This is my reflection on the Mass readings of the 25th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A – September 21, 2014
Mass Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-24, 27; Mt. 20:1-16
On September 6, 1997, innumerable people around the world watched on live television broadcast the solemn and glamorous funeral of Princess Diana, conducted in the historic Westminster Abbey and attended by royals, dignitaries, and celebrities as glittering as the stars in the sky. Notable among them was Elton John, who paid tribute to the beautiful princess with a rousing performance of Candle in the Wind. 8,000 kilometres away in a small and humble chapel of Kolkata, lay quietly and without much of the world’s attention was the body of Mother Teresa, who died of cardiac arrest on the day before.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is.55:8). If the first reading of the 25th Sunday needs any illustration, there is no better illustration than the two contrasting scenes above.
When our thoughts and God’s are not in alignment, we often find ourselves arguing with him, the way the vineyard labourers argued with the landowner in Jesus’ parable. The first labourers believed they should be given more than the usual daily wage just because the workers who came late had been given that amount, forgetting conveniently that usual daily wage was what the landowner had promised them before they started. There was no ground for their dispute since the landowner didn’t break his promise.
To think about it, the real reason for the grumbling labourers’ complaint can only be jealousy. But if the landowner wanted to be generous with his own money, why would these jealous labourers think they had the right to dispute his generosity? Actually the landowner character in Jesus’ parable is an image of God, who is free to bestow his graces as he pleases; and often does so out of mercy and compassion. After all, grace is God’s gift of love. It’s free; it cannot be earned by human works. To say that one’s effort "deserves" more grace from God is in itself a presumptuous claim that reveals a heart pregnant with pride and self-righteousness.
Like the jealous labourers who grumbled against the landowner based on a faulty understanding of fairness, people often think God is unfair in dealing with them. Is it any surprise that people with such a mindset often find God remote and unreachable? In the Responsorial Psalm, we are reminded that we should “praise [God’s] name forever and ever” because he is “gracious and merciful”, “kind”, “compassionate”, “just”, and “holy”. Indeed if we would only heed the psalmist’s reminder of God’s exemplary virtues and bring our ways in alignment with his, we would find that whatever distance separating us from him will disappear quickly, for “the Lord is near to all who call upon him”. Given time, our trivial and mindless grumbles against God because of our own blindness to the truth will stop. Only then will peace and harmony in our relationship with God prevail.