25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – on the Gospel

Isaiah 55:6-9

Philippians 1:20-24,  27

Matthew 20:1-16

Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp

The Kingdom of God as Family

 Growing up in a large, traditional, farming family has its advantages. When the crop is ready for harvest, the whole family is out in the field working together. They do not work at the same pace. Dad and big brother would be in the field very early while little sister is still asleep. Mom and little sister would join them in the farm later. You see, dad and big brother go to work without breakfast but little sister would not go anywhere without breakfast. When she finally arrives in the farm she is more interested in asking silly questions and distracting the workers than in the work itself. At the end of the day all go home happy together. Supper is prepared and served. Does anyone suggest that you eat as much as you have worked? Not at all! Often the same little sister who did the least work is pampered with the best food. Yet no one complains, no one is jealous, and everyone is happy.

In today’s gospel we hear of a harvest in which some workers put in more work than others. When pay time comes, they are all treated equally and the early birds among them begin to complain and grumble. Why do the workers in the vineyard complain and grumble whereas the workers in the family farm do not? The answer is simple. One group of workers is made up of family members and the other of unrelated individuals drawn from the wider society. The norms of behavior, of contribution and reward, in a family are different from those in the wider society. The big question that the parable poses to us in the church today is, “Do we see ourselves as family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a bunch of individuals, each with their own agenda? We call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?

For the early-bird workers who ended up being reprimanded by the landowner it was all a business affair. Their working in the vineyard was preceded by a well spelt-out contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. The latecomers were less legalistic in their approach. They took the job trusting in the landowner’s word of honor. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went” (Matthew 20:4). In fact, those employed in the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours were told nothing whatsoever about payment. “He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too’” (verses 6-7). There is no employer-employee contract here. Everything is based on trust. The Johnny-come-lately workers approached the work with a family spirit. Who makes contracts before they can work in a family business?

Matthew probably addressed this parable to his fellow Jewish Christians. God called them a long time ago to build the kingdom of God. Now, at an apparently late hour, God was calling the Gentiles to work with them in building up the same divine kingdom. It would be wrong for the early-bird Jewish people to see the Johnny-come-lately Gentiles as deserving of a lower status than themselves “who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (verse 12). Probably the problem of Matthew’s Jewish audience was their difficulty in seeing that God was intent on building, in Christ, a kingdom where all peoples — Jews and Gentiles — would be family.

The notion of the kingdom of God as family is central to understanding this parable. The kingdom of God is a family more than a society. A society is characterised by we-and-them, by rivalry and survival of the fittest. A family, on the other hand, is all we and no them. It is characterised by a spirit of co-operation rather than competition. If the latecomers were family members of the early birds, the early birds would have rejoiced with them at their good fortune rather than grumbling. Today we are called upon to review our all too legalistic notion of the kingdom of God and see it more as a family where we are happy to expect from everyone according to their means and give to each according to their need — as God our Father does.


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 Homily # 1

Today, we are reminded by   Isaiah that our ways are not God’s ways—not even as close as the earth is to   the heavens are our ways and God’s ways. Even though we have conquered gravity   and have traveled to the “heavens”, the distance between the ways of this   world and of God are still as distant as ever.

This is starkly illustrated by   the parable of the vineyard workers. There is no way, no matter how many times we hear this story, that we   can keep from reacting when we hear that the last ones worked only an hour and were paid the same.  It is   impossible for us, even though we know the moral of the story, not to think in   our minds, especially our modern democratic and capitalist minds that have   been cultured in reward-based economy like we have in the   United States,   “That is just not fair—equal pay for unequal work.”

What a great demonstration of   the distance of God’s ways from our ways. Yet, we are not all together   unfamiliar with this practice of “giving what is needed” without consideration   of what is actually deserved.  As parents or as children, we have experienced this phenomenon.  We have all heard our self, our   siblings or our own children complain like the first workers to arrive in the   vineyard, “Why does he get dessert.    He didn’t do anything.  I   cleaned the whole room.” Only to be told or tell, depending at which stage in   life we are at the time, “You are twice the age of your brother.  When you were his age you didn’t do   anymore than he did and we gave you dessert.”

Now, there is more to learn   from this parable than the fact that God, like a parent, loves us, His   children, unconditionally and that salvation only comes in one size—there is   no grand prizes or saved with honors. While both of these points are true, if we walk away with only this as   the gospel message toady, we are not going to grow much.  There are more important points made   in today’s parable.  Points that   can take us to a deeper understanding of why we are here gathered together   today.

