Homily 9/24: It just isn't fair!

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass

Audio for homily

When I was a child my father, after Sunday Mass,
would quiz my sister and me on the day’s gospel and the sermon -
an effort on his part to get us to pay attention in church.
Having heard this parable at church one week, my father said:
 “You know, I would have figured Jesus to be more of a union guy.”

At first glance, a parable like the one we just heard
may seem passé or pious or impractical even just plain foolish.
And on any or all of those grounds
we might be tempted to dismiss the story
and whatever message it may have offered 2,000 years ago
when Jesus first spoke it.
But we would do that at our own peril:
the message of Jesus may be obscured
by changing times, circumstances and expectations,
but it remains the word and message of Jesus.
Our task is to discover its meaning for our own times.

And I don’t think we need to dig too deep here
before we find a connection between this parable and today’s news.
The “grumblers” in the parable,
those who worked all day in the sun’s heat,
the grumblers were angry that the late-comers received the same pay
as those who worked a full shift.
Well, that story is alive and well today - but with this one difference:
those who grumble today are often grousing, not about late-comers
but about those who have done no work at all
- and yet are on the payroll -
and at the expense of those who put in 40 or 40+ hours every week.

What Jesus proposes here rubs rough against our egalitarian grain
and our sense of justice,
against what we understand to be fair and equitable.

Most of us endorse the Lord’s generosity and mercy
-  at least up to a point.
But when welfare reform or immigration reform are on the table,
many are quick to invoke the law of the land
over the authority of the gospel,
 (which may seem passé, pious impractical or just plain foolish).

So, what’s a Christian to do?

What are American Catholic Christians to do
when their bishops offer (as they have) sweeping support
of public assistance programs
and endorse (as they have) opening our nation’s doors
to immigrants and refugees?
How do we make sense of all of this
as citizens of the reign of God and citizens of the United States -
as people who want to espouse both mercy and justice?

As Christians, our first task is to follow the teaching of Jesus     
and be faithful to the commandment that we love God
with all our heart, soul, mind and strength -
and love our neighbor as we would love ourselves.
 (Mark 12:30)
That is our starting point.

That is the starting point for every matter, issue, question and concern
that Christians face.

For Christians there is no other starting point.

The teaching of Jesus is clear in today’s parable:
God is generous with his mercy, to lengths and depths
beyond our imagination or comprehension.
Jesus teaches that God chooses to love everyone
with the same love, the same mercy, the same generosity -
in spite of  when we show up for work,
in spite of how we receive or reject his love.

It’s never a question of our “deserving” God’s love:
none of us, not one of us deserves the mercy of God,
- much less is there anything you and I could do
to earn or merit God’s love.

God’s mercy and love are pure gift.
And every one of us here this morning is, without exception,
a beneficiary of God’s extravagant mercy.

The generous and merciful love of God
is the model of  how we’re called to love our neighbor,
and is always the Christian starting point
for all our deliberation and decisions on social and political matters.

The Constitution of the United States is not our starting point.
Campaign promises are not our starting point.
The platforms of political parties aren’t our starting point.
Current law and policies are not our starting point.
The economy is not our starting point.
All of these ARE factors to be considered - yes -
but only after we have rooted ourselves deeply
in the teachings of Jesus
and in our love of God and neighbor.

Of course, Jesus also taught:
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
(Mark 12:17)
And that means we are obliged to consider
the constitutional, the political and the legal
in seeking to understand how best we can love God and our neighbor
in our efforts to be faithful to Christ’s teaching,
always keeping in mind that love is the first and greatest commandment,
the highest law, that binds us.

We consider what rightfully belongs to civil authority
so that our efforts might more effectively achieve
the realization of God’s love and mercy in our midst.

The words of Isaiah in today’s first reading ring clearly here:
Seek the Lord while he may be found…
turn to the Lord for mercy, to God who is generous…
for his thoughts are not your thoughts
and his ways not your ways…
God’s thoughts and ways are often very different from ours
but each of us is called
to make the ways and thoughts of God our own.

We gather every week in the shadow of the Cross,
under the arms of Jesus who, for our sakes,
bore the weight of our sins, in the heat of the day.

Most of us are late-comers, showing up at the foot of the Cross
at the last hour of the day
and yet hoping for, expecting - and receiving -
equal shares of God’s mercy and love.

Whether we’re among the first or the last
to show up to work in the vineyard
there’s a seat for each of us at the Lord’s Table
where he will generously serve each of us
- not according to our faults and sins -
but rather, according to his mercy and love.

Each of is, without exception, a beneficiary
of God’s extravagant mercy.

May the nourishment we receive here in the Eucharist
teach us to make the love of God and neighbor
our starting point in all things
and to make our own
the thoughts and the ways of God.


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  1. Thank you for this wise reflection of a puzzling parable. As many times as I've heard it, I never fully comprehended it till now. Blessings on your day!

  2. Having just read your homily, I applaud you! So often, it seems as we give lip service to the gospel message. Our lives and our world would be radically different if we actually took the gospel message to heart... and were transformed!


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