A Generous and Just GOD
The first reading gives us a first attempt to establish a kingdom to give more stability to Israel than the system of the Judges, but the would-be king is rejected with an allegory that ridicules him.
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard tells us, contrary to what we often hear, that God is not a bookkeeper. Of course, he loves those who lead exemplary Christian lives. But in his heart there is also room for the stragglers and latecomers as well as for the pioneers. God loves us and is generous to us, not because we are good but because he is good.
1 Reading: Judges 9:6-15
All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together and proceeded to make Abimelech king by the terebinth at the memorial pillar in Shechem. When this was reported to him, Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim and, standing there, cried out to them in a loud voice: “Hear me, citizens of Shechem, that God may then hear you! Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil, whereby men and gods are honoured, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the fig tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, and reign over us.’ But the vine answered them, ‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
R. (2a) Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
O LORD, in your strength the king is glad;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you refused not the wish of his lips. R.
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings,
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you: you gave him
length of days forever and ever. R.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you conferred upon him.
You made him a blessing forever,
you gladdened him with the joy of your face. R.
Alleluia Hebrews 4:12
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this 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?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Kingship was not introduced in Israel without a struggle. While it is true that kings ruled over the neighbouring countries, its presence among the Hebrews was initially seen as an interference into the authority and power that belonged only to Yahweh. The event that brought Abimelech to power over the people of Shechem proved to be an unfortunate step; this local king did not rule for long and finally met a tragic end. Jotham in today’s reading decries the rise of Abimelech and sees him as the “bramble” king, that is, the least desirable of all. Are our own rulers of today far less atrocious than Abimelech and bramble trees?
God’s generosity should never be the source of envy within the Christian community. A just recompense is given to the faithful who have laboured the long day. But there will be some who enter only at a late hour, and their reward will be as great. But if the Lord chooses to be generous, why should he be taken to task? This is the main point of the parable of the labourers hired at different times of the day.
It took a considerable period of time for the Hebrews to adjust themselves to the idea of an earthly king. We at times find problems with the “admissions policy” of the church. Some people live a public life that is clearly at odds with Christian values; sometimes it is scandalous as well. But we never know the person’s sentiments when life comes to an end. Genuine sorrow and conversion take very little time to actualize. Whether it be church and state issues or end-of-life issues, answers are not always apparent and immediate.
As we search for answers, it is well to remember that discretion is often the better part of valour.
We have looked at God today as an unbelievably good God. For God, every person is valuable, also the weak and those we consider good for nothing. Everyone counts. He wants each one of us to be at work. No idleness. May almighty God bless you all, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!