, those who are forgiven little, as Jesus said, “love little”


    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Joe O'Leary

    1. Whatever the wider theological ramification of Jesus’s parables, many of them convey homely insights into human nature, expressed in images that lodge in the mind and are never forgotten. The parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) is close to the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30; Lk 19:11-27) in its focus on human efforts and our attitudes to work and achievements. The attitude of those who bore the heat of the day but were paid only the same wage as the labourers of the last hour is very understandable. The unfairness of their treatment is manifest, but the landowner dismisses their complaint: “Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (14-15). Is the message then that life is unfair and that we must just grin and bear it? The word “envious” here translates the idiom “is your eye evil (poneros)?” and the word “generous” translates agathos, good. Because the complainers are envious of the others, they become mean, stingy, malicious, but the landowner is generous, good-natured, open-hearted.
    Envy is a natural human feeling: the poor envy the rich, the old envy the young. Envy can be a form of admiration, and it can stir one to emulation. “Envy, to which th’ignoble mind’s a slave,/ Is emulation in the learn’d or brave” (Alexander Pope). Aquinas explaines: “We may grieve over another’s good, not because he has it, but because the good which he has, we have not: and this, properly speaking, is zeal. And if this zeal be about virtuous goods, it is praiseworthy, according to 1 Corinthians 14:1: ‘Be zealous for spiritual gifts’” (STh II-II, q. 36, a. 2).
    Envy can even be a kind of modesty. Goethe was the most successful of German writers, but ruefully aware that his works would never be widely popular, he felt outclassed by Shakespeare and Mozart, to whom, as if to mock all other labourers in the vineyard of art, God had given gifts way quite out of the ordinary course of nature, and which were such as to appeal to everyone. Shakespeare himself wrote a moving confession of his feelings of envy:

    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
    Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
    With what I most enjoy contented least. (Sonnet 29)

    Envy results from comparison, and comparison is odious. The vineyard labourers were perfectly happy before they began to compare their wages with those given to the labourers of the eleventh hour. A grand Irish lady who lived on Park Avenue, New York, wrily declared: “You may be very rich in this country, but there’ll always be someone twice as rich just down the road, and that person will make you feel very, very miserable!” Envy drafts comparisons of self and others all the time, clocking up the relative advantages and disadvantages of oneself and one’s rivals. This does not lead to noble emulation, but to depression about oneself and resentment of the other. That is why Blaise Pascal urged that we should compare ourselves with no one except Jesus Christ. An envious person can spend all the time comparing themselves with others, and can foment discontent by suggesting to other people that they are undeservedly less wealthy, happy, or estimated than others.

    2. Envy thus becomes a vice, or an evil passion. Pope Gregory I around the year 600 included it in his list of the seven deadly, a list that had great success in Christian tradition ever since: they are pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

    “We grieve over someone’s good, insofar as his good surpasses ours; this is envy properly speaking, and is always sinful, because to do so is to grieve over what should make us rejoice” (Aquinas). To grieve over the happinesss and achievements of others is in itself a poisonous and destructive attitude, even when it does not prompt one to injure the envied person or to snatch the envied good. Iago, insofar as any motive can be attributed to his psychopathic malignity, is envious, and he foments envy and jealousy in others. “If Cassio do remain
    He hath a daily beauty in his life
    That makes me ugly.”

    Milton’s Satan more obviously embodies vindictive envy, which he is prone to attribute to God and to potential rivals within the angelic ranks. His entire way of thinking is shaped by gnawing envy, and he casts a baleful eye in particular on the happy couple in Paradise:

    Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two
    Imparadised in one another’s arms
    The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
    Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
    Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
    Among our other torments not the least,
    Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines. (Paradise Lost, Bk IV)

    Surrendering to his passion of envy, he become the very embodiment of malice and destructiveness: “To do aught good never will be our task,/ But ever to do ill our sole delight” (Bk I); “Evil, be thou my Good” (Bk IV).
    One consumed with envy is his own worst enemy, unable to enjoy the gifts at his disposal, since the greater talents of others make his own seem worthless; or it may be that their lesser talents win greater success, which is galling. Their success is his failure. Conversely, their failure is his success, a negative and destructive success; thus envy swings over into malice.

    The Bible also uses the Greek word for envy, phthonos, defined asa strong feeling that sours, the miserable trait of being glad when someone experiences misfortune or pain, the jealous envy that negatively ‘energizes’ someone with an embittered mind, ill-will that is displeased at another’s good; “without longing to raise oneself to the level of him whom he envies, but only to depress the envied to his own level” (R. Trench). Pilate sees that it is out of envy that the chief priests have handed over Jesus (Mk 15:10; Mt 27:18; Paul mentions it in his lists of vices (Rom 1:29; Gal 5:21; cf. 1 Tim 6:4; Titus 3:3; 1 Peter 2:1), and he remarks that ‘some proclaim Christ from envy or rivalry’ (Phil 1:15). While God is sometimes described as a jealous God (zelotes, but James 4:5 uses the word phthonos in alluding to Exodus 20:5) the Creator is portrayed as exhibiting endless generosity and largesse. Plato described God as aphthonos, un-envying, ungrudging, and this word was taken up by the Church Fathers and also by Islamic philosophers.

