TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)

September 20, 2020

FIRST READING (Isaiah 55:6-9)

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)

Refrain: The Lord is near to all who call upon him.

1) Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. (Refrain:)

2) The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. (Refrain:)

3) The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. (Refrain:)

SECOND READING (Philippians 1: 20c-24, 27a)

Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

GOSPEL (Matthew 20:1-16a)

Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o'clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.' So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o'clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o'clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They answered, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard.' 
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.'
When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.'
He said to one of them in reply, 'My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?' Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last."

(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)

Recommended Songs:

Amazing Grace (G)

Seek the Lord/ O'Connor (Glory and Praise)(OT)

The Lord Is Near/ Joncas (Ps.)

Only the Good Die Young/ Billy Joel

Sources:

Catechism: #1987 - 2029 (Justification, grace and merit)

also #'s 35, 153 - 155 (faith as grace), 654, 678 and 1960 - 1986 (Old Law and New Law)

Barclay: Matthew II, pp. 221 - 226

Days of the Lord (Volume 6): pp. 193 - 201

Matthew by John Meier: pp. 221 - 226

Homiletic Aids

Barclay points out five aspects of this parable:

  1. warning to the disciples;
  2. warning to the Jews;
  3. the comfort of God;
  4. the compassion of God; and,
  5. the generosity of God. Two factors here: a) God looks at the quality of our service (the love with which it is done) not the quantity (comparison of small gift from a child being more meaningful than a large gift from a wealthy man. It is all the child had to give.); and b) all God gives is of grace.

Being in a state of grace is like being hired in the marketplace to work in the Lord's vineyard.

In Matthew's gospel, this passage occurs just after our Lord has told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. It immediately follows Peter's question to our Lord about what the disciples' reward will be for having left everything to follow him. (Peter could often represent us in the gospels and it is no different here.) Jesus responds that the kingdom of heaven will be theirs and that the first shall be last and the last shall be first (e.g. Lazarus). Having said this, he goes on to relate the parable of the vineyard owner.

Amazing Grace

Introduction and background

Before we discuss this parable a little further, a little background might be helpful. First of all, from the vineyard owner's perspective, in Palestine, grapes ripened at the end of September, followed closely by the rains which would ruin the crop. Therefore, the fact that the owner went to the marketplace several times during the day was understandable, since there was a race against time to bring in the harvest and even one hour's help was appreciated. Secondly, from the workers' standpoint, the daily wage of a denarius was hardly enough to keep a family going, probably similar to minimum wage today. We can certainly understand that it would be difficult enough to provide for a family on 8 hours of minimum wage, let alone on just one hour. Unlike servants and slaves, whose fortunes were tied to those of a household, these hired workers lived from day to day. The fact that the owner gave even the workers who had been hired for only one hour a full day's wage involved consideration and generosity. If he hadn't acted as he did, those workers would have been unable to care for their families.

1) Judgment:

Now in the parable, the workers hired early in the day made a judgment that they deserved more than the "johnny-come-latelies". However, this judgment was not theirs to make. It belonged to the owner. In our own lives, it is all too easy to do the same thing and to pass judgment on others and ourselves, which leads to serious consequences. I participate in the music ministry here as an organist. Now I know that I am not the most skilled musician to ever venture through the front door of the church. Although it is incumbent on me to develop my skills to the best of my ability, it would be wrong to start comparing myself with others. Such thinking can only lead to a lot of bad feelings. For instance, excessive self-criticism may lead to depression or even suicide. Excessive feelings of inferiority can also lead to prejudice and feelings that we are better than people of other races, religions, etc. It becomes very easy to "put people down" and pass judgment on them based on perceived inequalities.

