August 19, 2015
by Kevin Kersten, S.J.
Creighton University's Law School
click here for photo and information about the writer

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 421

Judges 9:6-15
Psalm 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Matthew 20:1-16

Praying Ordinary Time

The parable in Matthew’s Gospel today is a wonderful one for the earliest Christian communities and for us.

The first Christians were Jews.  Before becoming Christian, they lived as best they could according to traditions of their Jewish faith, rooted and grounded in the law of Moses. They belonged to a people with thousands of years of religious history, they were God’s own people.  Christ Himself was a Jew, and they knew that He had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

But now Gentiles were being admitted into the community!  Some came from totally pagan environments. They may have lived very immoral lives.  Yet, once accepted and baptized, they enjoyed all the privileges of the earliest Christians, the ones with a Jewish background.  It just didn’t seem right to them that the newcomers should receive the fullness of God’s own people!  How could these Gentiles get all the privileges they did.  They felt like the laborers in the vineyard of today’s Gospel parable, who started their work at dawn.  They had to feel they deserved more than the ones who started late in the day.  They had earned more!  This was a matter of justice!

The parable illustrates the situation Matthew faced when he founded the community for whom he wrote his version of the Gospel.  He was telling them much the same as God was to the Jewish community through Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Matthew is saying to his community, who were predominantly of Jewish origin, that the fullness of God’s love is for everyone:  that there is neither Gentile nor Jew in the Christian community. 

God loves us all, and God gives all His love, all of it, to every person without exception who opens himself to it. He gives it to those who may have been born and raised Christians and lived out their faith loyally to the end, and to those who may have been great sinners right up to the end, but at the very end turn to God for forgiveness.   It does not matter whether turning to the salvific love of God happens early or late.  God’s love can never be earned, only accepted. In the Parable, the fact that the latecomers were only employed at the last hour does not reduce the Master of the vineyard to measuring out his wages hour by material hour.  Similarly, God will not limit His love to mathematical segments of a time-earned wage.

God’s justice is measured by His own desire that everyone receive the fullness of His love.  There are not various degrees of that love. It is always 100 percent. God is Love; he cannot not love and he cannot not love totally. He cannot and will not give more of that love to one than another.

God’s way of loving is what we are called to emulate.  We are given the grace to love one another without reservation, without being parsimonious.  We are called to love in ways echoed in the prayer for generosity penned by St. Ignatius of Loyola.  In terms echoing the truth of today’s gospel parable, that prayer might be paraphrased this way:

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous with my love -- to love without reservation.
Teach me to serve you by loving the others you place in my life as you love me. 

Teach me to give this love and not to count the cost of it.  To fight for love in our world with all its enmity, hurt, and need for reconciliation.  To toil for the Lord’s Kingdom of love, and not to seek for rest, to labor for it and not to seek reward, or any sort of wage!  The only thing I ask is the grace to accept your love for me and the wisdom to know that in loving others, I am doing the Will of Our Father, as you did throughout your life and in the end, as you did it so utterly and generously from the Cross.


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