Since few of us are likely to   have experience with vineyard work, let’s put the parable into terms we can   more easily relate to: Let’s say we die and go to heaven—there we are setting   up our flower beds in the front of our house on Heaven’s Lane when we see   across the way Bob Smith, who we know never went to mass, never fought with   his teenage children about going to mass, had six marriages outside the Church   and never paid his taxes properly until after his second heart attack, when he   came to the light and lived a good life for a year before the third heart   attack got him.  We think to   ourselves, “What the heck, (There is no foul language in Heaven) how did he   get a house in heaven on the same street with me? I went to mass every Sunday   and weekdays too.  I lived the   commandments from the time I memorized them for my first communion.  I was faithful to my wife all my   life.  How is it that he is here   right next to me?   What did   I get for all that observance?”


The answer to this question is   the more subtle point of today’s parable. What we get for coming to work in the   Vineyard early is just that being in the VINEYARD EARLY.  This is the amazing gift—the great bonus.  For coming to the vineyard early, we   get to live in relationship with God NOW before we die.  We get Heaven on Earth.

But do we truly see the   Christian life of going to Church, partaking in the sacraments, serving others   and keeping the commandments as its own reward—or do we see our Christian   life, as the first vineyard workers, as a full day’s work of long toil for   which we need to be rewarded?

If we are honest with   ourselves, we may see that we resemble the “complaining” vineyard worker more   than we would like to admit.

What if Heaven is like being at   mass all day, all the time forever? I know I would not have found that a   comforting idea when I was young and begging my mom to let me out of the   church on hot summer days.  But we have to mature in our faith beyond seeing weekly observance and all the practices of our faith as work to be rewarded later, or else we will find ourselves unhappy, burdened and resentful like those who entered the vineyard   first and complained about the late comers.  We will complain about not getting   more then them because we will have missed the real rewards of being with God   ahead of our death.

Working in the vineyard is its   own reward because when we are in the vineyard we are with GOD.  The sacraments, service to others,   Christian life does involve sacrifices—but like all meaningful work—it   produces its own rewards.  In this   case it makes heaven on earth.    Because being in Heaven, starts with being heavenly.

The complaints by the first   workers in the vineyard prove that even though they “know God” they do not   understand GOD.   Their   complaints reveal them as “self-interested” rather than true followers of   Christ who would rejoice that others had found their way to the Lord.  Their complaints keep them from   enjoying the privilege of being in God’s presence at that moment they are   working with HIM in the vineyard.

This a good point to ponder as   we prepare to have Jesus present with us in the Eucharist.  What we do here today is not just for   tomorrow, it is a taste of tomorrow today.

If we have the right attitude   we will be happy to see the late comers because it is heaven on earth to love   and serve the lord in HIS vineyard.

Homily # 2

How many here today are business men or business women? What if you worked for a company for a long time in a senior position and the owner of the company decided to give out bonuses because the company was doing well, and, he gave everyone the same bonus amount, even the most junior employee who just started with the company. What would your reaction be?

Or, let’s say you are a student. Your teacher announces an extra credit program. You do more work than anyone, yet, at the end of the semester the teacher announces that everyone is going to get the same amount of extra credit. How would you feel?

Wouldn’t I be correct to say that most of us at one time or another just want to shout out, “It Just Isn’t Fair!”

That of course is human nature. Jesus knew that. As a matter of fact, he was probably more acutely aware of it because in Judea at that time, there were tremendous differences between the social classes. Relatively speaking, the poor were really, really poor and the wealthy were super, super wealthy. There were no social safety nets to help people maintain basic standards of living.

So, what message is Jesus trying to convey? Well, keep in mind that Jesus was a tremendously engaging individual and part of his charisma was his deep understanding of human nature. Indeed, most of Jesus’ teachings and instructions are intended to be a road map to help you and me deal with our human weaknesses and frailties.

First, Jesus wants us to focus not on what we think we deserve. Rather, He wants us to focus on loving God and loving our neighbor. Playing the game of “It’s Not Fair” with God is a losing proposition. God knows exactly how much we have been given. He gave it to us. We can’t fool him. Jesus knows our propensity to quickly see surface level inequities, if only because we so rarely and so ineffectively look at the big picture.

So, let’s for a moment look at the “big picture”. And let’s be honest with ourselves. We could have been born and raised in a lot of other parts of the world. We could have been born in Central Africa where disease and starvation are rampant. Or, perhaps China, where we would not be allowed to attend a church like this. Maybe closer to home in this hemisphere like Honduras, Nicaragua, or Columbia where corruption and government ineptness mean most live in desperate poverty. In fact, statistically, we should have been born in one of these places. Over 9 out of 10 people are born somewhere other than the United States.

But most of us weren’t born and raised in these places. Most of us were born here in the United States, by far the wealthiest and most opportunity filled country that the world and history has ever known. Many of us were born into middle class or higher families with all of our needs and most of our wants taken care of. We have ample access to education and recreation of all kinds. Except for brief periods in our country’s history, good jobs have been available. Let’s face it – – in the larger scheme of things, we have it so good it is almost unbelievable.

