September 20, 2020 | 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Reading 1: Isaiah 55:6-9
Reading 2: Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
"Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.'"
This is the last line of this week's gospel, in which Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a landowner going out to look for workers for his vineyard. This is also the line that I've struggled pretty much my whole Catholic life on.
If you're like me, you may have heard this week's gospel story many times. The gist of the story is this: The landowner hires workers at different times of the day, and at the end pays them all the same wage, regardless of how long each worker worked. This inevitably annoys those workers who started work from the very beginning, and they grumbled to the landowner, "The men who came last have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day's work in all the heat" (Matthew 20:12).
But the landowner is firm and also fair. He never cheated any of the workers, and asks those who grumbled at him, "Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why should you be envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:15).
Why should I be envious because God is generous?
This is a direct metaphor for all of us as we go through life, encountering God and putting Him at the centre of our lives at different points in time.
I remember shortly after I had my reversion back to the faith and really put Christ at the centre of my life, I was really joyful. I was also joyful for other people around me who were also coming to claim Jesus as their Lord. But joy turned to envy when I saw other people receiving more blessings or quick answers to their prayers. And these were people who came to know Jesus after I did!
Another situation where this comes up is when I think about my own path of discernment. I've seen it happen a lot where I started discerning a certain vocation at the much earlier than someone else, but they received clarity in their vocation before I did!
In both of these situations, I can see how frustrating and challenging this can be. We expect that if we've been putting more time, energy, and prayers towards something, that the results should come sooner. We expect that God should bless us first before He blesses those who came into the metaphorical vineyard later. But all of this is human thinking; as the prophet Isaiah says in the first reading, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh" (Isaiah 55:8).
As humans, our focus and point of view are very narrow. Since we're not God, we don't know the full picture and the full story of why some people receive clarity or blessings sooner, or why it may take us a little longer to receive what it is that we think we need. But I think that this weekend's readings are a great reminder for us in two ways: First, we need to pause and remember that we aren't God, and we shouldn't claim to know what's best for us. It takes a lot of trust, but there's also a lot of grace that comes with surrendering our will to Him.
And second, we need to remember how generous God is! His mercy and love are abundant. It's easy to praise God for His mercy when it's directed at us, but sometimes we forget that this is true even if it's not directed at us. We get jealous and envious and we feel abandoned. But this may tie back into the fact that our ways are not His ways.
I still struggle with this from time to time: I feel like I've put in the work, I did what I was supposed to, and I get nothing. Meanwhile, someone else does the bare minimum and they get everything they ask for. But perhaps this is a call to action from God to be more humble and merciful, and let Him be God. Let's all work together to pray for one another, support each other, and trust in God's neverending mercy and generosity.
Verse for reflection: For my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh (Isaiah 55:8)
Questions for reflection: Do I hold a double standard for how merciful God is? Do I get jealous at God's generosity?
Prayer: Lord, at the end of it all, my relationship with you is just between you and I. Help me to remember your neverending mercy and generosity and how it extends to all your children. Guide my heart so that I too may rejoice when new labourers come into your vineyard.