We lack a sermon for this Sunday by Fr. Valentine Young (1931-2020). However, a young priest—trained in the Seminary of Wigratzbad—generously provided a homily on this Sunday’s Gospel on condition that he not be given credit.
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
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—Taken from the Saint Isaac Jogues Illuminated Missal, Gradual, and Lectionary.
O CLOSE THE PARABLE he tells in the gospel reading today, our Lord says that the last will be first and the first will be last. He was speaking to the Jewish crowds, to people who saw themselves as the elect of God, the first claimants of his approval and blessing. Among them, too, were the Pharisees, who considered themselves to be the “first of the first.” How unsettling, then, it must have been for them to hear that the first would be last!
Our Lord told the parable of a vineyard. This imagery would have reminded the people of the fifth chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, the love song of the vineyard (cf. Is 5:1), in which the vineyard stands for the nation of Israel. It would have recalled Jeremiah and the Psalms, which refer to Israel in the same terms (cf. Jer 12:10; Ps 79:9). The people listening to the parable would have understood well that the vineyard represented Israel.
The parable describes a working day, from early morning till evening. This suggests the history of Israel, from its founding until the end, the day of judgment and recompense. The workers in the vineyard would then be the members of Israel, the people engaged to observe the Law, the people of the Covenant. We see that the householder goes out five times to hire workers. This speaks not only of the continuance of the nation, but also its increase, even by the eventual admission of non-Jews.
We find this view already in the Old Testament, for example, in the prophecy of Isaiah (2:2-3):
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
The last workers to arrive—the “Johnnys-come-lately”—are those of other nations, Gentiles who seek to belong to the People of God, who are prepared to keep his Law and abide by his Covenant. With this parable our Lord teaches that Gentiles might occupy the place claimed by the Jews: and even the place of the Pharisees. What a change, what a reversal!
Gregory the Great explains the parable in this way:
The workers of the early morning, and of the third hour, the sixth, and the ninth, signify the ancient Jewish people, who, in their elect have from the beginning of the world endeavored to serve God in true belief, and have not as it were ceased to labor in the cultivation of the vineyard. But at the eleventh hour the Gentiles were called.
When he healed the servant of a centurion—a Roman, a Gentile—at Capernaum, our Lord proclaimed (Mt 8:11-12): “I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” The parable of the workers in the vineyard serves to communicate the same teaching.
The ones who were hired first, those who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, as they remind the householder (cf. Mt 20.12), say something very interesting when they protest about their wages: “You have made them equal to us” (ibid.). They begrudge the householder’s generosity (cf. Mt 20:15) because they feel it raises the newcomers—the parvenus—to their level, and so damages their special status.
Is not this attitude like that of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son? He resents the generosity shown by the father when the younger son comes home (cf. Lk 15:25-30). We should note a similarity, inasmuch as the resentful son is the one born earlier, just as the resentful workers are those hired earlier. In both cases they look with a jaundiced eye on the treatment of the latecomer, judging that they are losing something by it. This is jealousy at work!
We have seen how the parable of the vineyard applied to the Jews. The next thing to consider is how it applies to Catholics, to us. At times, “cradle Catholics,” those born into a Catholic family and brought up in the faith, look down on converts. This is a reprehensible attitude, especially since converts are often much more fervent and faithful than so-called “born Catholics.”
We should also examine ourselves on the subject of generosity and jealousy. When we see other people prosper in some way, receive some advantage or recognition, how do we respond? Do we congratulate them and rejoice with them, or do we feel threatened, as though their good fortune is necessarily our misfortune? Do we try to put others in a bad light when they enjoy success? Do we believe that we have to build ourselves up by knocking others down?
Another way that we can exercise generosity of spirit is by giving others “the benefit of the doubt.” More and more, it seems, especially with social media, the worst possible construction is put on the words and actions of those regarded as “not our people,” those whose outlook or values are different from ours. That is certainly not the way of the saints! They teach us to put the best interpretation on what other people say and do, even if they are our enemies.
We are all prone to the temptation, one especially strong in times of upheaval and uncertainty, to “circle the wagons,” by which I mean withdrawing into cliques and camps. We try to “play it safe” by consorting with those most like ourselves and excluding those who differ from us, or with us. We want to fence ourselves around with protocols and etiquette, the equivalent of a secret handshake, known only to those on the inside, so as to baffle outsiders and keep them outside.
“Do not pronounce judgment before the time,” says St. Paul (1 Cor 4:5) “before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.” Are we not sometimes inclined to think that we know what only God knows? Do we presume, on occasion, that his list of “good guys” and “bad guys” is identical to ours?
The judgment of God may well surprise us. Are we ready to be surprised? Are we capable of being surprised? May we never lose sight of this truth: the divine householder offers his recompense, one and the same recompense, to all those who are willing to enter his vineyard and work in it. The recompense is one and the same because God offers himself to us: he is both the giver and the gift.
A final thought to ponder: If the same recompense is offered to all, is heaven the same for all? The answer, as it often is, is both Yes and No. To be in heaven is to see God, who is one and whose perfection is above change. The object of the Beatific Vision, therefore, is the same for all. Yet those who see God, the subjects of the Beatific Vision, are different. As St. Paul writes (1 Cor 15:41), “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
The glory we have in heaven, and our capacity, if you will, for the Beatific Vision, will depend on how much we love God here and now, and how much we love ourselves and our neighbors—and that means everyone—for his sake here and now. The degree to which we enjoy the eternal recompense depends on our choices today, and tomorrow, and the next day, until we reach the evening of our lives and the end of our labors.
We hope you enjoyed this guest article by an anonymous Catholic priest.