25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A - September 24, 2023

 

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A - September 24, 2023

Isaiah 55: 6-9; Philippians 1: 20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20: 1-16a

Theme: We are all Saved by God’s Generosity and Grace but not by our Merit

Today is the last Sunday of the Celebration of the Month of the Word of God. Let us recall that the Catholic Church has dedicated the month of September to the Word of God. So worldwide, we celebrate the month of the Bible this month. The theme I chose for the month of the Word of God this year is “Why We Should Always Forgive and Reconcile with Those Who Sin Against Us”. The Church exhorts all faithful Christians to venerate the Word of God in the Church as well as in our families. First, in the liturgy of the Mass, we are called to celebrate the Word of God with reverence and participate in it actively. This means we should listen attentively when God speaks to us in the scripture readings and pay attention to the priest or deacon when they interpret the Word of God to us in homilies. Second, our Mother Church encourages all parishes to establish Bible Study groups to give opportunities to the faithful to meditate, read, and study the Word of God. Since July 1st of this year when I was officially appointed your pastor, I have promised you and prepared all of us that we will start a Weekly Bible Study Group in our parish with me. So, Friday, September 1st was the official start. Note that our Weekly Bible Study group is not only for the month of September but for all the months. We meet every Friday at 6: 00 p.m. in the conference room in the office to meditate, study, and share the Gospel that will be read that weekend. Third, the Church also urges all families to venerate the Word of God at home. I recommend a “Family Bible Corner” which I think is the best option to better celebrate the Word of God in our families. A “Family Bible Corner” is a suitable place that you prepare in one corner of your living room where you display an open Bible. It could be a small table, for example, covered with a white tablecloth (or any liturgical colors: red, purple, green, or white), well decorated with flowers, candles, and maybe with a crucifix or rosary. (See the Sunday bulletin of Sept 3rd, I inserted some pictures of the Family Bible Corner to give you an idea). The Family Bible Corner should be visible to anyone who enters the house. Its purpose is to remind the household members and guest visitors that the Word of God is the center of our family. This Family Bible Corner can also be used where the family meets for family prayer, Bible sharing, or any other gathering.

 Today, our Mother Church suggests we meditate on the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Jesus tells this parable to teach the Jewish Christians in Matthew’s community and all of us today that God does not owe anyone anything. Eternal salvation and all blessings we receive from God are because of God’s generosity, not because we deserve them.

It is important to notice that in this parable, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven not to the vineyard but to the landowner. Based on the Old Testament texts, especially Isaiah 5: 1-7, the vineyard here can represent “Israel” and the landowner stands for God. But in the view of the New Testament, Jesus is the landowner, and the vineyard is his Church that he established as the manifestation of the heavenly kingdom on earth. By choosing twelve disciples (alluding to twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament), Jesus made it clear that his mission was to establish a new “Israel”, a new Community of God’s chosen people. Then, in our parable, he shows that this new community consists of one people made up of both “the first workers” (these are the Israelites, the first chosen people) and the “late workers” (these are the Gentiles and all sinners who continue to repent and join the Church of Jesus).  

The parable tells us that it is the landowner himself who goes out in the marketplaces and streets to hire people to work in his vineyard. He hired them all at different times: at dawn, nine, noon, three, and even at five o’clock. This means, Jesus, the Church owner, hired and continues to hire believers to work in his Church. He first hired the twelve disciples (Jews) and in later generations, their successors (Jews and Gentiles) who continue to work in his Church. Jesus continues to hire different people today (Jews and Gentiles, white and Black, and poor and rich) at different times to work in God’s kingdom.  Through our baptism, you and I were hired to care for and cultivate the vineyard of the Lord which is our local Church, families, and neighborhoods.

The message of this parable is that all workers received the same amount of their salaries, and the late-hired workers were paid first. The times they were hired or how many hours each worked did not count. The first hired workers expressed their discontentment to the master because they received the same usual wage as the late workers who just worked for one hour (see vv, 11-12). To better understand the message that Jesus wants to teach them and us here, let us go back and read the story of the Rich Young Man (Matthew 19: 16-30), especially the question of Peter in v. 27 and Jesus’ answer in vv. 28-30, which immediately precedes our parable.

In v. 27, Peter asked Jesus a question to know what their reward would be as they had given up everything and followed him. Jesus answered them that they would inherit eternal life. And Jesus added that many who were first will be last, and the last will be first (see vv. 28-30). Right after that, Jesus tells them this parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Through this parable, he wants to illustrate his answer to the question of Peter in vv. 28-30. He teaches them and all of us that the fact that the Jews were chosen first does not make them more privileged than Gentiles in the kingdom of heaven. Also, the fact that they are his first apostles does not mean that they are more religious than the rest of the believers. In the kingdom of God, all are equal. And eternal life is not something that God owes us. We all are saved by God’s generosity.