And we are compelled to ask the question – Why? Is this just a fluke? The answer is no, it’s not a chance happening. St. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” We’re here because God himself chose our parents and our surroundings. That’s awesome!

How does this relate then to today’s gospel. Of all the workers hired that day to work in the vineyard, which do think best represents us? Well, for most of us you’d have to say that we were the last ones hired. By and large, we, both as individuals and as a society, have been given more and struggled less for our wealth, possessions, and security than any other country or culture in the world – – ever! To be sure, some of you have faced great difficulty in your lives and I am in no way minimizing your personal struggles. But, the fact remains that as of today, right now, we are here and enjoying life in the most prosperous nation that the world has ever known, bar none.

This is especially true for the younger members of our audience. You live in wonderful, beautiful homes, but, you never make a mortgage payment. You enjoy delicious meals but don’t pay the bill at Schnuck’s or Dierbergs (supermarkets). You enjoy excellent education but most of you probably don’t have to pay for tuition. Kids in other parts of the world get up with the sun and go work in the fields for 12 to 14 hours to help their family eat. They are lucky to have just one shirt, one pair of pants, and one pair of worn shoes, much less the latest and greatest Nike shoes and Tech vests from Old Navy. So much has been given and provided to you by your loving parents.

Looking at things this way it is hard to imagine that we deserve anything more that we have been given. But Jesus says to us, that’s all right . . . though you have been mightily blessed and though you have not had to work as hard as others, you can still earn a full share of heaven along with everyone else . . . if, and it’s a big if, we love God and try our hardest to do his will.

And what is his will in this case? Well, let’s first ask this question, “Should those workers who worked only1 hour but received a full day’s pay have been grateful for the generosity of the vineyard owner? Of course they should! What then does God expect of us? Jesus would tell us to first be thankful for all you have been given. Give thanks often and sincerely. Give credit to God for the wonderful circumstances that we find ourselves in. It is by his grace that we live and work and play in this great country. Second, Jesus wants us to give back. Giving back can take many forms, but one of the most important is for you to help others appreciate the gifts they have been given and awaken in them a sense of awe at how wonderfully they have been blessed.

Do you have a family member who is leading a very selfish and materialistic lifestyle? Pray for them. Look for opportunities to convey to them the extent of their blessings and the need to be thankful and giving in return. Speak from your own experience, from your own heart. You may be surprised to learn that they are seeking a better way but don’t know where to start.

If you are one of our teenagers or young adults present here today, do you have a friend who is abusing themselves with drugs, alcohol, or sex? Are they consumed with their own satisfaction and blind to the gifts they have been given? Pray for them, and, in addition, look for opportunities to express how God has blessed you and why you believe life can be much happier and fuller by avoiding those practices. Also, let them know you’ll be there to support them when they need a helping hand or a friendly ear and others are abandoning them.

Lastly, look deep inside yourself. How often do you say the words – “It Just Isn’t Fair!” If you honestly think about it, we are so blessed compared to so many in this world it is almost absurd. Do we really recognize this, and, how much do we really give back? Instead of thinking, “it’s not fair,” let’s focus on what God has given us and concentrate on how we can repay Him by showing the same generosity as the Vineyard owner.

The next time we want to cry out against some perceived injustice, we should consider this: What if God made Mother Theresa the standard by which we all are judged on our fitness to enter heaven. When we consider it on those terms, we should all be extremely thankful that God does not judge us by human standards, but by His alone.

Homily # 3

The homilies of Jesus can be confusing. Often they seem to describe a situation that is unfair. However, life can be unfair and Jesus is describing our lives in this parable.

The vineyard owner is God and we are the workers. What was the reward the workers sought for their time? It was their wages. What reward do we seek?

To answer that question we must ask, “Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Is it wealth, fame, power, influence.” No, not if we truly believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. We are here to know God, to love God and to serve God so that we may be happy with him someday in Heaven. The wage everyone should seek is eternal salvation.

In the parable, each worker was happy when he was hired. Even the last man hired was happy that he at least would make one hour’s wage. Laborers were probably at the lower end of the Jewish pay scale so every bit helped. Those who were hired earlier looked forward to a higher amount so they were happy.

When they were finally paid, the attitude of some of the workers changed. Those hired first began to grumble. Why did the vineyard owner pay the last worker first? If he had paid those hired for a full day first, they might not have known those who worked shorter hours received the same pay. Now, suddenly, the workers who were happiest during the day because they got longer hours and expected more money were suddenly disgruntled because of the charity of the vineyard owner. He described the situation perfectly when he said, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” Jesus is telling us that in the search for our real reward, happiness in Heaven, God treats everyone the same.