Perhaps some of us, upon hearing today's gospel passage, would be quick to identify with those who labored all day in the vineyard and demanded a higher wage than the latecomers. There are probably other instances in the gospels when we feel the same way, like in the parable of the prodigal son. We feel the indignation felt by the older son who had been faithful to his father all those years. So we should not be so quick to judge others and ourselves, since that belongs to God, who is the only one who can see into our hearts. Besides, as Isaiah states in the first reading, God's ways are not our ways. But passing judgment is wrong for another reason which cuts to the heart of the parable: in areas of faith and morals, it makes no allowance for the workings of God's grace.

2) Grace:

Just a few weeks ago, we heard the passage in which our Lord asks the disciples "who do you say I am?". Peter responded "You are the Messiah", and our Lord answered him by saying "No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father". Peter's affirmation of faith in Jesus could only have been possible through grace, through "the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God". Just as Peter can represent us elsewhere in the gospels, so it is in this case. Peter was able to make this affirmation of faith because he was already in the state of grace to receive the Father's message. One way that we can achieve those states is through the sacraments.

I never really gave much thought to grace and the sacraments until my ordination some years ago now. Since then, I cannot deny that I have felt the effects of grace in my life. During my diaconate training, I prepared and delivered numerous practice homilies which I considered to be fairly good. I researched them well and presented them as best I could. However, the homilies which I have prepared and given since ordination have literally blown me away. I have learned so much just in preparing them, that I couldn't wait to deliver them, because I had made the message a part of me. And the only difference between then and now is ordination, so the change cannot be in me, but in the grace of God available to me now through ordination. And grace is available to all of us initially through baptism, but also whenever we receive the Eucharist.

In the parable, the owner goes out looking in the morning, at noon and in the evening. If each of those times represented phases in our lives (e.g. infancy, youth, adulthood, senior and death bed), then the parable is telling us that God's grace can come into our lives at any time. Now if God's grace can be rejected - since we have free will to do so - it begs the question: why do bad things happen to good people, while those who do evil seem to thrive? I believe it is that God is giving them time to repent, for it is only too late at the instant of death. This also raises another difficult question to deal with: if God is willing to grant those who do evil more time to "change their evil ways", then how can we deny them that opportunity, i.e., subject them to the death penalty. Megan Kanka was a 7 year old girl who was raped and murdered just outside of Trenton and whose murder sparked the movement which led to the passage of "Megan's Law" in New Jersey which requires that previously convicted sex offenders report to the local police when they move into a residential area. Her parents went on record as not favoring the death penalty for her murderer. It takes a great deal of faith and love on their part not to want an "eye for an eye" in that difficult situation.

3) Merit:

The final point to be made from this parable involves the question of merit. This parable can be interpreted as a warning to the Jews, and especially to the Pharisees to beware of the trap of "righteousness" (i.e., claims based on "merit" or "being saved"). In the gospels, our Lord gives us the example of the Pharisee and the plebiscite. The Pharisee boasts that he is so much better than the plebiscite and he goes on to list the ways he feels superior. But God's justice bestows mercy on the hapless and rejects the proud's claims of merit, for the last shall be first and the first last.

The workers who had put in more hours in the vineyard believed that they had "merited" a higher wage. Yet the owner had an agreement with them to pay them a denarius, while those who were hired later agreed to work for "whatever was fair". The spirit of the workers hired later is the spirit with which we should labor in the Lord's vineyard on earth. You see, in the psalms, the Hebrews are referred to as the vine planted and nourished by God. Thus, today the vineyard could well represent all of God's people, and he has called us to work in that vineyard.

We have been blessed with the gifts of grace and faith early on and should not raise questions of merit, but leave that decision to God. And we cannot begrudge God's generosity in granting the same heavenly reward to those who turn to him on their death beds as he has promised to us "who have borne the heat of the day". Barclay says: "We cannot earn what God gives us; we cannot deserve it; what God gives us is given out of the goodness of his heart; what God gives is not pay, but a gift; not a reward, but a grace." Just as God has promised us a heavenly reward out of his love for us, so we should do good works out of our love for God, and not for any merit that we can derive from them.

