‘Or are you envious because I am generous?’ Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Red Vineyard, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 20:1-16a (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Jesus told his disciples this parable:

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

Vineyards with a View of Auvers, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

I spent a grace-filled year in Toronto in 1981-82 doing a sabbatical at Regis College, a Jesuit school. The programme I was in was for persons with pastoral experience. Nearly all of us were priests or religious brothers and sisters, with one or two laypersons. One of the graces of that year was making new friends. 

Five or six of us men used to go for an hour’s brisk walk almost every night after supper. One of them was Brother Luke Pearson FMS, a member of the Marist Brothers of the Schools, from New Jersey whose father was a Scottish Presbyterian and his mother an Irish Catholic. Brother Luke identified with his mother in terms of his faith but considered himself Scottish rather than Irish, even though he was American.

In the 1990s Brother Luke came to be a member of the staff at the Marist Asia Pacific Center in Marikina City, part of the urban sprawl that is Metro Manila, where junior professed brothers from the region have ongoing formation. Sadly, he later died of cancer.

At the end of our academic year most of us went to Loyola House in Guelph, Ontario, for what is now called The Full Spiritual Exercises Experience, which includes a retreat of 30 days. Many of the retreatants were persons we hadn’t met before. We got to know them a little during the preparatory days before we moved into the total silence of the 30-day retreat, apart from three separate ‘repose days’ when we were off silence from after breakfast until late afternoon.

I began to notice as each repose day came about that I was finding it harder to remember who had been on the nine-month programme in Toronto and who hadn’t. In the silence we were gradually becoming a real community, even though after leaving most of us would never meet each other again.

St Michael’s Cathedral, Toronto [Wikipedia]

At the beginning I saw myself and my companions from the Regis College programme as my core group who had borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, as it were, while the others were those hired about five o’clock.

Unlike the parable, there was no sense of resentment but rather a sense of joy. We were all receiving an abundance of the Lord’s unbounded generosity with the graces he was showering on each of us, and on all of us as a community growing in the silence of prayer. 

And my friendship with Brother Luke had grown deeper during that silence.

I recalled all of this while reflecting on and praying with today’s Gospel. There’s a great freedom in being able to acknowledge and to rejoice in the gifts that God has given others that may be different from those he has given me. When I can do that I will have a sense of gratitude to God not only for the gifts that others have but for those that I have. 

I remember reading an obituary of a Columban who had spent 53 years in Japan and who died in Ireland, Fr Bede Cleary. He was described as a happy, enthusiastic, committed missionary and that people were touched by his friendliness, hospitality and selfless dedication. Among other things, he was  involved with other Christians in bringing on pilgrimages of reconciliation to Japan former prisoners of war from Britain and other places who had suffered cruelly from Japanese soldiers during World War II and who carried bitterness and hatred in their hearts. One of the things that had led to these pilgrimages ws the discovery that young Japanese, born long after the War, were tending the graves of POWs who had died in Japan.

But what I remember most from the obituary written by another Columban in Japan, Fr Eamonn Horgan, now retired in Ireland, was his description of three of the shortest books you could find in a library. One was How to Maintain a Car by Fr Bede Cleary. Father Bede was truly loved by his fellow Columbans as well as by the Japanese people he so faithfully served. But the Columbans in Japan could also see clearly that there were certain gifts he lacked! 

Being able to laugh at what we and others lack while recognizing and thanking God for the many gifts each has is one of the graces that God wants each of us to receive.

If we are truly grateful to God for everything that he has given us, and for what he has given others that we may not have, when we come to receive the usual daily wage, which, if we follow his will, will be eternal life, we won’t provoke him to ask, Are you envious because I am generous?

Antiphona ad introitum     Entrance antiphon

Salus populi ego sum, dicit Dominus.

I am the salvation of the people says the Lord.

De quacumque tribulatione clamaverint ad me,

Should they cry to me in any distress,

exaudiam eos, et ero illorum Dominus in perpetuum.

I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.

 

Ps. 77 [78]:1. Attendite, popule meus, legem meam:

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

inclinate aurem vestram in verba oris mei. 

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto;
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, in saecula saecolurm. Amen.
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen

 

Salus populi ego sum, dicit Dominus.

I am the salvation of the people says the Lord.

De quacumque tribulatione clamaverint ad me,

Should they cry to me in any distress,

exaudiam eos, et ero illorum Dominus in perpetuum.

I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever.

 

The text above in bold, in Latin and English, is used in Mass in the Ordinary Form. That and the rest is used in the Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the 19th Sunday After Pentecost.

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