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FIRST IMPRESSIONS - 25th SUNDAY (A) - September 21, 2014

Isaiah 55: 6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1: 20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20: 1-16

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

Today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t primarily intend his parables to be lessons for moral behavior. What kind of chaos would it be in the workplace, unions and business world if we were to follow the land owner’s payment criteria: persons working a full day and those just for an hour, all receiving the exact same pay? This is not a parable told to accomplish justice in the world; other teachings by Jesus do that (cf. Chapter 19). In this parable Jesus tells the tale of the workings of God’s kingdom, both here already among us and to come.

The parable helps us focus and directs our gaze so that we can recognize how, where and when God is active in our lives. We reflect on this and the other parables so we can have our vision, blurred from using the world’s value systems, cleared.

The last group of hirelings draws our attention because their moment of payment shocks, not only the all-day workers, (who "bore the day’s burden and heat"), but us as well. It sounds like an ancient tale from long ago and far away. Still, we get it and it seems unfair to us, as it did to the full-day laborers. Who among us isn’t a hard worker and who doesn’t expect fair pay for a hard day’s work? That late-working group must have been the most surprised people in the story as they clutched their day’s wage — see the surprised expression in their eyes and their jaws dropped open in dismay as they realize their good fortune.

Why weren’t those latecomers hired earlier, the need certainly seems to have been there? When the owner asks why they are standing around idle, they respond quite frankly, "Because no one has hired us." They weren’t wanted. By the standards of the work world perhaps they weren’t considered useful or valuable workers. They remind me of some of those physical or mentally challenged young people and adults who pack our groceries in the supermarket. Hooray for the supermarket that sees their worth! If not at the supermarket, where else would they find work? Having a job often gives people a sense of their own worth; not having one does the opposite.

Doesn’t the parable challenge our own standards? The owner had a pressing need, there were grapes to harvest. He obviously saw something of worth in the last-hired and it wasn’t about how much they hadn’t yet done. In the kingdom of heaven, which has already begun, people are judged on an entirely different scale of values. God may very well be like the landowner, generous to both the big producers and the seeming-undeserving.

So, is this a parable to encourage slackers? Should I just cut back on my good deeds in God’s name and presume on God’s final generosity? We will all get the same "pay" after all. Well, yes and no. I continue to look for ways to serve in the Lord’s vineyard each day. I try to respond to needs and opportunities that come my way. Still, at the end of the day I’ll probably feel, "I could have done more." Or, "I wasted the day and I got so little done." At these moments of discouragement, the parable is a consolation and offers freedom from achievement-anxiety. I remember a poem from my college days:

"Into thy vineyard I run in haste.

Eleven sounds in its ancient tower.

So many years have gone in waste.

What can I do in a single hour?"

I find that simple poem consoling because I will always feel I am not doing as much for God as I should, or as others do. I may even have wasted time – weeks, hours, years – with other pursuits and only lately come back to the Lord. Thank heavens the "pay scale" isn’t based on my sense of just wages. Nor need I compare myself to the great saints who spent time and heroic energies in God’s service. I am a day laborer, trying to do the best I can. God will work out the reward...someday. However, not to fear, on "payday"we will all be surprised!

I have arrived tardy to work and am completely dependent on the generosity of the vineyard owner. At the end of the parable it is clear that the owner is quite generous, despite the arguments of the upright, hard workers who, with another owner, might have a strong case for a sliding pay scale. Those who work the most, get the most; those who work less, get less. That’s fair. But not with the owner depicted in the parable who says, "Are you envious because I am generous?"

We can’t argue about "fairness" over the distribution of God’s grace. We haven’t a leg to stand on if we decide to dispute what’s fair with a generous God. Most of us churchgoers have been diligent in our observances and ministry over the years. Still, we had better appeal to the generosity of God than to the "works" we have performed. After all, we are not earning wages from God. We haven’t signed a contract with payment spelled out. We offer God our best work and we expect God, who has made a covenant with us, will reward us out of a heart overflowing with generosity. We don’t have inner-circle rights with God, even though we have offered years of service. We might have a legitimate case in the world’s workplace; but here we are involved with "kingdom economics" and so we have to throw out our system of reckoning and wait in line for our reward with all the other laborers. One thing we know, it will be very, very generous and we will be surprised.

The parable would have had significance in the early church whose first members were Jewish Christians. To them the "late arrivals," the Gentiles, deserved a lesser place in the kingdom. After all, they were not the first invited, as were God’s chosen people. Judging from the heated epistles, like Galatians and the accounts in Acts, the conflict between the two groups could get quite intense. The first places at table, whether at a wedding banquet or the eucharistic meals, were hard to yield to newcomers who lacked the status of the early arrivals. There is also the issue of the eschatological banquet when the Lord returns and we go home with him and one another to the eternal kingdom. There the rewards will not be based on our usual pay scales and priorities, but will be generously given to all, reminding us, once again, that God’s ways are not our ways.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092114.cfm

QUOTABLE

Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

----Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:27

In four different letters, Paul advises Christian followers on proper conduct. In Colossians 1 and Thessalonians 4, he names a list of ways the Christian should be, including "in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1: 10) and "aspire to live a tranquil life" (1Thess.4: 11). This flies in the face of modern society that urges us on for more and more—more stuff, more extreme actions, more emphasis on the superficial, more, more, more… Are you caught up in this kind of world?

There is another way. It is called contemplative living and anyone can choose to live this peaceful way, just as you choose to live in a frenetic way of more and more. Here at Sacred Heart, we have been offering Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton (Ave Maria Press). Thomas Merton converted to Roman Catholicism while a student at Columbia University. He entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of Trappist monks, and that led him to profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States."

Bridges gently leads participants on a journey toward spiritual transformation and a more contemplative and peace-filled life. Inspired by the monastic tradition, Bridges is specifically formatted for the lay person through prayers, readings and questions. Come away to a more peace-filled world. We have another session starting this Thursday evening and the only cost is your time and $7 for the booklet. The tranquil life is possible amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life. To join in this eight-session program, contact socialconcern@sacredheartcathedral.org .

To whet your appetite for a more tranquil way, contemplate this prayer from St. Teresa of Avila:

"May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, danse, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of you."

 

------Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

"What if I wish to give the 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?"

Reflection:

In the kingdom of heaven, which has already begun, people are judged on an entirely different scale of values than the ones we use. God, like the landowner, is generous to both the big producers and the seeming-undeserving. It is not in our hands to decide and give rewards based on what others have or have not done for God. When it comes to a final reckoning God will have the last word -- and it will be a generous one!

So we ask ourselves:

  • Have you ever gotten a present from someone that was more than you expected?
  • Did that surprise have any effect on your relationship with that person?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Lyle May #0580028 On death row since 3/18/99

P.S. Lyle May, a man I visited for 12 years on Raleigh’s death row, has just published his autobiography, "Waiting for the Last Train." It is available as a Kindle download. If you have a Kindle or a Kindle App on some other device, it is available for $2.99.

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626

 


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