Conclusion:

In summary, I believe there are three lessons to be learned from this parable: 1) be not quick to judge, lest you be judged accordingly; 2) be thankful that you have been chosen by God through grace to work tirelessly in his vineyard on earth; and, 3) in a paraphrase of the words of former President Kennedy: ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for God.

(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Homily

An Error of Judgment

Some years ago, I was sitting at my desk at work when a coworker leaned over to me and asked if I believed that I was "saved". I was caught a little off guard by the question, but eventually I responded that I didn't think that that was a judgment which I could make, but only God could. In preparing this homily, I recalled the incident and mention it here because it leads into the first of three themes which I have discerned from today's gospel.

Before we discuss this parable a little further, a little background might be helpful. First of all, from the vineyard owner's perspective, in Palestine, grapes ripened at the end of September, followed closely by the rains which would ruin the crop. Therefore, the fact that the owner went to the marketplace several times during the day was understandable, since there was a race against time to bring in the harvest and even one hour's help was appreciated. Secondly, from the workers' standpoint, the daily wage of a denarius was hardly enough to keep a family going, probably similar to minimum wage today. We can certainly understand that it would be difficult enough to provide for a family on 8 hours of minimum wage, let alone on just one hour. Unlike servants and slaves, whose fortunes were tied to those of a household, these hired workers lived from day to day. The fact that the owner gave even the workers who had been hired for only one hour a full day's wage involved consideration and generosity. If he hadn't acted as he did, those workers would have been unable to care for their families.

Now the first thing that should be noted in the parable is that the workers hired early in the day made a judgment that they deserved more than the "johnny-come-latelies". However, this judgment was not theirs to make. It belonged to the owner. In our own lives, it is all too easy to do the same thing and to pass judgment on others and ourselves, which can lead to serious consequences. Consider the following story:

As humorous as the situation related by this author might be, I'm sure that we all would be quick to identify with her and with those who labored all day in the vineyard and demanded a higher wage than the latecomers. There are probably other instances in the gospels when we have felt the same way, like in the parable of the prodigal son. We can feel the same indignation that was felt by the older son who had been faithful to his father all those years.

So the point is that we should not be so quick to judge others and ourselves, since that belongs to God, who is the only one who can see into our hearts. Besides, as Isaiah states in the first reading, God's ways are not our ways. But passing judgment is wrong for another reason which cuts to the heart of the parable: in areas of faith and morals, it makes no allowance for the workings of God's grace, which brings us to the second point of the parable: grace.

Just a few weeks ago, we heard the passage in which our Lord asks the disciples "who do you say I am?". Peter responded "You are the Messiah", and our Lord answered him by saying "No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father". Peter's affirmation of faith in Jesus could only have been possible through grace, through "the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God". Just as Peter can represent us elsewhere in the gospels, so it is in this case. Peter was able to make this affirmation of faith because he was already in the state of grace to receive the Father's message. One way that we can achieve those states is through the sacraments.

In the parable, the owner goes out looking in the morning, at noon and in the evening. If each of those times represented phases in our lives (e.g. infancy, youth, adulthood, senior and death bed), then the parable is telling us that God's grace can come into our lives at any time. Now if God's grace can be rejected - since we have free will to do so - it begs the question: why do bad things happen to good people, while those who do evil seem to thrive? I believe it is that God is giving them time to repent, for it is only too late at the moment of death.

This also raises another difficult question: if God is willing to grant those who do evil more time to "change their evil ways", then how can we deny them that opportunity, i.e., subject them to the death penalty. Some years ago, Megan Kanka was a 7 year old girl who was raped and murdered just outside of Trenton and whose murder sparked the movement which led to the passage of "Megan's Law" in New Jersey which requires that previously convicted sex offenders report to the local police when they move into a residential area. Despite their grief, her parents did not argue for the death penalty for her murderer. It took a great deal of faith and love on their part not to want an "eye for an eye" in that difficult situation.