In the parable, could the vineyard worker represent God and do we represent the workers? Let’s examine that possibility. Many of us are happy as we look at our lives. We could be compared with those workers hired at the end of the day. Even though we don’t work as hard as many people throughout the world we have been blessed with an adequate income, we are in good health, we live in a safe country. (THIS MAY HAVE TO BE MODIFIED, DEPENDING UPON THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF YOUR PARISH.) Even the poor in the United States are not as destitute as some throughout the world. We have been well rewarded during our lives.

If we study the economics of the world, we find that many people must work long hours of hard labor just to eke out a living. Could they not ask, “Why has God given me so little while others have so much?’

But when we consider the reward of an eternal salvation, suddenly our wealth or lack thereof is not important. Even our misfortunes are not tragedies.

Think of some of the situations that happen every day. The loss of a job and the prospects of losing some of the luxuries we enjoy is always a possibility. The death of a child or a loved one can be devastating. Other inconveniences may not be as earth shaking but they can alter one’s life. A young man or woman who doesn’t get into the school of their choice while their friends do. A divorce in a family can drastically change the future of an entire family. Many things can happy to change one’s outlook on life.

However, if we understand the real reason for our being on this earth, we quickly realize the blessings that God has given everyone. Jesus is saying, “Yes, everyone may suffer disappointments but that’s not the main focus of your lives.” Jesus is telling us, “There is only one reward worthy of your concern … the salvation of your immortal soul.” If one lives in poverty for a lifetime, it doesn’t matter. If misfortune changes a family’s lifestyle it is not the ultimate tragedy. One’s wealth is immaterial in the long run. As a matter of fact, and possibly something for us to consider, Jesus also said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven.” Wow! That can shake us up.” There is no tragedy, there is no misfortune as devastating as losing Heaven. We can be as rich as Bill Gates of Microsoft. That’s not what matters. What matters is eternal salvation.

Whether we are hired in the early morning or during the last hour, God treats everyone the same. God is saying, “For those who love me and keep all my commandments, no matter how comfortable or how difficult your life may be, you will be rewarded with happiness in Heaven.”

What a consolation for all of us. However, there would seem to be a corresponding obligation for those who are more fortunate. Jesus may have an additional message for us. It may be this: “You who have been rewarded so generously, as was the final worker, have a greater reason for giving thanks.” Many of us have been blessed by having a comfortable life and we are reminded of our obligations in another comment Jesus made, “To those to whom much has been given … much will be expected.”

Therefore, even though we look to a final reward, should we not also be grateful for the blessings we have already received? Should we not consider how we can thank God for these blessings? Because we have more leisure time than many in other parts of the world, could we not consider how much of that time we spend in prayer? If we prayed one rosary a day would that occupy much of our time? One week day Mass a week wouldn’t be that difficult to squeeze in when we consider that many in our world have to work 12 – 14 hours a day to support their families. Because we may have an abundance of material goods, should we not consider sharing some of our blessings with those who are in need of food, shelter, a job?

Food pantries need help … joining or contributing to our St. Vincent de Paul Society is one way we can reach those who are less fortunate. When we realize that in addition to the promise of eternal salvation, God has also provided us with an abundance of blessings during our lifetimes should we not show our gratitude to Him? But wait, there’s more!

As we come to the communion table this morning, understand that we are about to receive an even greater gift than comfort, health and prosperity. We will receive the body and blood of a God who gave his very life for us. It’s a perfect time to make some decisions about being grateful in a tangible way for all we have received.

As the vineyard owner was free to do as he wished with his own money so also God has been free to dispense His blessings. He has blessed each of us and, therefore, let us receive His body and blood with gratitude. Assuredly, we have not been the last but the first.

Homily # 4

Most homilies given on the gospel passage about the laborers in the vineyard direct our attention to the fairness and generosity of God in contrast to our expectations. How we do not earn or deserve God’s love and generosity or even our salvation, but that we receive it as an undeserved gift. Preachers may even talk about how the skills and talents we have or the blessings we have received are gifts and not deserved. And that all this generosity is because of God’s total commitment to loving us.   That is a good and proper reflection on this gospel.  However, today I would like to direct our focus on another aspect of what Jesus is showing us about our relationship with God.  I do this because all of the parables Jesus told, no matter what their specific issue is, they will always have as the core purpose, to teach us something about our relationship with God.  And so I invite you to look beyond the specific lesson of God’s vision of fairness and generosity and look at the relationship that is described.

