September 20th 2020. The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: Matthew 20, 1-16
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini broadcast on Vatican Radio
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Don Fabio’s homily follows the Gospel
GOSPEL: Matthew 20, 1-16
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ
Summary . . . In today’s society many people seem to live rudderless lives. They appear to be without direction. Many young people are no longer even looking for meaningful work. We might feel inclined to judge such people. We might start complaining about how little they do in the service of the Lord. The parable for Sunday, however, teaches us that this issue is not about justice. It is not a matter of: “They worked less, yet they are receiving the same reward of eternal life. That’s not fair!” God created us in his image and likeness and gave us the privilege of administering creation. When we work in God’s service, we are becoming what we were made to be. We are ennobled. Our lives are given meaning. The tragedy of employment is twofold: the economic hardship and the humiliation of not being useful to others, of not having that meaning. Being able to work is a joyful privilege. There are those in the Church who complain about others who seem to serve the Lord less than they do. But this is to fail to appreciate their own blessed faith of being joined to the Lord in this way when they cooperate in his work.
Today, many people live lives that seem to be heading nowhere. Should we judge them? Complain to them that they have not done all the service that I have done? But if we look at the question from the point of view of human dignity, then we see that there is a sense in which their dignity needs to be built up and affirmed.
The master says to those he finds idle outside, "Why are you standing here all day doing nothing?" Many people live in a state of inconsistency. Their lives seem to be inconclusive. How come? Many young people seem like a car with the gear in “neutral”, you push on the pedal but the car remains stationary. Why so? Let's try to read this parable from the perspective of human dignity. Work is tiring and burdensome, of course; but being employed is a dignified condition that permits a person to provide for himself and his family. The tragedy of unemployment has two aspects: the economic one and the no-less tragic one of dignity. What makes the unemployed suffer is not only that they cannot afford to live, but also that they can suffer the humiliation of feeling useless. Seeing that no one needs me, I must be useless. In the same way, old people can become embittered. They can feel that there is no need for them, that no-one really wants them.
God gave us the gift of work. We are to govern and administer his creation. This gift of work derives from the fact that we are made in his image and likeness, and he is fundamentally creative. Being able to work gives us nobility and makes us who we are.
Having a job is a great thing. It is the first gift of God to man: "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and give him dominion over the fish of the sea and on the birds of the sky ..." In fact, in Hebrew, the verb "to dominate" means “to govern, to administer”. It is a dimension that derives from our similarity with God. It is something heavenly that lives within us, ennobles us and makes us who we are, leading us to create all the good there is.
Idleness and sloth are signs that a soul is adrift. Being able to work for the Lord, by contrast, is a blessed state. The “salary” of working for the Lord is that it gives meaning to my life today and leads me to eternal life. Serving the Lord does not furnish the Lord with anything, but it fulfils me and makes me whole.
The phenomenon of a growing number of young people who are not looking for work is a serious matter. Effectively, it means that their souls are adrift; that they have not made the connection between effort and the reward that comes from effort. What a blessed state, to be able to work, toil and tire for something valid. How wonderful it is to serve the Lord, to be employed by the best of Masters, who knows how to give the wages of today, which is the meaning of life, who invites us to do such beautiful things, his works. Saint Paul says: "Proclaiming the Gospel is not a boast for me, because it is a necessity that is imposed on me" (1 Cor 9:16) That is, serving the Lord does not give me privileges. Rather it fulfills my needs, and makes me whole. I do not serve Him when I do His will, but the opposite.
The workers who toiled all day think that an injustice has been done to them. But this parable is not about justice! It is about the joy and the privilege of being able to work for the Lord. Those who only worked for an hour enjoyed less of this holy privilege. The happy state of serving the Lord gives meaning to my life. When I am busy doing the work of the Lord, I am becoming what I have been created to be: a creature in the image and likeness of God.
The workers in the parable who toiled all day felt that the master was not making sense in giving the same pay to those who worked for only an hour. But do you know what the real nonsense is? It is when we do not understand or appreciate the real reward of this master. It is when we wait aimlessly for someone to give real meaning to our heart, even though he is already here. The workers who laboured all day felt that they had been done an injustice. But this is not a question of justice. If someone in the Church reproaches those who work little for the Lord, then they have not understood their own blessed fate. The alternative is between a life spent in holy effort for his will, or a life of emptiness.