17 September 2011

‘Why be envious because I am generous?’ Sunday Reflections, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 18 September 2011

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Johann Christian Brand, (painted 1769)

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA)

Gospel Matthew 20:1-16a (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

'Now the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, "You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage". So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, "Why have you been standing here idle all day?" "Because no one has hired us" they answered. He said to them, "You go into my vineyard too". In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, "Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first". So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, 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." He answered one of them and said, "My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?" Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.'

Soiscéal Matha 20:1-16a (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Óir is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas mar a bhí ag fear tí a ghabh amach go moch ar maidin chun lucht oibre a fhostú i gcomhair a fhíonghoirt. Réitigh sé leis na fir oibre ar dhéanar sa lá agus sheol sé isteach ina fhíonghort iad. Nuair a chuaigh sé amach timpeall an tríú huair, chonaic sé daoine eile ina seasamh díomhaoin in áit an mhargaidh agus dúirt sé leo: ‘Isteach i m’fhíonghort libhse freisin, agus díolfaidh mé libh an pá ceart.’ Agus isteach leo. Chuaigh sé amach arís timpeall an séú agus an naoú huair agus rinne sé an rud céanna. Ach nuair a chuaigh sé amach timpeall an aonú huair déag, fuair sé tuilleadh acu ann agus dúirt leo: ‘Cad a d’fhág anseo ar feadh an lae sibh agus sibh díomhaoin?’ Dúirt siad: ‘Mar nár fhostaigh aon duine sinn.’ Dúirt sé leo: ‘Sibhse freisin, isteach san fhíonghort libh.’ Nuair a bhí an tráthnóna ann, dúirt úinéir an fhíonghoirt leis an mbainisteoir: ‘Glaoigh ar na fir oibre agus tabhair dóibh a dtuarastal, siar ón dream déanach go dtí an dream is túisce a tháinig.’ Nuair a tháinig muintir an aonú huair déag, fuair siad déanar an duine. Agus shíl an chéad dream nuair a tháinig siad go bhfaighidís níos mó. Ach is déanar an duine a fuair siad sin féin. Agus nuair a fuair siad é, bhí siad ag monabhar ar fhear an tí: ‘An dream déanach seo,’ deiridís, ‘níor thug siad ach an t-aon uair amháin, agus chuir tú ar aon dul iad féin agus sinne a d’fhulaing ualach an lae agus an brothall.’ D’fhreagair sé duine acu á rá: ‘Nílim ag déanamh aon éagóra ort, a chara: nach ar dhéanar a réitigh tú liom? Tóg a bhfuil ag dul duit agus imigh. Ach is áil liomsa oiread a thabhairt don fhear deireanach seo agus a thugaim duit. An ea nach bhfuil cead agam mo rogha ní a dhéanamh le mo chuid féin? Nó an ea go bhfuil do shúilse éadmhar de bhrí go bhfuilim féin maith?’ Sin mar a bheidh a bhfuil ar deireadh ar tosach agus a bhfuil ar tosach ar deireadh.”

Communion antiphon, John 10:14. Ego sum pastor bonus, dicit Dóminus; et cognósco oves meas, et cognóscunt me meae. I am the Good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep and mine know me.

This text is also used as the Alleluia on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Years A,B and C in the Ordinary Form of the Mass (the 'New Mass' introduced in 1969 that we are all familiar with) and on the Second Sunday after Easter in the Extraordinary Form (the 'Old Mass' that many of us grew up with and which is once again celebrated in many places with the full encouragement of Pope Benedict. The Institute of St Philip Neri, at whose church in Berlin the above video was made, is a Society of Apostolic Life of Ponitifical Right established in 2004.
We are two in our family. My brother Paddy (Patrick) is three years younger than I am. I remember at various stages of my growing years feeling some resentment because he was allowed to do certain things at an earlier age than I had been. It was only years later that it dawned on me that the first child is a sort of guinea-pig on which parents practise being parents. I’ve experienced something of this myself in working with seminarians. I was rather strict, though fair, with the first group of mainly 16-year-olds we Columbans accepted as our first seminarians in the Philippines in 1984. However, as each year passed I learned from experience where to give a little latitude. I continue to learn the truth of what my Dad often said to me, 'The experience will be good for you'.

When I celebrated my First Mass on 21 December 1967 I discovered a wonderful gift that my brother had: the ability to organise people in such a way that they made new friends, as he showed in the seating arrangements for the meal afterwards. He made sure that everyone knew at least one other person at their table. The result was that everyone ended up with at least five friends, old and new. I’ve seen him use that same gift many times since. I don’t have the same ability but truly admire it in my brother.

In the summer of 1969 I spent most of the summer in a rural parish in Kentucky, during a break from studies near New York. Most of the people, black and white, were poor and there were very few Catholics. There were also the remnants of an anti-Catholicism based on ignorance. The parish priest, Fr Ralph Beiting, had an amazing gift for inspiring and organizing students from all over the USA, mostly at college level, and getting them to spend a week or two, a month or two, helping to run summer camps for children, Bible schools, house to house visitation and so on. However, if you wanted to share a problem or felt the need for someone to listen to you he wasn’t the man to approach.

But I found many approaching me, even older persons. I discovered a gift I had never been aware of before. Another priest in the parish had a fantastic rapport with children but couldn’t relate to adolescents or young adults. Each of us had different gifts, all needed by the community. We would never have come together without the vision of Father Beiting.

These experiences come to mind because I see in today’s parable, not a programme for labour relations but an expression of God’s utter generosity. The owner of the vineyard didn’t underpay any of his workers but shared his largesse. I have long since discovered that there’s no need to be envious of the abilities another may have that I don’t. My brother’s ability to organize a function, not so much in terms of filling seats but doing that while offering persons a chance to meet old friends and make new ones, is something I rejoice in. I rejoice in the fact that so many persons down the years have felt free to approach me for advice, to share a worry, to come to me as a priest to confess. I thank God for a certain ability to write, which I had some awareness of even in primary school, partly due to excellent teachers who were also mentors, and which I can use in proclaiming the Gospel online, in articles, in letters. I rejoice in the ability of my friend Richelle who comes from a background of poverty, graduated summa cum laude earlier this year, came second in the Philippines in her licensure examination in June, who carries her giftedness lightly and whose ‘signature’ at the end of each personal email is, For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future (Jeremiah 29:11), expressing her gratitude to God for her ‘daily wage’ or ‘denarius’, which is, in reality, a life-long wage.

The ‘usual daily wage’ (New American Bible) or ‘denarius’ (Jerusalem Bible) that God gives each of us, whatever he may ask of us in terms of work, is given not at the end of the day but at the moment of our conception, in terms of our innate abilities and characteristics, and renewed each day through God’s grace. Some may be called to martyrdom, some to lay down their lives, not so much in martyrdom as to bring life to others. Some may be called to spend their lives in virtual anonymity, maybe taking care of aged parents or putting younger siblings through school, both so common here in the Philippines. Some, like Isabelo, a friend born with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), who would always remind us at celebrations of our Faith and Life community in Cebu in the early 1990s that some, whom he would name, hadn’t arrived yet. God had given him this gift for the wider community to value the individuality of each.

But the wage that God wants to give each of us at the end of the day is far more than a ‘daily wage’ or a ‘denarius’: it is eternal life. By the way we carry out God’s will we can accept or reject this.

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