ISAIAH 55:6-9; PSALM 145; PHILIPPIANS 1:20-24, 27; MATTHEW 20:1-16
We have five sets of homily notes here. Please scroll down the page for the desired on
Fr. Evaristus Okeke: Heaven alone is Enough
Fr. Paul Oredipe: God is more than Just, He is Generous
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA: The Justice of God
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: God the best manager
Fr. Thomas Oyode: “The Lord does Whatever Wills”
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“The Lord does Whatever Wills”
Like most of Jesus’ parables, today’s parable is not unfamiliar to us. The story immediately brings to mind issues of equal pay for equal work, gender gap, minimum wage, labour rights, labour unionprotests, employment and unemployment.Also,the parable is generally called the parable of “the workers in the vineyard” but it is equally a parable about the owner of the vineyard. As a matter of fact, there is little detail about the activities of the worker except that they were employed to work, they were paid after, and some protested that the payment was unfair. Instead, the parable shows us that the landowner went out five times getting the labourers employed. Thus, to reflect more fully on the meaning of the parable, it would not be out of place to pay attention to the behaviour of the labourers and of the landowner while bearing in mind that the labourers represent every christian believer while the landowner represents God. To be certain, the events of today’s parable is quite abnormal to our own perception of labour relations but God’s ways are not our ways.
Today’s gospel pericope is unique to Matthew. The context follows the preceding events in Matthew chapter 19 where we encounter the rather crestfallen rich young man and Peter’s preoccupation with the possibility or chance of their being saved since they left everything to follow Christ. Jesus assures him of a reward that would include eternal life (19:27-28). Jesus then follows this response with the parable of today’s gospel (20:1-16). The catch line of the parable is in Jesus’s closing words, “the last will be first, and the first will be last”.
Now, the actions of the landowner in the parable is not only unusual but kind. We are told that he kept going out and getting labourers for the vineyard. In the time of Jesus, the landowner does not go out employing labourers, he engages managers or stewards. Also a wise landowner would not go out at the eleventh hour for he would not only be wasting his resources but also encouraging idleness and laziness. This is because the common practice was for artisans to go out early and be employed at the early hours of the day. Normally, those who idle away would never have a chance of being employed. Growing up as a young boy in the ancient City of Benin, I was used to seeing bricklayers sitting or standing by the road side in Iyaro waiting for people to come get them to work at their building sites. It was rare and unusual to find these workers still out waiting till 10.00am. It means therefore, that it was an act of faith and love for the landowner to have repeatedly gone out hoping to find some labourers who were not engaged. He did not care if the late comerswere lazy or unserious with their work.
Then comes a turning point in the narrative of the parable. When it was time to pay the labourers, they were paid equally, those who worked for one hour and those worked for more than six hours. The labourers who were the first to be employed, who worked from morning till evening, complained that they were not fairly paid. To their protest, the landowner replies, “are you envious because I am generous?”. This statement is said to be a translation of a common Greek idiom: “is your eye evil because I am good?”. The labourers could not understand that they were being paid what was their due as was the initial terms or conditions of employment. Their focus was rather on what the employer is doing for the other workers.
That Jesus places this parable after Peter’s question points to at least one thing. There is no special privilege in our discipleship of Christ., everyone will be rewarded equally. We may think of ourselves as closer to the kingdom of God because we engage in some special pious practices more than others or because we keep the practice of the faith more than others. We may think that we are more catholic than those who were not baptised as infants. When we pray,we may want to dictate to God on when and how he should answer us and bless us. The first reading (Is.55:6-9) reminds us that our ways are not God’s way and our thoughts are not God’s thought. God will reward everyone but generously according to his own will.
It is important therefore that we take a look at the way we respond to God’s acts of grace around us. Are our eyes evil so that we begrudge God’s goodness and generosity? Are our eyes evil because God is good? An evil eye is figurative for spiritual and moral blindness. Such an eye plunges the person into the dark abyss of jealousy, envy, ingratitude, pride, selfishness, backstabbing, rancour and calumny.
Just as the parable does not give us details about the labourers’ activities, we are expected to go about our work serving God and doing his will, avoiding vain glory and sychophancy. Rather than focusing on what God is doing for others, let us focus on the many good things God is doing for us without claiming right to special prerogatives of God’s blessings.
As we see in the gospel, like the landowner, God can do whatever he wills with his bounty of graces and blessings. God not only exercises supreme dominion over humanity and the universe (Ps. 24:1, Dt. 10:14) his generous reward is certain and just., he will always give us everything and whatever is best for us. This is why he keeps going out, creating more chances and opportunities for everyone to be saved.
Mary, Mother of the Word made Flesh, pray for us.
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA
THE JUSTICE OF GOD
The justice of men supposes that he who has worked for the longest period must have worked more and should receive, therefore, the highest wages. Today, we are presented with another kind of justice, the justice of God which transcends the categories of time spent and quantity produced, which are essential categories of the justice of men.
In the Gospel Reading (Mt 20:1-16), Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates the sense of the justice of God. In the parable, he speaks of a master who goes out to hire workers to his vineyard, some of whom he found early in the morning, some at the third hour, some at the sixth hour, others at the ninth and eleventh hours.
At the time of payment, however, the master decides to pay everyone the same wages, beginning from the last set to the first.
When the first set complained of being treated equally with those who were hired last, expecting, rightly, following the logic of the justice of men, to be paid more for working for longer hours, in his response the master made clear the fact that he did not cheat anyone by being generous and deciding to pay those hired first the payment that was agreed upon and also to pay those hired late the same. Jesus then draws the lesson of his parable: “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Mt 20:16).
In can observed in this parable, that both the first-hired and the later ones are characterized by a readiness to go to the master’s vineyard once they were invited by the master to do so. None of them shows any reluctance. All of them equally went without hesitation.
As for who went first or last, it was purely a function of opportunity. None of them sought the master; the master sought them all and found them at different moments. Hence, none was to blame for his late hiring; all were ready to be hired and all heeded to the call to go to the master’s vineyard and work.
The master, therefore, sees beyond the mere accident of opportunity which differentiated the first from the last; he sees their essential readiness to proceed to the vineyard at his invitation.
This parable, meant to explain the workings of the kingdom of God, shows us, therefore, that God sees all of us beyond opportunity, beyond time and beyond quantity. He will not discriminate against any of us based on these accidental differences. He is after our innermost disposition and readiness to answer his invitation and his call to go and participate in the working of his vineyard.
God does not confuse these accidents which we often take for the substance and use to rate and reward fellow men. His justice is not discriminating in any guise. His justice is higher than ours. As the 1st Reading (Isaiah 55:6-9) clearly observes: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9).
Yet, God invites us to upgrade our sense of justice. Measuring up to God’s justice will require our conversion from our human ways of thinking justice to adopting God’s logic of justice. And this will require us to seek the Lord, to call upon him in prayer, to forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, to return to the Lord that he may have mercy on us and pardon us (Isa 55:6-7). In other words, it will require our repentance.
As Saint Paul in the 2nd Reading (Philippians 1:20-27) admonishes us, “let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27), in such a way that Christ is honoured in us whether by life or by death (Phil 1:20-21).
May our awareness of God’s higher sense of justice convert us and upgrade our own sense of justice, that we may transcend the lure to discriminate in any guise and so advance the course of our equality before God wherein the first will be last and the last first; in other words, wherein there is no first or last but all are equally first and equally last.
Fr. Paul Oredipe:
GOD IS MORE THAN JUST, HE IS GENEROUS
The immediate impression on hearing today’s gospel is to think of rights, justice and equality. In human terms it seems a bit unfair that after slaving all day in the hot sun they got the same pay for their efforts as those who were taken on at the eleventh hour. However, this is not the point of this parable. It is not about the unemployment problem. It is not about social justice or the living wage. The parable is not dealing with equal rights for all men and women, or an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Taking a second look at the gospel reading, we may notice that the theme is not about justice but generosity. The landowner was never unjust to those laborers hired earlier because they were paid a just wage. He was only generous to the laborers hired last. He knew that the amount paid to them based on their working hours would not be enough for their daily needs. Thus, he made a uniform rate for all to enable everyone to bring home a day’s wage.
The main thrust of the parable is about generosity. It is about God’s generosity. It is about giving and ultimately about that free and utterly undeserved gift we call grace. The message and gift of the gospel today is to show the generosity of God in throwing open the doors of the kingdom of heaven to gentiles and sinners on equal footing with the Jews. For their part, the Jews resented what was happening and envied the good fortune of these late arrivals. After all, they were God’s chosen people (they thought) and so expected preferential treatment.
