Homily for September 18th, 2005.
Caution: Putting a Sunday homily on the Website is tricky business. All the viewer has is a written text. A homily, on the other hand, is "an oral event". It may not have been said or heard the way it was written. In addition, a roughly ten-minute homily is part of a roughly one-hour worship event in which God and God's people communicate with each other by means of ritual, symbol, song, proclamation, prayer. Not everything in these homilies is original. As a homilist, I rely on and at times borrow from other homilists and writers who are not properly mentioned in this format. I am often indebted to them.
Father William Marrevee, s.c.j.
25th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
As one commentator put it: respectable folks in general do not like this parable. Why? Because “it is not fair!” We tend to agree with the grumbling of the first hour workers. “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.” (vs. 12)
This parable is a concrete illustration of what is said in the first reading: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Yes, the landowner in the parable is an image of God. What the parable is about is entrance into God’s Kingdom; it is about our true human worth, our worth standing before God. In that case, human standards of justice, the principle of equal pay for equal work do not apply. That is not to our disadvantage, but to our advantage. For God each one of us is worth more than the sum total of all our accomplishments. In the end, God does not want to see God’s role reduced to simply having to crown us with a halo for our good deeds. God’s boundless love is supreme and it is the only reliable basis for our true worth, something not to be merited or achieved by us, but to be received with gratitude as sheer gift.
At first hearing, that is hard to take. It makes a mockery of our sense of justice, of fair play. We figure that at least our attempt to live good Christian lives must count for something in the end. Otherwise, why bother? And as for the question at the end of the story “why be envious because I am generous?” we might be inclined to say: it is not that we begrudge the others your generosity, but what about us who have been at it from daybreak? Does the fact that we have done all the dirty work count for nothing? What about any incentive to stay on the right path?
Of course, our attempt to live good Christian lives is important, but not as some sort of bargaining tool with God. Rather, it is the outcome of our being graced with God’s generosity. We would not want God’s generosity to go wasted on us; instead, we want it to bear fruit in our actions. What the parable wants to instill in us is a taste for God’s generosity to all. It wants to free us from a calculating attitude when we stand before God. It wants to free us from the urge to rely on our own accomplishments and merits. It wants to instill in us a taste for the largesse of God.
Yes, in the parable Jesus summons us to trust in the unmerited, but most reliable compassion and generosity of God, from which we are all privileged to benefit. Trust in God’s ways that are in no way calculating, but utterly generous and life-giving.
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