CATHOLIC HOMILIES: 25TH SUNDAY HOMILY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR A
HOMILY Theme: GOD’S PECULIAR WAYS
By: Rev Fr Muoka Gerald
Homily for Sunday.
_R1 – Is 55:6-9_
_RESP. PS. – PS. 145: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18_
_R2 – Phil 1:20-24,27_
_GOSPEL – Matt 20:1-16a_
A story was told about an engineer who was working in a construction firm that build houses. He told himself: “I have been working hard for this company and what do I get? “I’m about to retire all my life, I am only making beautiful mansions for the rich people, but couldn’t build any for myself.” One day the owner of the construction firm said to him: “I want you to construct a large and lovely house. I don’t care about the budget. I just want it done well.” But since the engineer was filled with resentment to his work, he wanted to embarrass the owner. “Anyway,” he reasoned, “I would be retiring soon. I better use this opportunity to enrich myself.” So he built the house with sub-standard materials: rusty steels and roofs, old wood and fixtures. The façade was so impressive but he knew it would not last because of the poor quality of work and materials.
The time came for him to retire. He was summoned by the owner who said: “As my gratitude to you for your services in the company, I’m giving you the house that I instructed you to build. It was meant as a surprise for you.” He wanted to complain but it’s late.
Imagine the unpredictable and unprecedented manner of the Master’s style of reward, a-never-thought-of reward. A peculiar one indeed; different from human thinking.
Beloved child of God, the readings of today’s liturgy magnify in our consciousness, one of the Igbo attributes of God, “Oma ama amasi amasi.” (The Being we know and cannot know to the fullest). Onye na eme ihe masiri ya, ka osi masi ya, mgbe oji masi ya, na uzo osi masi ya (He does his things when, where, how, what and the way it pleases him).
The first reading says, ‘His ways are different from ours and His thoughts, likewise different from ours.” In the Gospel reading, Jesus presents us with one of the most controversial and “humanly unacceptable” parables: the PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD WORKERS, which illustrates that God’s ways and thoughts and different from ours.
*UNDERSTANDING THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD WORKERS.*
First and foremost, parables were not intended to be straightforward stories that Jesus told to be easily interpreted. Parables left their listeners scratching their heads thinking for one moment that they got it, then having their understanding turned upside down.
In today’s parable, the landowner went to the town square at six, nine, back at noon, back at three, and again at five, respectively. At the end of the day, he surprised all of them by choosing his own way to pay them the same daily wage. The workers who were the first to begin earlier whined and complained bitterly to him that they did not get equal pay for equal work, that his was not a conventional practice. But the landowner retorts;
Did I do you wrong?
Did you not get what we agreed upon?
Did I cheat you out of something? Take what’s yours and go.
I choose to give to this last group the same as I give to you.
And here’s the punch line: the owner says: “Are you envious because I am generous?” In Greek it actually reads: “ἢ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρός ἐστιν ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀγαθός εἰμι” (Or is your eye evil because I am good?) They are indeed envious of his goodness. This parable raises all sorts of questions and its message is foggy at best.
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Panoply of Preachers have differently interpreted this periscope, Some use it to support “death bed conversions”, advocating the belief that even if one shows up late in the day, and accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they will earn eternal life. Yet some others see it as the pinnacle of the theological message of Jesus: the extraordinary grace of God revealing God’s generous gift to all people. Others situate and apply it to various stages or ages of Divine Call in response to our “fides qua.” For instance: Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), Sampson (Judges 13), and John the Baptist (Lk. 1:15) were both called from the womb; Timothy was called as a child (2 Tim. 3:15); Obadiah was sanctified as a youth (1 Kgs. 18:12); Peter, Andrew, James and John were called at middle age as adults (Matt. 4:18-22); whereas, Abraham embraced the divine call as an old man of 75 (Gen. 12). Yet the same Lord, one faith, one baptism and reward- heaven.
*LESSONS OF THE PARABLE*
These varying interpretations notwithstanding, the readings of today expose us to the following messages that directly affect us;
*1 NO COMPETITION IN DESTINY*
(Ejighi ike eme uwa)
The scripture admonishes us that God’s grace is sufficient for us (2Cor. 12:9). So, what propels us to giant strides in destiny is not our deep commitment to work, righteousness or holiness, rather the power of God’s Spirit (Zech. 4:6). This is exactly what the workers in our parable today failed to understand. They tend to forget the admonition of the psalmist: “In vain is our earlier rising and going later to bed, sweating to make a living, since it is he who provides for his beloved as they sleep” (Psalm 127:2).