The latecomers were the sinners in Jesus’ time who listened to his preaching and repented. The early workers were Pharisees who were angry that the sinners repented, entered God’s kingdom late, and were getting the same reward as they. Their attitude might be compared to that of someone who criticized Jesus because He forgave the good thief on the cross, saying to him, “Today you will be in Paradise with me.” (Luke 23:43).
In paying everyone equally, the owner of the vineyard was trying to undermine the innate sense of superiority of those who were employed earlier. He has respected the agreement made with them. In doing this, he has been just and fair. However, he went beyond this and was generous. It is our human tendency to tell God how to be God. We want to dictate the terms and criteria of God’s dealing with us. This parable tells us that God is more than just. He is generous.
As we heard in the First reading: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
We should beware of imposing secular notions of fair play onto the divine justice revealed in the gospels. None of the parables is intended to teach us how to treat each other fairly. Fairness has nothing to do with it. God’s justice far surpasses our human notions of what is fair and what is not. The parables are much more than human stories. Through them, Our Lord is teaching His listeners about God. He taught those who were standing around Him when He first told the parables, and He teaches us now as we listen to His word in the Sacred Liturgy. The everyday human situations described in the parables reveal to us things about the Almighty, things which by ourselves we could never have imagined, things which, but for Our Lord, we should never have known.
When we try to grasp the analogies given us in parables, we must always remember that God is not like us. God, as Saint Anselm said, is “that greater than which nothing can be thought”. God’s nature is utterly different from ours. As He reminds us through the words of the prophet Isaiah which we heard again in the first reading today: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways.”
If we interpret the parables in a way that is too literalistic, we shall end up making God into something very like ourselves. That is the opposite of Our Lord’s intention. Through His teaching He wants to make us more like His heavenly Father. Like Our Lord’s own human nature, the parables use a human idiom to reveal the mysterious workings of a divine mind.
As we heard in the parable, God does not work on the merit system or commission system. He is more than just, He is generous. With the generosity of God, all men and women have the same access to His abundant gifts and graces. His generosity is extended to everyone, saints and sinners alike. The rain and the sun make no distinction between people.
What we need to look at is our response to this free generosity of God. In the parable, the people complained and grumbled. But the master replied: “why be envious because I am generous?” Envy and jealousy. These are deadly poisons. They spoil much of our daily living and joy. They make us forget the good things we have. We cannot enjoy and use them well because our attention are focused on what others have. The workers who were paid their day’s salary became filled with bitterness and anger because the late comers had received as much as they themselves had got. God has blessed them equally.
Has anyone of us ever thought how sad it would be if God gave to you and me only what we strictly deserve? Only as much life, health, joy, peace, love, happiness, yes, only as much as we have a ‘right’ to. We have to admit that we would not be getting much, would we?
In addition to being aware of all the gifts God gives us day after day, another way to free ourselves from the poisons of envy and jealousy is to learn from the generosity of God Himself. To be more than just, to be generous, giving freely and loving. This is the truth which St. Paul mentioned in the second reading: “to be freed from this life and to be with Christ.” Part of this freedom is freedom from self-seeking ventures of envy and jealousy.
We can apply one additional aspect of the Gospel’s message to ourselves. Many times we give up on ourselves long before the Lord has given up on us. The fact is that the Lord never gives up on us. Sometimes, we have the view that “it is just too late”. Something we have done in our past is just so terrible that God could never return to us a full share of His love. If this type of thought has come to the mind of anyone here, let me tell you with the authority of the Gospel: You are wrong. You are judging by human standards, not by the standards of the Love and Mercy and Compassion of the Lord. God never gives up. He never gives up on us. We do not have the right to give up on ourselves.
We can take a moment to look at it closely. Which of us would be happy that God would treat us according to what we have earned or according to strict justice? In the words of Psalm 130: “If you O Lord should mark our guilt, who would survive? And the Responsorial Psalm of today reminds us: “The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in mercy. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures.”
In one way or the other, to a greater or lesser degree we are all eleventh hour workers? We have all been given more than we deserve. Before God we stand in need and so can never boast that we have earned our salvation. Everything we have and are is a free gift of the abundant love and generous graces of God. We cannot explain His generosity, but one thing alone is certain – God’s ways are not our ways. His generosity challenges us to pay attention to the many ways we have been blessed and to rejoice with others in the way they too have been blessed out of God’s generosity.
St Paul makes this point in 1 Cor. 1:27-28: “God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important.”