The final point to be made from this parable involves the question of merit. This parable can be interpreted as a warning to the Jews, and especially to the Pharisees to beware of the trap of "righteousness" (i.e., claims based on "merit" or "being saved"). In the gospels, our Lord gives us the example of the Pharisee and the plebiscite. The Pharisee boasts that he is so much better than the plebiscite and he goes on to list the ways he feels superior. But God's justice bestows mercy on the hapless and rejects the proud's claims of merit, for the last shall be first and the first last.

The workers who had put in more hours in the vineyard believed that they had "merited" a higher wage. Yet the owner had an agreement with them to pay them a denarius, while those who were hired later agreed to work for "whatever was fair". The spirit of the workers hired later is the spirit with which we should labor in the Lord's vineyard on earth. You see, in the psalms, the Hebrews are referred to as the vine planted and nourished by God. Thus, today the vineyard could well represent all of God's people, and he has called us to work in that vineyard.

We have been blessed with the gifts of grace and faith early on and should not raise questions of merit, but leave that decision to God. And we cannot begrudge God's generosity in granting the same heavenly reward to those who turn to him on their death beds as he has promised to us "who have borne the heat of the day".

Conclusion:

In summary, I believe we should remember these three lessons from this parable: 1) be not quick to judge, lest we be judged accordingly; 2) be thankful that we have been chosen by God through grace to work tirelessly in his vineyard on earth; and, 3) in a paraphrase of the words of former President Kennedy: ask not what God can do for us, but what we can do for God.

Reference:

1. The Cookie Thief, by Valerie Cox. Reprinted with the author's permission from A Third Serving Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, pp. 199-200. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL: 1996.

(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Come from Away
Author unknown

We’ve all had a rough time during these last six months, but if we’ve learned anything during this crazy time of pandemic, it is that we desperately need one another. And this is understandable because we have been created in the image and likeness of a God whose very nature is a loving relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. And just like the people around Gander, we’ve all read or watched incredible stories of doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store clerks, truck drivers and on and on, all risking their lives to help others suffering from the virus or get all of the rest of us what we need for our daily lives.

But in our gospel passage, we have a group of workers who get upset because they feel that they have not been treated fairly by the vineyard owner. One of the interpretations of this parable is that God’s grace can come to us at any time in our lives (childhood, youth, adulthood, senior and death bed) and we, who have come to our belief early in life, should not begrudge others who find theirs on their death beds. As our Lord has instructed us “love one another as I have loved you”.

TWENTY-FIFTH ORDINARY SUNDAY (A)

September 20, 2020

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you have called us to labor in your vineyard. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you have taught us that all are equal in the eyes of God. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you taught us that the last will be first and the first will be last. Lord, have mercy.

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (A)
September 20, 2020
Prayers of the Faithful

Celebrant: Our Lord has taught us that our heavenly Father is full of mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, confident that he will hear us in his mercy, we bring our prayers and petitions before him.

Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, teach us your ways."

That the leaders of the Church will be kind, considerate, compassionate, understanding and generous to all of the members of their communities, we pray to the Lord.

That the people of the nations of the world will not pass judgment on others because of race, religion or national origin, we pray to the Lord.

That we will do all we can to bring God's merciful love into the lives of those afflicted by poverty, sickness or the loss of a loved one, we pray to the Lord.

That we may welcome into our community all those who are willing to work in the vineyard of the Lord, we pray to the Lord.

That God will bless our harvests so that we may share our abundance with those in need, we pray to the Lord.

That catechists will be strengthened in their ministry to share God's word and the tradition of the Church to those entrusted to their care, we pray to the Lord.

That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the site of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.

That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.

For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.

Celebrant: Merciful Father, your Son has taught us of your abounding love for all men, women and children. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to always realize that your ways are not our ways and that all are equal in your sight. And we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.