Today is the last night of a parish mission that I am leading at St. Justin Martyr Church in the St. Louis area. The following is a summary of my homily from last Sunday, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A.
When I was growing up we played "Hide and Seek." Everyone is familiar with how that goes. If you are "it" you have to close your eyes while the others all run and hide. Then you seek them and tag them before they can reach "goal" which we pronounced "gool." If you put your hands over your eyes but then spread your fingers to see where people went to hide you might hear back "No fair peeking."
Children have an innate sense of fairness. If a teacher plays favorites or treats the girls better than the boys they will complain that the teacher isn't being fair. And vice versa. Children don't learn fairness, though they often have to be reminded. A victim of unfairness knows immediately that something isn't right. This sense of fairness seems to be part of one's conscience--an innate sense of right and wrong.
That being said, most of us hear today's Gospel (Matthew 20: 1-16a) with the parable of the workers who labor for various numbers of hours in a vineyard yet get the same pay and we react, "That's not fair!" That's especially not fair if we consider that perhaps the reason why the workers who were hired at five weren't there at the crack of dawn because they were sleeping in. Should such laziness be rewarded?
Remember: the parables of Jesus were designed to shock people--his listeners then and all of us now--into thought and action.
What was Jesus trying to teach us with this parable? What did he want us to think and to know?
Our first reading (Isaiah 55: 6-9) gives us a clue. Through the prophet, God, "who is generous in forgiving," tells us "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways."
The parable Jesus told was a description of "the kingdom of heaven." Every human being is created for heaven--for union with God and the communion of saints. But from the beginning we have rejected God's desire and plan. Yet God persisted. As the landowner in the parable is "generous" so is God. To save us from our sins and the alienation and destruction they cause, the Son of God took flesh, suffered, and died. He took upon himself the penalty of our sins. Then he rose from the dead and shared the reward of his obedient love with disobedient humanity.
We did not earn it. He did not deserve it. This was totally unfair, but it was totally merciful.
This is our faith. It's what we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist.
But remember, parables are designed to not only shock us into thought but also into action. What is the action Jesus hoped to achieve with this story?
That we would be as generous and merciful as our Landowner God is. That we would desire and then pray and work for the salvation of all. That we would want everyone in heaven as much as God does.
That's difficult. We all have people that we don't like. We have enemies and the thought of being with them for eternity in heaven sounds more like hell!
It is difficult and perhaps impossible to be as merciful as God is merciful. Yet we are called to be such and the power to be merciful is a divine power that is given to us in the Eucharist. There we receive the Heart of Jesus when we receive his Body and Blood. There our hearts are transformed to be more like the generously merciful Heart of our Savior.