So the Gospel of today, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, is not encouraging our limited views of God’s goodness. The Gospel is encouraging us to realize that we do not have the right to make either judgments or comparisons in the realm of spiritual affairs.
Today’s gospel reading invites us to stop comparing ourselves to other people. It invites us to accept ourselves as we are. It invites us to follow St Paul’s advice to the Galatians: “Each one should judge his own conduct. If it is good, then he can be proud of what he himself has done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done.” (Galatians 6:4)
Ultimately, the important thing in this life is not what other people think of us or how hard we work in God’s vineyard. The important thing is what God thinks of us, and the love that motivates our work.
Thus today’s parable is telling us that we must never begrudge what God gives to others. On the contrary, we should rejoice at His infinite generosity to all and sundry. After all, we are all the beneficiaries of divine grace. We do better to count our blessings. Without God’s grace we would have no life at all. We would have no physical existence if He did not sustain the entire universe in being, and we would have no spiritual life if He did not constantly uphold us with His grace.
Think of all the grace lavished upon us in the Sacraments, especially those two sacraments which we can and should make use of over and over again: the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession. God gives His grace to all who seek Him, however late or slow they are in asking for it, just as the landowner gave the same wages to each worker who came to him at the end of the day. Instead of begrudging others the grace of God, we should keep constantly in our hearts those words we say just before Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.”
Saint Paul, we learn today, is caught between two desires. On the one hand, he wants to be with Christ. On the other, he wants to remain with his brothers and sisters to serve them and preach the Gospel to them. He is torn between the desire to work in the Lord’s vineyard and the desire to receive his heavenly reward.
Once again, this is something we leave in God’s hands. We do not choose the day nor the hour of our departure from this earth. God is in charge. He is a merciful God, slow to anger, who is generous in forgiving. He knows the right time. We need to trust in Him and thank Him for his generosity.
Instead of being envious of our brothers and sisters, we need to rejoice that they too will receive the inheritance of eternal life and enter into God’s rest.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
Heaven alone is Enough
The economics of the kingdom of God are not the economics of the free Market (world). The kingdom of God is what it is because in it, what is celebrated is not the achievements or abilities of man but the total gratuity of God’s grace. Thus, we do not go to heaven because we are perfect but because God is rich in mercy. No doubt, we need to make sincere effort, but it is the mercy of God that perfects our efforts.
This is entirely different from how the world operates. In the economics of the free market, it is first come, first serve. A new employee may not earn as much as an old employee; in fact, they will not be on the same level in the company’s organizational chat. This is because human effort is the determinant factor. An old staff has put in more and so should earn more. This principle seems normal and understandable by all and that is why the new staff does not see it as injustice.
The message of today’s liturgy turns the table around. The first reading tells us that when we return to the Lord, he abundantly pardons us. God does not consider factors such as: how grievous are our offences, how long we lived in iniquity, the likelihood that we may return to our old ways of life, etc. It means that for all who dare to return to God, his abundant mercy is guaranteed. It is like saying that in the company of heaven, there is no grading of staff. The moment you are employed, you enjoy equal rights and privileges as the old staff. With our knowledge of the economics of the world, this ordinarily does not go down well with us. Consequently, God speaking through the Prophet Isaiah noted that his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. The difference is as far as the heaven is from the earth.
In the gospel, Jesus told a parable to buttress this fact. Different labourers were called upon to work in a particular vineyard at different times of the day. One notable fact in this parable is the reason given by the labourers who were called into the vineyard at latter hours. To the question “why do you stand here idle all day?”, they answered, “because no one has hired us”. It was not the case that they were not ready to work. They simply were not opportune to work.
There are so many people out there who are lost because they have not been opportune to be found. Some of us may have been privilege to have been brought up by responsible and God-fearing parents/guardians, good educational and moral upbringing and other opportunities that amounted to who we are today. Those who are not so opportuned may not measure up to our standard not because they would not have wanted to but because situations of life prevented them.
But in the first reading, the bell of repentance was rung. Meaning that it was addressing not those who were not opportuned to get it right but those who decided not to get it right. In all, Jesus says that when we hearken to his call to work with and for him, our years of fruitlessness and waywardness will be forgotten. The psalmist says that the Lord is close to all who call him.
Now let us reflect on the anger of the first set of labourers. They were angry that they received as much as those who worked for only one hour. They expected to be given more. These set of workers represent us when we feel entitled to certain positions or privileges in the Church on account of our ethnic group, social statues, financial contributions, long years of worship and so on. When others who do not measure up to us seem to get equal pastoral attention, we feel cheated and unappreciated.
A story was told of a woman who sent for the priest of the parish to come anoint the sick husband. When the priest arrived the house of the woman, she was so disappointed that it was the assistant parish priest that came to anoint the husband. She sadly remarked that after so many years of handsome contributions to the parish, the husband is now served by an “ordinary” assistant Priest. Obviously, there are two problems here: a lack of understanding on the theology of the Priesthood and a feeling of entitlement and expectation of more pastoral attention as reward for years of meaningful contribution to the parish.
Beloved, what God has promised us is heaven; to be forever united with him. This is what the one denarius in today’s parable represents. It is the greatest show of love from God. The householder could not give the first set of workers anything more than one denarius because there is nothing greater than heaven. If we expect anything other than salvation when we come to serve the Lord, then we may end up disappointed.
Since the same heaven awaits us all at whatever time we turn to the Lord, should we then delay our repentance till the last hour? The moment we turn the Lord, we begin to experience heaven (even in this world). The earlier we start experiencing heaven, the better for us. In a raffle draw, the more ticket you buy, the more your chances of winning. Likewise, the more/longer we experience heaven on earth, the greater our chances of belonging there thereafter. To purposefully delay our return to the Lord, means reducing our chances to be saved. Do not risk your salvation on a calculation you cannot control. God Bless You!
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
God the Best Manager
The first reading tells us to seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Beloved, now is the time we find the Lord. This implies that there will be a time we may not be able to seek nor find him. After our earthly life we cannot seek him nor praise. Isaiah 38:18 says “For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who descend to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness” and in Psalm 6:5 the bible says “For there is no mention of You in death; who can praise You from Sheol?” Beloved, seek him now and be saved
Again, the reading says God’s thoughts are not out thoughts and his ways are not our ways. Our thoughts are to rationalize and to justify our sins. We argue things out even when we know they are not true. We support evil; we usually think out ways to dupe people or wicked them. We are mostly clouded with fantasies and lustful thoughts. Isaiah says to us God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Human thoughts are limited; God’s thoughts are unlimited. Human thoughts entertains fears God’s thoughts express faith. Human thoughts is calculation based: first come; first serve. God’s thought is based on divine providence: come and you will be served.
The gospel further illustrates how God thoughts are not our thoughts using the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. In this parable the Landowner paid his workers what he agreed to pay each for labour irrespective of the time spent in labour. This does not suggest unfair treatment of the workers but the generosity of the manager. God is the best manager. Whoever comes to His vineyard shall be rewarded, for His thoughts are not our thoughts. Other managers are guided by the principle of first come first serve. God simply says to us; come and you shall be rewarded. However, the first-hired laborers were upset by the behavior of the landowner. They felt they were treated unjustly.
Therefore, rather seeing the Manager’s generosity; they begrudged his generosity. Today, we often begrudge God’s generosity when we compare of our lives with others. Whenever our neighbuors are blessed we begin to ask God plenty questions. Beloved, have faith God’s ways are different. Similarly, some of us treat our boss in the office with this kind of disposition. Some persons have given all sorts of names to landowners, landlords, and the likes. We often feel that they are always partial and unjust. No doubt, there may be one or two setbacks. But there are still some very nice managers. But workers often leave them with all sorts of insults. They probably do not understand the system, the challenges and the vision. The ways of the manager are never the same with that of the workers. Some workers always feel cheated no matter how hard a manger tires. There is never a good boss. This has become the mentality in many enterprises. This is a challenge for us to begin to re-evaluate our disposition. A manager is always a bad person until you have become a manager.
More so, the first set of hired-workers became envious of their neighbours’ good. Often times we become jealous and envious of other people’s good. St Thomas Aquinas sees envy as “sorrows over another’s good.” Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Envy like greed and lust, is characterized by an insatiable desire. It can be described as a sad or resentful covetousness towards the traits, status, abilities, or rewards. It rots the bones if we don’t change.
Lastly, often times we think we are more deserving simply because we have laboured more or done extra work. That is earthly standard; in heavenly standard things are different. No matter how long or how hard a Christian works during his lifetime, the reward of eternal life remains the same for all. The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), who immediately repented received the same reward of eternal life as that of Apostle Paul. Even though the bible speaks of different rewards for various services rendered; the fact remains that the ultimate reward is eternal life.