FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 55:6-9 | Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 | Philippians 1:20C-24, 27A | Matthew 20:1-16A
On this Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are reminded that God is always waiting to be gracious to us, that we must magnify Christ in our lives and that our incredibly generous God is constantly inviting us to labor in his vineyard.
Back when sweet potatoes are harvested in our yard in Caloocan, Mommy would sit all three of us down, Daddy included, with trays and paring knives until the mountain of fruit was reduced to neat slices into the skillet. She never bothered keeping track of how many we did, though our youngest undoubtedly proved more of a nuisance than help: peel wastage, uneven pieces, and cut fingers. But when the job was done, the reward for everyone was the same: the most crispy and delicious sweet potato fries! A stickler might argue it wasn't quite fair since our eldest and myself actually washed, peeled, sliced and arranged the sweet potato nicely. But I can't remember anyone complaining about it. We understand that it will take more time before our youngest can perfectly peel and cut sweet potatoes just like the rest of us. A family understands it operates under a different set of norms than a courtroom. In fact, when we ran out of cinnamon dip and our youngest had to make do with banana ketchup, we felt sorry for him despite his lack of productivity. Mommy wants all her children to enjoy the good food she prepared.
Isaiah 55 consists of a hymn depicting the messianic end-time banquet to which all are invited. Here, the prophet urges the people to return from their exile, even though they've been unfaithful. They have fallen away from their Jewish faith and have turned to idols. They're hesitant to come back because they're afraid. But here's what Isaiah, speaking for God, says: "Seek God while God may be found. Call to God now while God is near. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts." What God is telling us is that He does not act or judge by human standards. His ways and ours are as far apart as the heavens are from the earth. While we act out of jealousy, envy, strict justice, or vengeance, God acts out of love, mercy and compassion. He patiently waits until all his children transform into the image of His Son. It won’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen overnight. God hasn't given up on us. We should never underestimate the mercy of God, nor should we despair of His mercy.
Cardo was born in Alua, San Isidro, Nueva Ecija with an terrible facial deformity. He grew up alone and lonely. When reaching adulthood, he decided to move from his hometown to Manila to begin a new life. On his way he discovered a beautiful mask that fit his making him look handsome. At first the mask was uncomfortable and he was afraid that people would find out who he really was, but he continued to wear the mask every day. In his new hometown, he made many friends and fell in love. But one day, Mina, a wicked woman from his old home came to his town and discovered this man’s true identity. In front of his friends and fiancé, she forced him to remove his mask. When he removed the mask, it revealed a handsome face. His face had conformed to the mask!
St. Paul, while imprisoned either in Rome or most likely in Ephesus, describes this radical kind of thinking in our second reading, from the Letter to the Philippians. He says, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” For Paul, life is not about Paul. It’s about Christ. This passage reminds us that we must labor to imitate Christ. Becoming like Christ is similar to Cardo's story. As Christians when we put on Christ, our lives slowly begin to resemble Him. At first it may feel unnatural or uncomfortable, and you may think, “Who am I kidding?” But everyday just keep putting on Christ by being filled with the Spirit and focused on obeying His Word and every day you will grow to look and act more like him.
One day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Master, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Copper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."
In this Sunday’s Gospel, workers who did little work are paid the same as workers who worked hard all day. Those who worked all day complain and are then told, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” Most of us find ourselves thinking, “Yeah, but...it just doesn’t seem right.” Try that today and the National Labor Relations Commission and all kinds of human rights groups would come down on you in full force. The workers of the first hour are the Jewish people, called by God to work in his vineyard. They bear the weight of the day, from Abraham to Moses, for over one thousand years, they obeyed the Law. Now at the eleventh hour, Jesus calls the gentiles to work in his vineyard and they succeed in having the preference in the heart of God. The point of the parable is neither the hard work of the laborers nor it is about fairness. Rather, it is about the generosity of the landowner. Out of pity for the unemployed and their families, the employer generously gives to everyone far more than they truly deserve. Today's parable, however, should give us new hope and courage. God is calling each of us to labor in his vineyard. It may be the sixth or the ninth or even the eleventh hour of our life but we can still earn heaven if we listen to God's call and set to work diligently in His vineyard. But now let me give you a word of caution. No one promised you that you will live until the eleventh hour so when you are called, be generous. When you are called, come.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum