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We are workers in the Lord’s vineyard

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 24 September 2023
Isaiah 55:6-9 ><}}}}*> Philippians 1:20-24, 27 ><}}}}*> Matthew 20:1-16
Photo by author, Church of Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem, May 2017.

We now come to the final installment in the series of teachings by Jesus Christ of what we described as delicate issues affecting even us today. Two Sundays ago it was about fraternal correction, last week was forgiving, and today, something about work and pay that are indeed very delicate for many of us, even ticklish.

Recall that love is the main motivation why we must correct those who sin and go wayward in life. It is also love that moves us to forgive those who repeatedly sin against us.

In today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus is also teaching us about love that results when we learn to be just and generous with others because these two are the minimum requirements of love. It is in our field of work and in the issues of pay and wages when our being Christians are most tested when our senses of justice and generosity are blurred and worst, when we even forget God.

Photo by author, 2018, Davao City.

Like last Sunday, Jesus used another parable today to use a simple story of daily life that appeals to our common experiences. What is very interesting is how both parables of the Lord incited hearers to take sides and adopt positions. Last Sunday we too felt indignant against that servant who was forgiven of his loan so huge but could not let go of the debts of his fellow worker that was so little in amount.

But today’s parable has a different twist that we felt swept off by our feet when Jesus through the landowner reacted differently at the grumbling of those workers who worked longer in the vineyard and received same amount with those who worked for less hours yet paid equally.

“When those who have started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last workers worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat. He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’”

Matthew 20:9-16

Did we not feel surprised, even shocked? Did anyone cry unfair? How could the landowner – God – pay everyone the same amount when others worked so less than the rest?

How sad that when talks are about work and pay, we always insist on justice, especially if we feel the ones shortchanged. And worst, we used it also as our norm for salvation, for entering heaven with some openly declaring who would go to heaven and who would not!

And that is actually the context of the parable when Jesus said “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Mt.20:1). This is not just about social justice and just wages but about the goodness of God. The vineyard is God, and heaven. Our salvation. Harvest time means judgment day as well as gathering of everyone in God to receive his blessings of love and salvation, healing and forgiveness.

Jesus Christ came to us like that landowner who never stopped looking and searching for us especially those lost and sinful. Truly a God so loving and merciful, he wants us all saved that as early as dawn and as late as 5 o’clock in the afternoon, he kept looking for workers to be blessed, to have something to bring home and share with their families and loved ones at the end of the day. What a beautiful imagery of God our Father who sent us his Son Jesus Christ so we could all come to him. Here we find the previous two parables still operating in the full sense wherein the landowner’s search for more workers into his vineyard was like Christ’s mandate for us to correct and forgive those who sin.

Photo by author, Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, May 2017.

This Sunday, Jesus is telling us that each one of us is so loved by God who is overly generous, blessing us with everything we need, giving us all the chances in life to become better.

Therefore, let there be no room among us to own and box God and his blessings! Let us not usurp God’s power and generosity for others. We are all his children. Let no one assume to one’s self that he/she is more worthy to God nor he/she is more entitled much less a favorite of God! Please. Especially those who claim only they would enter heaven?

Today, Jesus is telling us we are all his servants, we are all his workers in his vineyard. Those workers hired at dawn were given a job because God is good. From his kindness, he gave them a silver coin for their wage. It is the same good and loving, kind and generous God who hired the other workers at 9am, noon, 3pm and 5pm with the usual salary. Therefore, it is very wrong for those hired at dawn – for anyone of us today – to complain to God of not receiving more than the others just because we have served longer than them. We have no right at all to command and direct God how he must give or dispense his blessings because whatever we receive from him is out of his goodness and never of our own merit.

Moreover, those workers hired at dawn should actually be grateful to God in giving them work while at the same time rejoice too that God had called others later to receive a decent pay to bring home. Here we find a similarity in the attitude of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son who also complained to their father the party thrown for the return of his younger brother (Lk.15:11-32).

We are all workers in the Lord’s vineyard, God’s beloved and forgiven children. What kind of workers, or children of God, are we then?

May we always remember St. Paul’s admonition two Sundays ago to “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” (Rom.13:8). Like in the previous two Sundays, Jesus is inviting us today to imitate him and his ways, to shift_ our existence, our views, our person into higher levels in him, with him and through him. It is the same reminder by Isaiah in the first reading that we must let go of our human ways and thoughts to trust in God’s wisdom always. There are times emotions can run high with us sometimes especially when it comes to remunerations, whether material or spiritual but like the Philippians, we must trust that ultimately, everything in this life is the work of God, even the success of Christ’s gospel. All we need to do is trust in him, be like Jesus, merciful and forgiving. Most of all, generous and loving. Amen. Have a blessed new week!

From Facebook, Easter 2021: “There is an urgency to announce the joy of the Risen Lord.”
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