Twenty-Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year A
September 20, 2020 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Deacon Sharon Kay Talley
Isaiah 55:6-9 | Psalm 145:2-3;7-9;17-18
Philippians 1:20-24C;27 | Matthew 20:1-16A
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today’s Gospel from Matthew, one of Jesus’ parables, is one that is troublesome for many people, especially farmworkers and construction workers. When the landowner pays all the workers the same wage, one denarius, equivalent to one penny, which in those days was the typical wage for a full day’s work, the workers who began early in the day, like around 7am, thought that they should have received more pay.
But Jesus told this parable to symbolize the promised reward for following Him, so everyone is treated equally.
The Bible explains that many rewards will follow if we keep the commandments of God, such as having an abundant life filled with love and happiness, being disciples of Jesus, and having God’s presence within us. Although most people would say that the promised reward is “Heaven” and many churches teach exactly that, Jesus says that we must “seek first the Kingdom of God” which is here on earth, not in heaven. God has given us a promise of reigning and ruling on earth that is administering God’s government in the position of authority under Jesus.
God promised Abraham and his children the inheritance of salvation. As stated in 1 Corinthians, “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The reward that Jesus has prepared for you cannot be conceived by the mind of humans, but it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.
The very first time I heard this parable discussed in a sermon was when I was a child, about ten years old, and attending the First Presbyterian Church in Livingston, New Jersey. The minister, Rev. William Ackerman, was best friends with the Rabbi of the Synagogue across the street, and twice a year they would exchange places to lead worship in the other’s congregation. So Rev. Ackerman interpreted this parable to mean that Christians, who were the first to believe and follow Jesus, would be preceded into heaven by the Jewish people, who were the last.
In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God is admonishing Israel, and actually all of us, to seek a relationship with Him “while He is near.” When we repent and turn to Him, He will be there for us.
Isaiah reminds us that we should be thankful for God’s generosity and remember this when we feel that we are being treated unfairly.
In our second reading from Philippians, Paul reflects on whether it is better to remain on earth and labor here or leave this world to be united with Jesus. Paul’s greatest desire for everyone is to live life in such a way that when you depart, you will be with Jesus eternally.
Paul is grateful for Jesus bringing him to the stage in his life where it really makes no difference if he is dead or alive since he only wants to be with Jesus and do His will.
In Jesus’ parable today, at the beginning of the story, we get the impression that the landowner wants to get the job done as quickly as possible and he wants to pay no more than is necessary to do so. But when he realizes that he can’t complete it in one day without hiring more workers, he goes to the market place to find more workers.
At the end of the day, he surprises everyone by paying all the workers the same wage, one denarius.
Now, if there had been a vine workers labor union at that time, a complaint would surely have been filed against the landowner, since he was taking away motivation from the workers to work a full day, thus making it more difficult for other winegrowers. But Jesus doesn’t operate a labor union. Jesus wants to give to everyone equally.
In this parable, the landowner is Jesus. Jesus saves by grace, not by our worthiness. This parable stresses God’s unmerited grace, not any idea of “earning” God’s favor. It has often been interpreted to mean that even those who are converted late in life earn equal rewards along with those converted early. It tells how the workers hired early in the day felt envious and jealous of the other workers although they would have been fine if they had not known that the others were hired later.
Another interpretation identifies the early laborers as Jews and the late-comers as Gentiles who were welcomed into God’s Kingdom as equals.
Jesus warns us about complacency with our discipleship and classification of people into two sects: the ones who are following Him and are going to receive their reward, and the ones who have left Jesus and therefore will not receive a reward.
Jesus does not give up on people so quickly. He wants to give and help everyone attain their reward. The first places in heaven will not belong to the bishops, priests, deacons, or those who put in the most work for Jesus. The first places will go to those who realize their own neediness and open themselves to Jesus’ love.
Jesus sees us all as His children. He tries to lift us all up, treat us equally as disciples, and brothers and sisters. He allows the weeds to mix with the wheat and grow together in His fields.
God doesn’t hold the same misconceptions or values of some people, i.e. Clergy taught by a bishop or priest privately are just as much a priest, bishop or deacon as those educated in a theology school, in the same manner as other professions. Jesus views all equally. Some examples of people who were self-taught, or are autodidacts include:
Frank Lloyd Wright
Vincent Van Gogh
Leonardo da Vinci
Booker T. Washington
The promise of God at the end of this parable is what really matters. Our God is a God of grace. His love is unconditional and freely given to everyone.
Salvation, or salva in Latin, is the state of being saved or protected from harm. In religion, salvation refers to the deliverance of the soul from sin or redemption from sin. It is brought about by the grace of God or by faith. In Judaism, redemption refers to God redeeming the people of Israel from exile. The Jews do not believe in the doctrine of original sin, but what they know as the Torah or The Law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The Western Church’s version believes sin is an offense against God, who cannot endure the presence of sin. Salvation is a righteousness given to us by God through the sacrifice of His Son, so we do not have to spend eternity in hell.
The Eastern Church’s perspective is that God is life and we were created to commune with Him in a process called theosis. Anything which breaks our communion with God and interrupts theosis is sin. Salvation is synergistic: God and humanity are united since Jesus has saved everyone.
There will be many surprises in store for us in heaven: Heaven’s value system will differ greatly from earth’s value system. Those who are esteemed and respected on earth may be frowned upon by God and those who are despised and rejected on earth may be rewarded by God in heaven.
The ultimate reward of eternal life will be given to all equally. Amen.