25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 21st 2014.
Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24,27; Mt 20:1-16
Returning generosity for generosity
“You too, go into my vineyard and I will give you what is just.”
A Landowner pays the same amount of money to hired labourers who work in the same vineyard under the same condition no matter the different number of hours that they work. And this is what Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven is going to look like? What is it about this Landowner’s benefit system that Jesus wants to highlight for us in today’s Gospel?
Reflecting on the life of Christ Jesus, out of His 33 years of human life on this earth, Jesus spent 30 of them in obscurity and hidden life of Nazareth with Mary and St. Joseph, working as a carpenter. He spent only 3 years in public ministry. Yet, His Father rewarded Him by raising Him from the grave and giving Him the name above all names in heaven and on earth. Obviously, the Father did not reward Jesus Christ for how long that He served Him in public ministry. The Father glorified the Son because of how perfectly Jesus reflected divine generosity back to the Father throughout His life.
Jesus’ generosity is rooted in His seeing everything as a gift from His generous Father: “All things have been handed to me by my Father.”(Lk 10:22) He saw every moment of His life as a gift from the Father, whether He was making chairs in Nazareth, teaching the multitude, healing the sick in Capernaum, or pardoning the good thief on the Cross. He saw His call to become incarnate in Mary’s womb as a gift from the Father: “God sent His Son born of a woman.”(Gal 4:4) He saw His saving mission that climaxed at the Cross and His glorious exaltation as a gift from the Father: “I glorified you on earth, having finished the work that you gave me to do.”(Jn 17:4) Even His words were a gift from the Father, “I only say what the Father taught me.” (Jn 8:28) His actions were from the Father too: “The Son cannot do anything on His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing.”(Jn 5:19) Jesus saw all these as gifts and responded with remarkable generosity: “He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”(Phil 2:8) Divine generosity was returned perfectly by the God-Man Jesus Christ.
The Landowner’s relation to the hired workers is an image of the Kingdom of God because everything that the landowner does is out of His generosity. He goes out at different times of the day, convenient or inconvenient, to invite labourers into His vineyard. Does he bother to scrutinize their qualification or credentials? No. He is just pained that they are idle all day: “Why do you stand her idle all day?” He pays the agreed sum to the labourers and also gives the regular daily wage to those who worked for only one hour. He does not pay them by the hour or by how much sun’s heat that they endure but by the generosity with which they responded to his generous invitation to work in his vineyard and how they persevered to the end of the day.
The failure of the grumbling labourers to see their being called to serve in the vineyard as a gift led them to grumble against the landowner when they did not get more than the late comers did. Our failure to see all things as gifts from a generous God quenches our spirit of generosity. We begin to compare ourselves with others, to complain and grumble.
Is it possible for us weak and selfish as we are to ever hope to return divine generosity by our generosity in God’s service and worship? The answer is a resounding yes. But our generous response to God’s gifts is not possible apart from God’s amazing gift to us in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul sees all things as a gift from God in Jesus Christ: “God has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”(Eph 1:3) The Apostle to the Gentiles received his new life from Jesus Christ. He received his vocation as an apostle from the Risen Christ. It is from Jesus Chris that he received a pledge and guarantee of future glory. This will bring about a heroic generosity on his part.
Seeing all these as gifts from Jesus Christ, he writes to the Christians in Philippi in today’s Second Reading in these words, “For me life is Christ, and death is gain.” In and through Jesus Christ, St. Paul responded with generosity to his vocation. And even now in chains for his generous service to the person and mission of Christ, with death staring him in the face, nothing can quench his generosity: “If I go on living in the flesh that means fruitful labour for me.” He began with generosity and ran the race to the end with a generous spirit because He saw every moment of his life, his vocation and eternal life as a gift offered to Him in Christ Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is so easy for us to forget that everything in this life is a gift from a generous God – every moment of our lives here on earth, the call to serve God in our respective vocations, the grace to serve God, and eternal life. All these are neither rewards nor something that is owed to us as our rights. If we choose to focus on the difficulties involved in serving God or the lack of visible rewards in His service, we shall kill the spirit of generosity and end up becoming people who grumble in the face of a generous God. If we can see all things as gift from our Generous God, we shall worship and serve the Lord and others with generosity no matter what our lot in life may be.
I am reminded of the tombstones in a Jesuit retreat house here in the Philippines that had written on them only three things about the deceased priests and brothers – the date of their birth, the day that they entered the congregation and they day that God called them home. These are the three precious gifts that God offers us – the gift of our existence and God’s sustaining us at each moment of our lives, the gift of a calling to serve Him and the gift of being in His presence for all eternity. Like St. Paul, we can only say “Death is gain” if every moment of our lives is lived striving to return generosity for divine generosity.
In this Eucharist, we encounter the greatest of all gifts – God Himself in human nature, Jesus Christ. He comes to “make us worthy to stand in His presence and serve Him” (Eucharistic Prayer II) No matter what the past has been, no matter how long we have shied away from His service and ignored our baptismal promises of belonging to Him and serving Him in His Church, He offers us the very same invitation once again, “Go into my vineyard and I will pay you what is just.” It is never too late for Him to call. It is never too late to answer Him with generosity. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we can return generosity for divine generosity till He calls us home to Himself if only we can see all as a gift from a generous God.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!