25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
"Are you envious because I am generous?"
Entrance Antiphon: “I am the salvation of the people, says the Lord. Should they cry to Me in any distress, I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.”
First Reading: Is 55:6-9 – “My thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 – “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him.”
Second Reading: Phil 1:20c-24, 27a – “For me to live is Christ.”
Alleluia: Acts 16:14b – “Alleluia, alleluia. Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of Your Son. Alleluia, alleluia”
Gospel: Mt 20:1-16a – “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 119(118):4-5 – “You have laid down Your precepts to be carefully kept; may my ways be firm in keeping Your statutes.”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” We have all heard the phrase, “timing is everything.” This holds true perhaps for a comedy routine or the West Coast Offense. Then we might hear, “better late than never.” And that might hold true in other situations, especially when the priest gets on your case about arriving to Mass on time. But how do these nuggets of human wisdom measure up in matters of faith? Honestly, in the Christian life, does being an early bird or a sleepyhead make any difference?
Let’s consider Jesus’ parable of the laborers and the vineyard. On one hand, the parable would seem to indicate that timing is not everything. In fact, when we get right down to it … it counts for nothing. The landowner in the parable hires laborers for his vineyard at different hours … at dawn, … at midmorning, … at midday, … at mid-afternoon … and in the evening. At the end of the day, however, he pays each of them the same: one denarius. Now if we think that this payment is just, then we miss the point of the parable completely. In an earthly reckoning of wages … it is a travesty. Our Lord deliberately gives a shocking end to the parable to teach that we cannot measure God’s mercy by human, worldly standards. In worldly terms, one denarius for each laborer is unjust because some had worked longer than others. But in divine terms, the denarius … that is, salvation … is extended to all, however early or late they may arrive. Because in God’s mercy, both early birds and sleepyheads can receive salvation.
In this regard then, timing is not everything and late is better than never. I would hope that for all of you sitting here listening, this brings great consolation and hope. It means that even those who turn to the Lord at the last possible moment can be saved. It affords hope for the atheist at the point of death or the fallen away Catholic facing terminal illness. Our Lord teaches this also by example, when from the cross He promises to the Good Thief: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). With this in mind, we dare not stop our prayers for those who have strayed from the Faith or not yet answered the Lord's call. If they turn to Him late … even at their last breath … they too can receive that denarius, eternal life.
At the same time, the landowner in the parable clearly would have preferred a timelier arrival of laborers. His second, third and fourth trips to the marketplace found men “standing idle” (Mt 20:3). Upon his evening trip he gives them something of a scolding: “Why do you stand here idle all day?” (Mt 20:6) “Idle” is not an indifferent description. It indicates that they failed or neglected to do something that they should have done. There was work for them to do ... there was work that needed doing … and yet they remained idle.
Clearly, Our Lord does not want us to be idle. He doesn’t want us to delay or procrastinate when it comes to answering His call and entering into His service. In this regard, timing is everything and delay could mean that death catches us unaware. Thus Scripture contains many exhortations to conversion and holiness because “the time is short” (1 Cor 7:29; cf. Lk 21 :34-36).
As regards our prompt response, two details of the parable merit mention. First, the landowner finds the laborers in the marketplace … in other words … in the midst of the world. And that is where the Lord seeks us as well, nudging us to serve Him where we are … to attend to the duty of the moment, … to offer the task before us for His glory.