September 25, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) on September 24, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27; and Matthew 20:1-16.
We have some challenging readings today! Matthew’s parable of the workers in the vineyard – no matter how much we grapple with it – is hard to reconcile with our human ideas about justice and mercy. It is no coincidence that the Church pairs this passage with a reading in which God declares, “so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
With the Lord, there is both justice and mercy. Let us ask God to makes us ever-more aware of his great mercy.
For Matthew, “the kingdom of heaven” is not just about the afterlife. It’s also about the reign of God, here and now. At this point in Matthew, Jesus has concluded his fourth teaching discourse, the discourse on the Church. (Remember two weeks ago, when Jesus gave instructions on how we are to handle disagreements with others in the Church?) Now, Jesus has begun his final trek to Jerusalem.
So friends, the challenge is not only to reflect on the mystery of God, but also to reflect on the mystery of who God calls us to be in the here and now. In some ways, we are the landowner in the parable, not the workers.
If we as the landowner thought in human ways, we would choose either to be merciful by paying the laborers hired at the end of the day a full day’s living wage, or to be just by paying them less than those who had worked all day. But for God, justice and mercy are the same thing, two sides of the same coin. We humans can’t seem to reconcile that. Could it be that when we claim that we are being just, that we are actually wanting to be fair? God’s idea of justice is not the same thing as the human concept of fairness. As God will proclaim through Ezekiel next week, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?”
No one deserves God’s grace or salvation, but God extends the possibility of salvation and grace to all people. Who are we to decide who should receive and who should not? If we landowners don’t hire the workers in the morning, whose fault is it that they have not been working all day?
With these challenges ringing in our ears, let’s explore three corners of the vineyard of the Lord. I offer the following questions as an examination of conscience for all of us.
First, let’s explore the idea of religion itself. Is Church membership something we earn, or is it freely given by God? How do we treat family members who no longer attend Mass? Do we ever criticize people in the Church who we don’t think are as holy as we are? Sacraments are not rewards given by the Church for a job well done; they are graces given freely by God for the journey ahead.
Next, let’s explore the economic implications. Think of the manual laborers who stand in the parking lots of home improvement megastores, hoping that someone will drive up and hire them for the day. Each of us could be there if not for the grace of God. What is our priority, our obligation to our unemployed and underemployed brothers and sisters? What are our obligations to those in the United States and in the developing world who are facing complete destruction after earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes? What is the just thing for us to do?
Finally, let us explore the protection of all life. We Catholics are outspoken in our opposition to abortion, but do we speak out as forcefully on other affronts to human life, such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, unjust war, and capital punishment? Someone “unfriended” me in April when I voiced my opposition to the state of Arkansas attempting to execute eight men in eleven days. She argued that “justice” demanded that people who had committed heinous crimes be executed. Do we claim to desire God’s justice when we actually want only human fairness?
At every Mass, we pray to Our Father, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not simply asking God for miracles. We are asking the Holy Spirit to guide us in the present moment, in our present situation.
Six years ago this month, in Polk County, Duane Buck had already eaten his final meal on death row when the United States Supreme Court granted him a temporary stay of execution. There was no question about his guilt, but even today, the courts are still arguing whether Buck should receive the death penalty. Six years ago, Buck responded to the news of his stay of execution with this very Biblical statement: “God’s mercy triumphs over judgment.”
As baptized Christians, we are compelled to join Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. Let us open our eyes to the surprises of God’s justice and mercy. God’s ways are above our ways. Thank God for that!