Did you notice that Jesus only said the landowner went out to hire laborers the first time at dawn?  The other times it is not stated or even implied.  We are just assuming that is his intention. The story actually describes the landowner going out and observing people who are standing around, questions them, and offers them an opportunity and promises he will be fair with them.  That tells us something about how Jesus sees our relationship with God.  God is always coming out to be among us.  He is always open to converse with us.  He is always offering us an opportunity to do something that will improve our lot in life – and not just this earthly life – but our total life  – our eternal life.  He is always inviting us to join him at his place.  We are asked to trust God to be fair with us and rely on his standards.  It is we who get caught up in issues of earnings, and fairness.  It is we who make assumptions.   These are our agenda’s not God’s.

When we look at the Gospel from this perspective, I think we get a deeper insight into the first reading.  Isaiah is calling us to conversion – to change – to recognize the opportunity that lies within our grasp.  Do we recognize who it is that is inviting us to join him in the vineyard?  Grab the opportunity while you can – he tells us!  God’s ways are not our ways  – THANK GOD!

From this perspective we can also understand Paul’s lament how he longs for death – to be with God – yet he longs to do God’s work in the vineyard here on earth among the people who God loves so much.  Notice that Paul is not focusing on himself in this but on his relationship with Christ – with God.  Can we recognize our call to this same relationship?

It is our choice just like the people standing around in town.  Will we respond to God’s invitation to be in closer relationship with him? And when we respond and work in God’s vineyard as disciples of Jesus Christ, will we assume we will be treated by our expectations or the standard’s of the God who loves us unconditionally and without exception.  And still this parable shows us God is always willing to come to us where we are, and invite us to take advantage of this divine opportunity.  It is never too late with God!

Our temptation is to be like the first workers, to base our expectation on our standards and not God’s.  That temptation is strong, especially in our American society. Here we hold high the standards of rugged individualism and rigged justice based upon exact equal treatment in relationship to what someone has earned.  Charity is for those who are truly deserving (by our standards of fairness). Compassion and generosity are tied to what someone “deserves” and not how much we are called to love them because they are loved by God.  Disciples are torn between God’s standards and society’s.

We can’t fight these temptations alone, like all temptations, we might think we can or must do it ourselves.  But if we are honest with ourselves we know we need help with them all.  Even our ability to resist temptation is a gift from God.   He comes into town to offer us the opportunity to conversion – to work in his vineyard – to make a change in our life.   Let us accept that invitation today.  Let us receive the strength by our reception of Jesus in Eucharist. United with Jesus, and each other, we can change and live by God’s standards not ours.  We can grow closer to God and yearn like Paul to be united with God and also to work in his vineyard for the glory and honor of God and the benefit of each other.


Homily # 5

I don’t know about you all, but this parable about the workers in the vineyard has always a tough one for me to swallow.  There just doesn’t seem to be any fairness in it.  And, as we all know, “fairness” is what it’s all about in the United States these days.  Even after the Gospel, when we say, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ”, many of us think, “I do give praise to Jesus Christ but it still isn’t fair”!

I think, perhaps, in order to get a better handle on what God is trying to tell us in this parable, we’ve got to look at what it’s not about.  It’s not about economics or a just wage or labor-management relationships or, and perhaps most of all, it’s not about fairness.  This parable is about generosity and mercy.

It’s so easy for us, isn’t it, to identify with the workers who’ve worked all day long in the hot sun?  Especially, if we’ve worked hard all of our lives.  How unfair can you get?  The boss giving the same pay to people who worked only one hour as he gave to the people who worked twelve.  Where was the grape-pickers union when they really needed it?

Well, my friends, if you agree with the boss’ unfairness, your head may be in the right place, but your heart sure isn’t.  You see, the main stress of the parable isn’t on the early workers.  It’s on the latecomers and the boss.

Ah, the latecomers.  The ones who didn’t exactly rush to get in line so that they could work.  The ones who, perhaps, might have preferred drinking the finished product rather than making it.  So, is the owner being arbitrary or is he being generous and compassionate when he gives the latecomers a full day’s pay so that they could have enough to feed their families?

And, aren’t we fortunate that our God is like that; generous and compassionate in His love for us?  After all, whether we want to believe it or not, all of us are latecomers too, aren’t we?

So, let me ask you this.  Are you sure that you’d want God to judge you with fairness?  Or, would you prefer that He judge you with mercy?   The reason I ask about these things is because we’ve got to get over the traditional American idea that runs along these lines. You get what you deserve.   Nothing comes free.  You want something?  Work for it.  If you don’t catch a break, tough.

Instead of these attitudes, God tells us that He doesn’t want us even trying to earn our way into heaven because none of us, not one, can do it.  Not St. Anthony the Hermit who served God faithfully for 105 years.  Not St. Agnes of Rome who was martyred at age 13.  Not St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa.