It is equally worthy of note that, this parable is situated right in the middle of a larger portion of material where Jesus is conversing with his disciples. Jesus is not speaking to the religious leaders here, those outside of his circle. He is speaking to his followers. Because he knows that the tendency to competition-to be better than the next guy like the irate vineyard workers, can destroy their mission.
Destiny Competitors do not reach their goal. They end in shame and disgrace. (Chai, Chima my classmate has built a house at 25, he has 3 cars at 23, agbaalam last oo.. I’m behind- BEWARE!). Some have been positioned to make it through the hard and excruciating hustle way, just like those who started at 6 in the morning, while others will have to sweat it out, just like those recruited at 5 PM. EJIKE EME UWA? MBA!!! Destiny competition leads to envy and jealousy. Soren Kierkegaard called them the _‘sins of comparison`_
*2 AVOIDING ENVY AND JEALOUSY*
(Igbara anya ufu na obi ngbowa oso)
Jesus warns us against jealousy and it’s sister, envy today. They are both considered among the deadly sins. William Shakespeare called jealousy “the green eyed monster.” The monster that threatens to eat one alive, even your sibling or best friend. Whereas, St Thomas Aquinas sees envy as “sorrows over another’s good.” This is exactly what the complaining vineyard workers manifested in the parable of today’s Gospel. Left unguarded, jealousy and envy are destructive emotions that foster destructive behavior. (When your neighbour or your neighbour’s child is favoured with a car, house or blessed; you term it: “ndi ogwu ego (money rituals) or onye ashawo (prostitution).” We end up gossiping about them. We dismiss their friendship. We give them the evil eye of the green eyed monster. We question their intelligence and breakthrough. We say subtle things that plant seeds of negativity and at its most dangerous level. Unchecked, envy drives us to hurt another person by damaging their reputation.
*3 YIELDING AGAINST REBELLION AND REVOLT*
The laborers verbally rebelled and revolted against the master simply because his actions seemed very unfair to them. Christians, who fail to live by grace, become rebellions and think they are fighting injustice. Their false sense of justice can’t do anything but divide the church, families, communities and relationships.
_How do we rebel against God_?
By speaking against the authorities. By criticizing the leaders God has appointed over us. God on several occasions allowed the Israelites work and walk outside and without grace the moments they yielded to revolt and rebellion, against Him and His anointed one, Moses. Such spirit as described by Paul in the second reading is unworthy of the Gospel.
Finally, there is this legend narrated about Simon Peter and Dismas, the repentant thief on the cross, on the streets of heaven. Simon Peter, the big disciple, and Dismas, the thief on the cross, both died and went up to Heaven. They both knocked on the door, and they both got into Heaven. But, up in Heaven, Simon Peter discovered that he lived on the same street with Dismas, the thief on the cross. Peter was not pleased with this situation. Well, one day, God came walking by and Peter decided to ask God about it. He said, “You know God, Dismas and I are living on the same street here in Heaven and we have similar houses. I want you to know that I left everything for you. I left my fishing nets for you, my occupation, my boat and my nets. I left my good wife. I left my children. I gave up all these and I followed you my whole adult life and I was crucified upside down at the end of my life in Rome. Dismas here, he wasn’t a Christian for even fifteen minutes. And here we are: on the same street in Heaven. I don’t get it.”
God said, “Come on, Peter get off it. Your fishing nets were filled with holes, remember you caught nothing the moments you tried fishing without me. Your fishing boat was falling apart and not really safe. You know very well your kids were rebellious teenagers that you were trying to get away from. Besides, your wife was quite a nag and you wanted to get out of the house and away from her nagging. You even denied me three times and almost ran away during my crucifixion. You never stopped meddling with fluctuating faith and fears. And you were crucified by the Roman government because they wanted to kill you; you were even running away before I met you on the road. So don’t give me this ‘holier than thou’ stuff Peter, because I know you better than that. I knew your heart then and now.”
Yes, both Peter and Dismas received grace as a gift, undeserved, unearned, and they received their gift as a surprise, according to God’s peculiar ways, quite different from human thinking and reasoning.
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