This message applies to us today as well. We should not behave like first-class Christians and look down on others as “second-hand Christians”. The fact that we were baptized many years ago, maybe by a bishop or a well-known priest, does not make us special Christians than others who were baptized by a “simple” deacon or priest. Also, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, and all religious brothers and sisters cannot pretend that because they have dedicated their lives to God, in heaven they will be treated differently compared to the laypeople. Parishioners who are very dedicated to the Church (Eucharist ministers, lectors, choir members, altar servers, ushers, and any other ministry and commissions) should not think that there will be special places in heaven for them than for regular parishioners. We who believe in Jesus and work in his “vineyard” today cannot expect our Lord to treat us differently than he will treat sinners who will repent tomorrow or in the future. God treats everyone who believes in him and accepts to work in his “vineyard” equally.  

The main point of this parable is not to discourage Christians who are involved in the Church and have been living well their faith for a long time. The fact that both the late and first workers receive the same blessings and are saved in the same way does not mean that we should stop being good Christians now and wait for the last minutes, or sinners should wait for the last moment of their lives to repent. Jesus needs people like you and me now to work in his Church and manifest God’s kingdom wherever we live. We should not postpone. Let us seek the Lord now, forsake our wicked thoughts, and turn to the Lord to find mercy as the prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, calls us to (see Isaiah 55: 6-7). In our second reading, Saint Paul shows us an example of the one who longs to work in the “vineyard” of the Lord for the entire of his life starting after his conversion. When he wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was in prison. In our second reading passage, Saint Paul refers to his own death that he thinks is near. For him, to live or die is all for Christ.  Pay attention to what he says regarding the choice to make between dying or living. He says, to die is better by far because he desires to depart and be with Christ. However, to live is more necessary because he will continue to minister to his people and help them be saved one day (see Philippians 1: 22-24). Here Saint Paul shows us an example of the one who works in the Church of Jesus not for his own reward but for the sake of the people of God. We are workers in the Church of Jesus not because we expect special rewards from him but because we care for our brothers and sisters and want them to be saved one day along with us. Therefore, as Saint Paul exhorts us, let us continue to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1: 27).

As we conclude the month of the Word of God today, let us recall briefly what the Scripture readings of all four Sundays taught us. On the first Sunday, September 3rd, we learned how we, Christians, should respond to the love of God. Jesus, in the Gospel, gave us an example. His death on the cross to save us was his perfect way to respond to God’s love. We too should accept to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God for the sake of the people of God, as Saint Paul exhorted us in the second reading. Our sacrifice and all the good works that we do in our Church, neighborhoods, and families are our responses to the love of God.

On the second Sunday of this month, we learned how and why we should always seek reconciliation with God and with one another. Like prophet Ezekiel, in the first reading, we too are appointed “watchmen” and “watchwomen” for our brothers and sisters. Our mission is to always warn them of the wickedness that leads to our death in order to reconcile them with God. Jesus instructed us in the Gospel to follow a three-step process in our effort to seek reconciliation with those who sin against us (first, go to meet your offender one-on-one; second, involve two or three people; and third, call the Church). In case the offender still refuses to make peace after these three steps, Jesus instructed us to treat them as “Gentiles” or “tax collectors”, which means to treat them as the “Lost Sheep”. Treating offenders as “lost sheep” means that we need to evangelize them, minister to them, and pray for them until we win over them. To achieve both reconciliations (with God and with our fellow humans), it takes a lot of sacrifice, courage, humility, and especially great love to warn the people of their sins against God and to seek reconciliation with those who sin against us.

The third Sunday of this month taught us about forgiveness. Ben Sira, in the first reading, advised us that we should not hold wrath and anger against our brothers and sisters but forgive them. In the Gospel, Peter asked Jesus a question to find out how often we should forgive those who sin against us. Jesus, through the parable of the unforgiving servant, told us that we should forgive our fellow humans with no limit. The Psalmist sang in the responsorial Psalm that God is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich to compassion. We are called to imitate God and show this mercy and compassion to our fellow brothers and sisters, Remember, what we owe God, through our sins, is far huger than what our offenders owe us. Therefore, as God forgives us, let us also forgive our fellow humans.

Today, the fourth Sunday, we learned that the Church of Jesus, which is the manifestation of the heavenly kingdom, is the New Israel. It consists of one group of people made up of both Jews and Gentiles, Whites and Blacks, and Rich and Poor without discrimination. We also learned that we receive eternal salvation and all the blessings because of God’s generosity and grace, but not because we deserve them. Our good works do not make God owe us blessings or salvation, but help us come closer to him. Eternal salvation is equal to all believers. Amen. 

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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