Compared to these saints, how do you think that you stack up?   How about Saint Padre Pio or St Joan of Arc or St. Paul or St. Teresa of Avila?   Do you still think that you’re not a latecomer?

This is why God is so great.  He doesn’t want people strutting around saying, “Look at all that I’ve done for God”.  No, God’s kingdom is His free gift to us.  All we can do is love and trust.  Love God and our neighbor and trust that He will give us all the graces that we will ever need toward our salvation.  All the graces to die in His arms and in His love.

Perhaps the best way to look at how this parable relates to us is this.  All that is good in us is ours, not by right but is a free gift of God.   To be sure, there is much that we have earned: our salary, our home, a decent car, a cold Budweiser.

But, all this is possible only because so much has been given to us: life itself, eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, a good mind, a heart to beat with Christ’s love, the power to give hope to someone in despair, to love where others hate.   All of these things and so much more are pure gifts, not rewards.  Each of us is incredibly dear to our Lord.  But, none of us are able to do anything to have either earned it or demanded it.

So, today, let’s rethink our ideas about fairness.  Let’s change our ways of thinking until we’re no longer upset with God’s generosity and mercy.   We have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

Our challenge is to let God be God.  It would be a lot better for all of us.

Homily # 6

The thread weaving through these three readings is that God does some very mysterious things – God does things differently than we would.  The Isaiah reading tells us that in so many words. Then Jesus confirms this whole idea of God’s thinking being different from ours, in a story that he tells

Clearly Jesus wants us to see that God “pays” people on a different pay scale than we do. His desire is to give us all the same reward. To translate this into “heavenly” language, we could say that those who have followed the Lord their whole lives, kept the commandments, attended Mass regularly, were faithful to a daily prayer time, lived Godly lives in general, like the earliest workers, will get the promised reward – eternal life in heaven.  And . . . . those who “wake up and see the light” somewhere in mid-life, and begin living a good life at that time, will also get the agreed upon award – eternal life in heaven.  And . . . those who come in at the very last moment . . . what about them?  They will get the same reward as everyone else.   This is Jesus’ message.  At whatever point in our lives we turn to the Lord, at whatever point he  gets our attention and we give it to him,  he benevolently gives us the full reward.

There are three big considerations here. One is that God is good and longs for each of our hearts. There is nothing in God that wants to exclude anyone or punish anyone – God’s wants our hearts and wants our love – ALL of us.

This is not to say – “go out and do whatever you want, it doesn’t make any difference, God will still welcome you into heaven!”  It is to say that God is loving and compassionate, and allows each of us to come to him in our own time. This ought to be very consoling to us.  Or are we “envious because God is generous?”   That is the question Jesus asked.  We are all called to answer it as we study this scripture.

The other big lesson is that we are called to IMITATE God.  How well do we extend this same benevolence to those around us?  Are we loving and giving, lavishing our understanding and compassion on others, or do we withhold our love from those who don’t “deserve” it?  That’s another question that should be foremost in our minds this week.

The third consideration gleaned from these scriptures is this:  Do we question God, blame God, get angry at God when the things of our lives are not done in the way we would have chosen? Or, do we have the wisdom to recognize that even when things are mysterious to us, they are clear to God, and no matter how things look to us, God is ALWAYS loving us?   When we are scratching our heads wondering WHY God would do something like “that”, or let “something like that” happen, God is calmly in control, and sees things in an entirely different way—and it’s always a loving way.   These scriptures remind us that we are called to be humble and faithful enough to say, “Lord, I have no idea what you are doing,  but I KNOW YOU DO, and I know you love us.”

Consider this little story:

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood, to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

But one day, after scavenging for food, he returned to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky.

The worst had happened. Everything was lost.

He was stunned with grief and anger. “God, how could you do this to me?” he cried.

Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island, It had come to rescue him.  “How did you know I was here?” the weary man asked his rescuers.

They replied, “We saw your smoke signal.”

It is easy to get discouraged when things are going badly. But we shouldn’t lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. Remember, next time your little hut is burning to the ground – it may be the smoke signal by which God is summoning the very help you need.

Life is like a tapestry.  We see it from one side and God sees it from the other.   From our side it looks tangled and knotted – threads of all different colors and weights stretching in many directions. Often it seems to make no sense, and we can’t “see the picture.”  It looks messy in general – from our side.   But God sees it from the other side, where it is a beautiful work of carefully planned artistry.  God’s plan is to show us the beauty of this tapestry, from his side, someday – whether we came to serve him at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. or 5 p.m.   What time did you start?  There is no time like the present.


The ‘Big Picture’

By Fr. Jerry Orbos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:12:00 09/21/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The story is told about an emcee, who, during a wedding reception, asked all husbands to stand next to the one person who had been most helpful to them and had made their lives worth living. Almost everyone went and stood beside … the bartender!

