1st Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9
This chapter starts the writings of 3rd Isaiah, a prophet who wishes to encourage his people as they come back from the Exile and face the rebuilding of their country and their faith. This chapter started with that beautiful image of all being invited to come to the water – come to the feast where there will be rich food and plenty – come without paying and without cost! In light of this vision and the gospel story this reading really says it all: God’s ways are not our ways – alleluia! What do you think of this reading? When might God be found?
2nd Reading: Philippians 1:20c – 24, 27a
Remember when Paul talks about Christ being magnified in his body that he also referred to the church as Christ’s body. Paul is such a powerful example of how the grace of God can transform us and renew us, even in the midst of the most difficult situations.
This was probably written by Paul when he was in prison in Ephesus maybe about 52-55 A.D. In this ‘holding tank’ of a place, death was a real possibility. In this case, we know Paul later went free to travel to Rome where eventually he was again imprisoned and killed. So his words are powerful and real, even if at this point he did not face death. Besides this situation, this letter to the Philippians is probably a compilation from two or three short letters written by Paul to the community at Philippi over perhaps many months. He is in a state of tension, and yet is living the peace that surpasses understanding (4:7) that he talks about in the letter. Paul knows now that “to live is Christ” – it is not about some mystical union, but about trusting that in all his labors and sufferings and work, Christ is at work. That is all that is important. Just like in the gospel, Paul shows us that we are not to be concerned about ‘rewards’ or our ‘pay.’ Rewards are not denied, but they are not the purpose of toiling for Christ and his kingdom. They always come as a surprise. Paul is a profound example of someone who takes the gospel parable to heart – and lives it. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
What Paul speaks of is freedom. He seems to be okay with living or dying, because either way he is with Christ. Margaret Silf says, “Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s? It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows. But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands,” (Inner Compass, p. 110). We are called to live in a state of: I don’t mind…
The Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16a
This parable (unique to Matthew) follows Jesus’ discussion of the unequal ‘right’ of males to divorce a woman, Jesus’ blessing of the children, and then the story of the rich young man ending ch. 19 with “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Now Matthew opens this chapter with another illustration of the surprising and unsurpassing goodness of God and His kingdom. This chapter will go on to give us another prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death along with James’ and John’s request for places of honor in the kingdom. It will end with the healing of two blind men.
Given the surrounding stories and its own powerful message, what do you make of this parable? How does it comfort you? How does it challenge you? Can you sense the kindness in the owner’s face? Do you feel the gloom of the ones who had had no work and were hired late? Can you feel their amazement and joy?
This parable was probably quite a challenge to Matthew’s community, also. This Christian community was no doubt struggling to understand the place of Gentiles in their community – and God’s kingdom. This was a highly Jewish group of people who were being stretched to accept and welcome ‘the late-comers’, the Gentiles. The ‘same wage’ is extended to all. Of course, it is not about wages at all, but about salvation. No one can get ‘more salvation’ than another. Can there really be ‘higher places’ in heaven, if it is really heaven (There are many dwelling places…)? All who work in God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, get the same wage: fullness of life with God for all eternity – incredible generosity = truly Good News! (“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
In Jesus’ culture, workers had to be invited to work; they could not apply or go looking for work. That was seen as dishonorable since you might be taking what belongs to someone else. To have a ‘patron’ was a particularly great blessing. A patron is someone who freely chooses to treat other people (always of a lower class) ‘as if’ they were family members. This is how God acts in this parable.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
It is important also to notice that the owner calls the ‘complaining worker’ at the end a friend, even though the worker never even addressed the owner with a customary title of respect. Discipleship is serious business; we need God’s insight and grace. Justice is only possible through love. This parable is a clear call to conversion for all of us. There is only one God, and we are not it! There is a place for us in God’s kingdom, but it is not on God’s throne! Our conversion is about seeing anew, considering a new world view. God is kind and faithful, but also surprising. We must stay alert and in relationship with our loving Lord if we do not want to miss what God is doing. Prayer and Scripture are ways for us to do just that. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 516-519)