20th September, 2020

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

 

Jesus on the cross, with the penitent thief

 “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

“Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise”

This beautiful parable that Jesus tells in today’s gospel is one of the most difficult parables, and it is very hard to understand or explain its message. The main character of this story – invented by Jesus – is a landowner who was looking for labourers to work in his vineyard. We can imagine his determination and concern for all the fruits to be harvested at the right time. As we heard, he would go out into the streets of the town several times a day and patiently ask the people he met to agree to work for him. Such a situation may even seem very strange to us, and it is difficult to imagine anything similar in our town or anywhere else around the world. Could we imagine an employer or landowner who goes out on the street and says to people he met accidentally: “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage” or “why have you been standing here idle all day? You go to my vineyard too”.

The most surprising, however, is the ending of the whole story. Each of the workers received the same payment, regardless of the time and effort put into the tasks entrusted to them. And the second thing that is equally interesting and surprising at the same time is the reaction of the people who worked the longest and who spent almost all day in the vineyard. As we have heard: “They took one denarius, but grumbled at the landowner. ‘The men who came last’ they said ‘have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat’”.

On the one hand, we can understand the frustration and disappointment of those who worked all day, but on the other hand, Jesus wants to tell us something very important in this beautiful parable. It is true that each of us expects justice in both social and political life, because justice is a great virtue. Jesus himself said in one of the beatitudes: “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, – that is what is just – they shall be satisfied”. And elsewhere in the gospel He said: “For I tell you, unless your justice exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

I think Jesus is telling us today that God’s justice is completely different from our human justice and is not about giving everyone the same. It is much more than our human logic and our human calculations. God is very generous and gives us His graces, His mercy and forgiveness only according to His own divine logic and calculations which may seem incomprehensible and strange to us at times. In today’s first reading, we hear God speaking to us through the prophet Isaiah: “…for my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks”. And a bit further in the same passage: “My ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts”.

Reflecting on today’s readings, we can recall the lives of many followers of Jesus from different countries and ages who have worked very hard, and made great efforts to deserve eternal life and heaven. Many of them – especially during persecutions – gave their lives and everything they owned for Jesus. But among all of these followers of Jesus, there is one very extraordinary saint who, as we can say, “worked in the vineyard” for only a short while, or in other words, devoted only the last minutes of his life to Jesus. I guess we all know him very well, because we hear about him every year during Lent and especially on Good Friday. This is the criminal who was sentenced and then crucified on the right side of Jesus and who said the most beautiful words, or the most beautiful prayer: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. “Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise” – that was Jesus’ answer. These last few moments of his life and this short prayer were enough to make him deserve eternal life, and it certainly seems unbelievable to many us. We can say that he only worked for a few moments in Jesus’ vineyard because his whole life was one that he had wasted by doing so much evil and probably hurting many people. “Today you will be with me in paradise” – this is the wage he deserved and received for such a short time of work.

Jesus, we ask you, to help us understand and remember that “your thoughts are not our thoughts and your ways not our ways” and your divine logic is very different to our human logic and calculations. You, who teach us true justice, help us to enjoy the happiness of other people so that we will not be jealous of what others receive from you every day. And finally, please help us to fully appreciate every gift we receive from you absolutely for free, only because of your boundless love, generosity and grace. Amen.

Fr Gregory Marchwinski