September 21, 2008
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 20: 1-16a
"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."
Introductory Prayer: Lord, in this Jubilee Year of St. Paul, I turn to you with renewed zeal for the salvation of souls. I believe in you and your love for me. Teach me to live and spread the Catholic faith ardently. Increase my faith, hope, and love so that I may exclaim with St. Paul, “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Petition: Lord, grant me the purity of intention to seek you as my sole reward.
1. Terms of Agreement
A landowner comes to an agreement with a group of laborers: They will receive a day’s payment for a day’s work. Of course, the landowner, the laborers and the vineyard are figures that Christ likens to the kingdom of heaven. How did I come to belong to Christ’s Kingdom – to work in his vineyard? Through baptism. What were my terms of agreement? To reject sin, to reject the glamour of evil, to reject Satan; to believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in the holy Catholic Church. And what is my daily wage – the reward for dying to myself and putting on the “new man” in Christ? It is a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness of all my sins. Baptismal promises have me work out my salvation before God – to enter productively into the vineyard. Do I live day-by-day with a deep and convinced awareness of my Christian identity? Do I freely serve God or cling to my jealous self-interest?
2. Just Recompense
To receive payment requires that I work. This “work” – to interpret the parable – is simply to live out the Gospel. St. Paul reflects on his own baptismal commitment: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). If I learn to love the toil – great! If not, I must still be responsible before God. The point is that it is ungrateful to forget that Christianity – my salvation – comes to me as a grace: my fallen nature is not simply entitled to enter the kingdom of heaven. The “work” that Christ refers to here is theological. Faith, hope, love spring from his grace, as a fruit of the Father’s call to work in the vineyard. Therefore, I should rejoice in my salvation. It is a reward that far outstrips whatever my greatest labor might be. Do I comprehend the reward I shall receive if I offer up all of my efforts patiently and in love? Do I magnanimously yearn that others will also share in this inheritance?
3. Christ as Inheritance
Only ingratitude can explain the bickering of the laborers who envied the latecomers receiving the same wage. “Are you envious because I am generous?” Once again, I should remember the gratuitous nature of God’s call. As a debtor before God, as someone unemployed before the landowner, I joyously accepted the terms of work based on the promise of payment. I abide by God’s promise not because my sacrifices on their own could please him. If I no longer live for myself, Christ will live in me. When I live in this communion with Christ, I will rejoice at anyone else who receives this same grace – at whatever hour. In fact, the whole of salvation history has been at work in the vineyard, from the call of Abraham to the coming of Christ our Redeemer: “Brothers, in human terms I say that no one can annul or amend even a human will once ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant. It does not say, ‘And to descendants,’ as referring to many, but as referring to one, ‘And to your descendant,’ who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it is no longer from a promise; but God bestowed it on Abraham through a promise” (Galatians 3:15-18). Christ has paid for our sins. Christ is our eternal reward.
Conversation with Christ: Lord Jesus, let me not live so miserly as to count what it costs to follow you, or to suspect that others somehow “get off easy” while I must be some sort of martyr. Open my heart to your love. Let me die to myself so that you will be my reward, the one who lives in me.
Resolution: Today I will tackle a responsibility that I have been neglecting and offer it up to God out of pure love for Christ.
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