YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: GOD’S WELFARE SCHEME
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Is 55 : 6 – 9, Phil 1 : 20 – 27, Matt 20 : 1 – 16.
In the realm of divine justice and reward we see that God’s ways are not our ways at all, Is 55 : 6 – 8. His welfare scheme is completely different from ours and his wage of salvation is not paid according to human standards.
Against the Pharisees’ hypocritical conviction that God owed them salvation because of their life long fidelity to the minutest details of the Mosaic law, Christ presents his antithesis through this parable of the labourers in the Vineyard. The central message of this parable is that for God as our father, maker and employer, the most important thing is that we are not standing idle on the day of judgment. He will begin his reward from those he finds working on their duty post and the reward for everybody is basically the same.
B. THE JUSTICE OF GOD
Both Plato and Aristotle are in agreement that justice means giving one his due. It is the belief of the Church and the teaching of Christ, that on the last day God will reward /punish everyone according to his /her merits.
We learn from moral theology that the nature of mortal sin is such that its grievousness is vitiated by knowledge, consent and circumstance. If someone has not been taught ; if someone has no freedom to posit an action ; if the circumstance is grossly affected, then what we may ordinarily consider grossly sinful may be considered less sinful in the eyes of God. St Paul says : ‘Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is only before his own master that he stands or falls, Rom 4 : 14.
Today’s gospel parable presents such a pathetic case where some workers were employed at different moments ; some at 6am, some at 9am, some at 12 noon, 3pm and funny enough, some at 5pm. The response to the latest employees to the master’s query on why they have been standing idle all day is startling : ‘Because no one has hired us’. Yes, there are different levels and degrees of parental and environmental training which impact greatly on a person’s developmental, spiritual and moral consciousness. Only God at this level can judge any person’s behavior. According to Fr Anicetus Asogwa in his past years’ commentary on the Shepherd Sunday Bulletin of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, ‘What is most important is that we discover the “treasure of great value” at our own “time zone”… There is no late comer before the presence of God’.
The scriptural evidence of Zacheus as a former corrupt tax collector, St Paul as a former serial killer, St Mary Magdalene as a former chronic demoniac and probably a prostitute, St Longinus as formerly a wicked executioner, St Dydimus as a former armed robber who repented at Jesus’ right side on the Cross, and St Augustine – a former addict fornicator all furnish us with the fact that God’s judgment sheet can place the last to become the first any moment. What matters, as Immanuel Kant will say is our good will /good disposition. When God saw this good will in St Paul, he arrested him and converted his bubbling energy efficiently to the work of salvation.
C. THE FREEDOM OF GOD
When evening came, our story has it that the owner of the Vineyard gave instructions to begin payment from the last employed ; perhaps they had worked more who knows, perhaps they were the most cheated by circumstance, standing anxious all day in search for job, hungry and weary and they may have worked with the last drop of their blood to impress their master.
Looking at the Catholic priesthood for example, you may see a lot of old monsignori and priests who have worked hard but are now tired of the ministry ; they are of course usually favoured by the bishop’s posting for obvious reasons. You could see some newly ordained priests who work themselves to death within one year or two in the ministry. Some have late vocations into the priesthood after they had lived a bad life but they are able to make it up with God. The reward I guess is the same! God is free to reward everyone the way he wants it and some that we consider very sinful today may finally make it to heaven after several years of purgation, Lk 12 : 46.
D. THE WISDOM OF GOD
There is this mistake we usually make of judging success by worldly standards. There is also this tendency we have to be disappointed with God or quarrel with God over turns of fortune and the distribution of life’s fringe benefits without knowing how he balances the equation. The person we consider rich today may be sick tomorrow. The person we consider suffering today may be enjoying tomorrow. The person we see killed today may be alife tomorrow. God does not cheat anybody. Injustice and favoritism do not mean the same. God may seem to favour someone today but can never be guilty of injustice.
There is no difference in wage between early communicants and death – bed converts. As Igbos put it : ‘Mgbe onye ji teta ura aburugo ututu ya’ – Your day begins as soon as you wake up. This parable does not encourage lateness or late minute hard work but encourages good disposition and good ending.
Finally, let Christ be glorified in your body, the second reading enjoins us, whether you are alife or dead. Do everything that will make your manner of life worthy of the gospel of Christ. He knows how best to reward each person at the proper time. Happy Sunday dear friends!