[25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, Sept 21, 2014, Isa 55:6-9/Ps 145:2-3/8-9/17-18/Phil 1:20c-24 27a/Matt 20:1-16a]
There is a well known verse from the Old Testament that runs, “God ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts.” It comes from the prophet Isaiah and happens to be the first reading today (Isaiah 55:6-9). The verses continue with the Lord telling the prophet that as high as the heavens are above the earth so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.
Once an F-15 fighter pilot was recounting his testimony. He was a lay member of our Verbum Dei community. He said that on one flight he was pushing his F-15 plane to its limits. The move he was doing was the vertical climb. He was going vertically upwards, higher and higher. As he was leaving the earth behind and entering the upper atmosphere he remembered the verses from Isaiah about heaven being so high above earth and God’s ways being higher. As he gained height he asked the Lord, “And are your ways higher than this?” It was as if in the silence of the stratosphere God was giving his answer indeed that his ways and thoughts are higher. The F-15 pursued relentlessly on and it reached its limit but the pilot experienced the infiniteness of God, that he goes beyond limits, and that his ways are truly higher!
We see an example of God’s ways being different from our ways in the Gospel of today. It is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. A landowner goes out at dawn to hire workers and agrees with them the daily wage. The owner then goes out at 9am, midday, 3pm and then again at 5pm. In the evening they all get the same wage even though the last ones had only worked one hour! The workers who had grafted the whole day complain about this. The owner replied, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
There are some interesting applications of this challenging parable. Sometimes you meet people who feel they are responding only to God’s call rather late in their life. Often they have a sense of regret at having squandered so much time in not responding. Somehow the parable is good news as those who joined later received the same reward at the end. Just imagine the good thief! He only responded it seems in the last hours yet Jesus promised him that he would be in paradise with Jesus that very day. Wow, he really was a good thief because he “stole” the heart of Jesus with his humility. Of course it does not mean we should just leave our salvation until the last minute. One reason why is that our concern should not be merely about our individual salvation but also how many people we can bring along with us. As the line from the song goes “We all go together.”
Another reading of the parable puts us as the landowner. As Christians we all have received a great inheritance and are asked to multiply the talents we have received. One way is by getting others involved in the gathering of the harvest and like the landowner to invite others to help. Once I was looking at a group of youth standing around doing nothing. My first reaction was a kind of sadness, wondering why they were not making good use of their time. The next day a community worker asked them to help repaint a wall of the school. They all joined in so enthusiastically, working the whole day in the heat of the sun to finish the task in time.
When I reflected on why they had been standing around it was the same situation in today’s gospel. When the owner saw the men standing around idle he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day? They answered, “Because no one has hired us.” How many more people would be involved in their community or Church if only they were asked?
There was a very famous poster in wartime Britain aimed at recruitment. There was a picture of Lord Kitchener with a finger pointing to the reader of the poster. The slogan was: “Your country needs you!” The reality is that Jesus is the one pointing at each one of us saying, “The Church needs you, it needs your response. I need you.” Why are we standing idle? There is work to be done. Let us roll up our sleeves, like the hard working St Paul in the second reading today.
That man was totally committed to the mission, ready for anything – “Whether I live or die it does not matter as long as Christ is glorified” (Philippians 1:20-24, 27). May we be inspired by St Paul to work for the building up of the Kingdom and to recruit laborers for this great task. Amen.