* * *

I know that many wives reading the joke above may feel resentful, for wives in fact have made many untold sacrifices for their husbands. In today’s Gospel (Mt. 20, 1-16) Jesus relates the parable about the resentful laborers who felt shortchanged by their employer at the end of the day. From the point of view of justice, they who worked longer in the vineyard should have received more. But from the point of grace, they received equal wages with those who worked less. Instead of complaining, may we learn to be obedient. Instead of being focused on our little screens, may we see God’s “big picture” in our lives.

* * *

There are many things we do not, and cannot understand in this life. Why, for instance, do the good suffer and the bad seem to prosper in this life? Whenever we encounter such enigmatic moments, let us take the road of trust rather than doubt. The road of doubt is the road that leads to nowhere. The road of trust leads to the conviction that God is now here.

* * *

Last Sept. 15, I said a funeral Mass for Joselito “Eboy” Dioquino, who was called home by the Lord at the age of 45. Why? Why him? Why now? “Eboy” was such a simple, honest person who, in the words of Col. Raul Petrasanta, was a big loss to the Department of Public Works and Highways. At the time of his demise, “Eboy” was the OIC district engineer of the 3rd DPWH District of Pangasinan. From the point of view of justice, surely there are other DPWH officials who “deserve” early retirement from this earthly life, but they are still around. Why indeed take away a good man? Why him? Why now? Again in humility we say: “Lord, we do not understand, but, your will be done!”

* * *

“Is God asleep?” How often have we asked this question in frustration, especially when we see so much corruption and injustice around us, real or imagined? We must not give up on God’s justice, goodness and love. To do so is to give up on our goodness too, and that is precisely what the evil one would want us to do. Through it all, we must believe—and keep on believing—that there is a God who is in control, that there is a plan, and that there is a God who sees it all.

* * *

Speaking of seeing, did you get to see the full moon last Sept. 15? The moon was biggest and fullest that night, and pity, many of us did not even get or care to see it, because we were “busy” with more important things in life. The moon is a beautiful reminder of God’s gentle presence in our midst. May the mellow moonlight remind us of peace, and assure us that everything happens and unfolds according to God’s will and time. We cannot force, nor can we control and manipulate life and its seasons. Romantic? Fatalistic? No. Realistic. There are many things beyond our control in this life, and there are more things given to us, so all the more we should be humble and grateful and strive to give back our very best to life, and to the Giver of life.

* * *

And speaking of giving back, last Friday, an elderly woman walked into my office and told me she was giving back an antique painting which she said belonged to the Society of the Divine Word. It had been in their house for many years now, given to them many years ago. When I looked at the wooden frame of the 5 x 4 painting, I saw the letter “SVD” intricately engraved on it. It found its way back to us on this our centennial year in the Philippines! Only God knows the story behind this painting, the history, the situation, the characters involved. This whole event made me realize how small we are and how big God is. The problem with many of us is that we often get so engrossed in the picture (our picture!), and we often forget the frame that holds it.

* * *

Inviting you to our “Walk with God” this Oct. 4 (Saturday). The starting point will be at the Urdaneta City Cathedral at 6 a.m. Mass will be celebrated at the Manaoag Shrine at 11 a.m. Let’s walk the 13-kilometer stretch from Urdaneta to Manaoag with prayers, sacrifice and thanksgiving.

* * *

Bantay Matanda invites you to a lay forum on “How to Care for Alzheimer’s Patients” on Sept. 27, at Janssen Hall, Christ the King Seminary, 8 a.m. to 12 noon. There will also be free bone screening. For inquiries, please call 3732262 or 09174167849.

* * *

Here’s a text message worth pondering: “First, I was dying to finish high school and start college. Then I was dying to finish college and start working. Then I was dying to start a family. And then I was dying to retire, and now I’m dying, and suddenly I realized I forgot to live.”

* * *

A moment with the Lord:

Lord, remind me and show me always the “Big Picture.” Amen.


