Sunday Homily, September 20, 2020

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI

Readings:

First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9
My Ways Are not Your Ways.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18
The Lord is Near to Those Who Call on Him.

Second Reading: Philippians 1:20c-24,27a
For Paul both Living and Dying Was to Be ith Christ.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: God’s Generosity Is Incomprehensible to Wo/Men.

Background to the Readings and Homily: 

The Book of Isaiah is a tripartite work, named as First Isaiah (1-39), Second Isaiah (40-55), and Third Isaiah (56-66). Today’s first reading is from Chapter 55 of Isaiah and that means it is the last chapter of the Second Book of Isaiah. This Second Isaiah was written during the exile, most likely by a disciple of first Isaiah who continued to lead the school of his master Isaiah who lives in the eighth century BCE. The purpose of the author of Second Isaiah’s preaching to the exiles was to comfort them and inspire courage into a people whose morale was low. The Jews suffered the worst tragedy of their history in the period between 597-587. During this time, their temple and city wall were burnt down, looted and the elite of the people taken prisoners to Babylon by the ambitious Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. Their becoming aliens in the land of the exile was a bitter experience.
The author of Second Isaiah accompanied his flock and helped them to keep their Jewish faith alive during the exile. He theologized their tragedy and helped them to see it as God’s plan for them. Immediately before the exile, as they were still in Judah, the person who had been crying out most to Jerusalemites was Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was the Prophet of Doom who cried out divine vengeance on people because of their constant violation of the covenant. People were also stubborn and hardened their hearts. Eventually, the prophecies came true and the catastrophe befell them. As they began their life in the exile, they felt ashamed and dejected. They never thought that there could be a new beginning. It was there that Second Isaiah had his mission. His mission was changing their mind-sets. They could never imagine that their God could forgive them and restore their lost sonship. But the theological reflections of Second Isaiah showed that a new beginning was possible. He made them understand that they need to relate to God as a true Father who forgives. As in today’s first reading, he told them that God is not altogether lost, and he could still be found. He has not gone away but remain with and near them. But then they had to change their evil thoughts and deeds because of which they were punished, and he sent into the exile. He is a tremendous God who forgives. He forgives those who are not worthy to receive forgiveness. He does it because he is God. They could never forgive themselves and their neighbours. But their God was not like them. For His thoughts were not their thoughts and their ways were not His ways. Then the prophet used a metaphor to illustrate his point. Just as the heavens are as high above earth, so are God’s ways above their ways, His thoughts above their thoughts. This is a fact that humans would never understand. We think from our human categories. Our minds are so small. Our capacities and concepts are so narrow. We do not see the big picture. We cannot see it simply because of the limitations of our being human.

Jesus instantiates this fact with the Parable of the Workers of the Vineyard in today’s gospel passage. The way in which the workers who began working early appears to be an offense to common sense. There was a labour contract, they did an honest day of work. When they saw other workers joining them at different hours of the day, they expected that they would be given something more as a bonus. That is often the way, a good master gets about. But here was a stranger type of a master. He paid the workers who did one hour of work the same wage as those who worked the whole day. Is that not unfair? However, the master was faithful to the original labour contract. The master is not merely just, he is exceptionally just and even radically just. The workers who began working late received from the master more than what was due. God is like that landowner. He is radically just and generous without measure. If he did not do that, he would be the God of Israel, the Creator and Saviour. He knows that the workers who came late were not at fault. Nobody hired them. Yet they had a family to feed at the end of the day. God exercises divine justice. Small-minded people do not understand God’s bountiful generosity and mercy. God does not owe anything to us, yet he cares for us just as he cares for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air and even more. We must not think think that our merits deserve more reward. God’s gifts are not determined by our performances. Salvation is a sheerly gratuitous gift. Let us not fall into the temptation of quantifying or partitioning divine generosity from our standards and measurements. He is God. The measuring rod is in His hands. It is the divine measuring rod. Our logic, epistemology and jurisprudence are not His measuring rods. Let us allow God to be God and let us accept our creatureliness and refrain from dictating terms to Him. We do not understand his workings. For His ways are not our ways.

Happy Sunday! Bon Dimanche! Buona Domenica! Schönen Sonntag! Gelukkige Zondag! Szczęśliwej Niedzieli! Sretna Nedjelja!

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