    3. The philosophical essayist Plutarch contrasted envy and hatred: “Hatred proceeds from an opinion that the person we hate is evil, if not generally so, at least in particular to us. For they who think themselves injured are apt to hate the author of their wrong; yea, even those who are reputed injurious or malicious to others than ourselves we usually nauseate and abhor. But envy has only one sort of object, the felicity of others. Whence it becomes infinite, and, like an evil or diseased eye, is offended with every thing that is bright. On the other hand, hatred is always determined by the subject it adheres to.” “Further, envy is always unjust; for none wrong by being happy, and upon this sole account they are envied. But hatred is often just; for there are some men so much to be avoided and disliked, that we should judge those worthy to be hated themselves who do not shun and detest them. And of this it is no weak evidence, that many will acknowledge they hate, but none will confess they envy; and hatred of the evil is registered amongst laudable things.” “Many envy their familiars and kinsfolk, but have no thoughts of their ruin nor of so much as bringing any troubles upon them; only their felicity is a burden. Though they will perhaps diminish their glory and splendor when they can, yet they endeavour not their utter subversion; being, as it were, content to pull down so much only of an high stately house as hindered the light and obscured them with too great a shade.”
    Because of these traits, envy is a shameful passion in a way that pride, greed, hatred, or jealousy are not. People flaunt those passions, as in the slogan “greed is good,” but envy is always carefully concealed. The labourers who complain of the unfair treatment think they are standing up for justice, but the landowner unmasks the petty envy behind their complaint. If they were good and generous as the landowner is, they would rejoice in the good fortune of their fellow-labourers.

    4. An intriguing Buddhist slogan holds that “evil passions themselves are enlightenment.” The meaning is that if you live an evil passion to the hilt, its contradictions and its ultimate futility are shown up. Recognizing this emptiness, one lets go of all the investments in illusion that sustained the passion of envy, all the projections about oneself and the envied others that prevented on from seeing things clearly and rejoicing in them.
    One might do the following meditative exercise: Think of the person you most envy. Accentuate in thought that person’s success and joy, over against your own misery and failure, also accentuated. Now notice how destructive this way of thinking is. It directs negative energies of bitterness toward the other, and it paralyzes the self in negative self-evaluation. Next consider the illusory nature of these perceptions. There is a fixation in one’s image of the other’s success and happiness and one’s own misery and failure, and this fixation needs to be identified and dismantled. Finally, turn the situation around by redirecting the energies locked up in envy in another, positive direction. Focus on the goods of the other and of oneself, but now in order to admire and promote them. Send forth the energy of admiration and of that “sympathetic joy” which allows the loser, instead of resenting the winner, to sincerely say: “I rejoice in your success.” Sympathetic joy is listed with benevolence, compassion, and equanimity among the “four immeasurables” whereby one sends out postive energies toward others. Buddhism believes that the “three poisons” of greed, hatred, and illusion (and envy partakes of all three) are so deep-rooted that they cannot be overcome by rational analysis, but only by long practice. Admiration is the wholesome antidote to envy and it frees up creative energies that envy cramps.

  3. Kevin Walters

    Here is further very good reflection by Father Bernard Podvin that complements the other reflections on this page. See the link.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Paddy Ferry

    Joe@2, that’s a wonderful reflection on what I did find to be a difficult reading today. Thanks.

  5. Pádraig McCarthy

    We pray, we worship, we gather to celebrate Eucharist, not to try to change God’s mind about us, but to have our own minds changed about God, whose way and thoughts are far above ours. This means accepting for our mindset to be upset, upturned – metanoia.
    Our approach is greatly influenced by the commercial model: we receive in accordance with what we earn. The Sabbath model disrupts the commercial pattern: our lives are not all about acquiring and spending.
    Jesus tells the parable to upend our “commercial model” by inserting another model of behaviour into the scene. God is not the Chief Executive of a company, rewarding his people according to what they do to deserve it, or not, as the case may be. In this case, the denarius is the daily wage in a society where the vast majority live at subsistence level. Those who are not hired, who do not receive the denarius, will not have the wherewithal to sustain themselves and their families. Perhaps think of the denarius as the minimum living wage.
    Jesus paints the owner of the vineyard behaving as would a parent. Parents do not care for their children according to what the children do to deserve their subsistence. They ensure each child has what is needed.
    We are children of God. It is our nature, our calling, our challenge and privilege, to emulate this God.
    It is our vocation to ensure that all our children, all our sisters and brothers, have what they need to live with dignity. And yet we have so many in Ireland and in our world who lack this: the homeless, the hungry, those who line up each day for food parcels, the asylum seekers in direct provision where they are deprived of the dignity of even being permitted to work, those on waiting lists for essential, not elective, medical treatment.
    When our government announces its Budget, will it embody the values of the commercial world where many lack their basic needs, or will it embody the kind of values and mindset which cause so much upset in the parable to those whose needs are already met? Will our political leaders have heard the parable, and act accordingly? The Budget is a moral document. It could also be an immoral document.
    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Or should we keep religion out of politics?
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: When people tell me that the Bible has nothing to do with politics, I ask them: Which Bible are you reading?

  6. Mary Vallely

    Thank you for explaining that parable so simply and making it relevant to today, Pádraig. ( Thank you to Joe and Kevin too.) At first reading it seems unfair on those who had worked longer hours but you have reminded us that we need to look deeper and to try to see it exactly as what a loving parent who loves all his children equally would do. The example of Christiana from Nigeria below is one that shames us all and makes meaningless our claim to follow the Gospel.
    ‘ ” He said his father had told him that no country so small and far away from Rome had produced so many saints. “They are Catholics and must be good people,” he said. “They have suffered things that have made them emigrate too.” ‘

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