PAGKAINGGIT: Reflection for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – September 18, 2011

Isipin mong mayroong apat na bahay sa inyong kalye at sa iyo ang isa. Ang bahay mo ay nagkakahalaga ng Php 20 million. Ang isa ay 15 million, ang isa naman ay 10 at ang panghuli ay 5 million. Tinanong ka ng anak mo: “Daddy, kung mayroong mag-aalok na bilhin ang bahay natin ng 50 million, papayag ka ba?” Siyempre ang sagot mo: “Aba anak, hindi lang papayag… tatalon pa ako sa tuwa at doon mismo ibebenta ko ang bahay!” Nang biglang tumunog ang telepono at laking pagkagulat mo na ang tumawag ay inaalok na bilhin ang bahay mo ng Php 50 million. Hindi ka na nagdalawang isip pa. Doon mismo sinarado mo ang deal sa 50 million. Tuwang-tuwa ka… ngunit meron kang nabalitaan kinabukasan. Yung parehong buyer ng bahay mo ay binili ang tatlong katabi mong bahay. At ito ang nakakagalit, ang presyo: binili ang bawat isa ng Php 50 million! Ano ang mararamdaman mo? hehe… Marahil, kapareho ng naramdaman ng mga mangagawa sa talihaga ni Jesus sa Ebanghelyo ngayon… Nadaya kami! Unfair! Hindi makatarungan! Kung tatawagan mo ang nakabili ng bahay mo, ang sasabihin n’ya lang sa ‘yo ay: “Anung pakialam mo? Eh sa mabait ako at gusto kong bayaran ng 5o million ang lahat ng bahay! Inggetero!!!” Isa sa mga ugali nating mga tao na dapat nating bantayan ay ang pagkainggit. Tayo pa namang mga Pilipino ay mga taong ayaw maiisahan! Siguro hindi makatarungan sa ating paghuhusga ang ginawa ng nakabili ng bahay o ng may-ari ng ubasan. Ganito naman talaga ang pag-iisip ng Diyos. Sabi nga sa unang pagbasa: “Ang aking isipa’y di ninyo isipan, at magkaiba ang ating daan. Kung paanong ang langit higit na mataas, mataas sa lupa, ang daa’t isip ko’y hindi maaabot ng inyong akala.” Sa halip na mainggit, ang nais ng Diyos sa atin ay maging mapagpasalamat sa lahat na ibinibigay niyang biyaya sa atin. Wag mong isipin na mas mayaman ang kapitbahay mo, mas matalino ang kaklase mo, may guwapo ang kaibigan mo, mas talentado ang kapatid mo… Tingnan mo ang sarili mo at makikita mong may ibinigay din ang Diyos sa iyo na wala sa kanila. Hindi ka lugi. Hindi ka dinaya. Magpasalamat ka. Pagyamanin mo ang regalo niya sa iyo. Higit sa lahat, gamitin mo ito upang makatulong sa kapwa mo… Mahal ka ng Diyos maging… sino ka man!



Word Alive

Focus On Rising From Adversities

September 16, 2011, 10:24pm

GALILEE, Israel. I am writing my column in Israel where I serve as chaplain to a group of Holy Land pilgrims.

On this 25th Sunday, the gospel relates about what appears like a labor unrest. In Christ’s parable, the workers who were hired in the morning  complained and protested that they were paid the same wage as those hired in the afternoon. “A gross injustice,” they complained.

But is it really so? Legally, there’s no injustice because the deal was covered by a personal contract. There was mutual agreement between the workers and employer on the wage. Hence, the words of the employer: “Did we not agree on one denarius?” Mt 20:13.

* * *

The parable shows the owner to be both just and generous. He is just to the first workers, and generous to those who were hired later.

One insight of Jesus’ parable is that in life we can, like the first workers in the parable, feel envious about people who’re more good-looking, more intelligent, more gifted than we. In this case, it’s not a question of how many but HOW one uses those gifts. For instance, you may be a genius but if you use your intelligence to cheat and swindle, then no doubt you’re misusing God’s gift.

* * *

Or, sometimes we may be tempted to complain of the good fortune of others who care nothing about God while we who work hard, trying to be good are lagging behind. We may claim to be better off morally, yet they are better off than us financially, socially, and in every natural way. If God wants to be overly generous with such people, that is his business. He is as if saying, “I am free to do as I please, am I not?”

* * *

There’s a true story published in Our Daily Bread sometime ago about Roger Kerns. He was a young husband and father with a promising future. But one day his future collapsed when an auto accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. He was so helpless as to depend on someone to comb his hair. What’s more painful is that his friends soon deserted him. Then his wife divorced him.

* * *

“At 20, that was hard for me to take,” Kerns reflected, “and at times I wanted to end it all.” Then Kerns met a therapist who was himself disabled. He told him to end the “pity party” and get on with life. He came to realize that his real disablement was not his physical condition but his negative attitude. With a new perspective, this man living in vegetable condition patiently undertook long and painful therapy so he could at least use his hands. Today Kerns is a university student majoring in math and communications.

* * *

Somehow we’re all like Roger Kerns, defective and imperfect. Instead of indulging in self-pity and complaining about our lack of talents and misfortune, like the workers in Christ’s story, we should concentrate on how we can improve or rise from our adversities and disadvantages. As someone once put it, “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth so I worked hard to put one there.”



See Today’s Readings: Cycle A

Back to: Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

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