25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON SEPTEMBER 20, 2020 (R. 1: Isaiah 55: 6-9; Psalm 145: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18; R. 2: Philippians 1: 20c-24, 27A; Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16A)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
STAY IN YOUR LANE!
“My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go” (Matthew 20: 13-14).
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are so hard-working in the midst of lazy co-workers, and when the time comes for compensation, the lazy ones are paid more than you are paid? If you have, then, I wonder what you feel about the attitude of the landowner in today’s Gospel passage. You must be familiar with the feelings of the first hired laborers in the parable. You must know what it means to be discriminated against. You must know what it means to lose your morale as a hard-working employee, and hardly can any explanation from your employer make any sense to you.
Today’s parable is one of the most disliked parables of Jesus. The unfairness, and the injustice in it are very obvious. How can those who worked for one hour be paid the same amount as those who worked for twelve hours? It is good to clarify here that this parable is not meant to encourage employers to be unfair to their employees, and it is not encouraging the poorly treated employee to continue to submit to injustice.
Usually, when Jesus gives his parables, he does so in response to questions or situations. In this case, the story began in the previous chapter (19: 16ff) when a rich man came to Jesus to find out what he needed to do to have eternal life. The conversation got to a point where Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. The man became sad, and left. Jesus then told his disciples how hard it was for the rich to enter heaven. Peter asked Jesus about the disciples who left everything and followed Jesus: what would be their reward? It was in response to Peter’s question about reward that Jesus gave today’s parable, to educate the disciples on how God operates.
The parable reminds us of the first reading that God’s thoughts and ways are different from those of the world. In the Kingdom of heaven, reward is not just at the end, reward comes from the work itself. A way to know if you are working for God is to check whether your fulfilment comes from what you get at the end, or from doing the will of God.
Another strong message from the parable is that there is no seniority in the Kingdom of God. For God sees the complete picture. Those who came later in the day did not do so due to laziness, but because no one hired them. So God who sees and knows all, in His generosity and grace, gives everyone a daily wage, just what each one needs, no matter how much work they do. Remember, Jesus had already taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” and let tomorrow take care of itself.
This parable is a warning to the Jews, those with whom the story of salvation began; they must not grumble when the Gentiles, who came later, begin to enjoy the same benefits. It is a warning to the Apostles, the first to follow Christ, not to grumble when those who come after them begin to enjoy the same benefits. It is a warning to us Catholics, especially those of us who were born and raised Catholics and have never left the Church; we must not grumble when those who come into the Church later in life begin to enjoy the same benefits.
There is one more important lesson from the first comers in the parable. When they were hired, they agreed with the landowner on how much they would be paid. They worked without complaining. Their sadness came when they started looking into other people’s pockets. Their depression began when they left their own lane. This is where most, if not all of us must wake up!
We are usually happy and fulfilled when we focus on ourselves and what God has done for us. But the moment we step outside and start looking into other people’s lives, we become sad. Social media has even made it worse. People post enhanced pictures with false backgrounds, Photoshop homes, and pretentious perfect marriages and happy families on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, and we begin to think everyone has left us behind, we start undermining our own blessings, we start envying and hating others, and other evil things begin to flow from us.
Do not pray to be like the other person; pray to be the better version of yourself. Do not pray that God may bless you like the other person; pray that God may give you the blessing that is yours. You do not know the complete story of the other person. When you decide to pray to have someone else’s crown, be prepared to carry their cross as well.
There is a popular story about two couples. The first couple just celebrated 40th wedding anniversary when the second celebrated 2nd wedding anniversary. The younger wife was happy in her marriage until she began to notice the older couple. Her attitude toward her husband changed for the worse. When her husband asked to know what was wrong, she complained that her husband did not love her like the older man loved his wife. The young man wondered, “I have placed you in-charge of our finances. There is nothing you have asked that I turned down, what more do you need?” The young lady replied, “You see how the older man always opens the car door for his wife? Do you do that for me?” The young man got angry and said, “You will not get that from me.”
The young lady went to find out from the older lady what she did to her husband that after forty years of marriage, he still opens the door of the car for her. The older lady smiled and replied, “My daughter, it may not be what you think. The inside door handle of that car is broken, and we have no money to fix it, that is why my husband always goes around to open the door from outside. What you see there is not an evidence of love, but an evidence of poverty.”
My dearly beloved in Christ, if you want to be happy in this life, stay in your lane.