Homilies

25th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24.7; Gospel of Matthew 20:1-16
Am I Envious in Life . . ?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 24 September 2017

In today’s Gospel, upon hearing the “Parable of the Vineyard,” many of our immediate reaction is, “It is not fair!”  In a way we are not wrong because to us, strict justice must prevail, and so, it is unfair that those who worked for one hour receive the same as those who worked the whole day, especially in the heat.  To such reactions, Jesus would answer, “If I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay the first worker.  Have I no right to do what I like with my own?  Why be envious because I am generous?”

There is a story of a man, David, who went for a business trip overseas.  While walking through the city he walked past a beggar whom he thought he recognised.  David went up to him; gave him a $10 note and then asked him, whether he happened to know of so and so.  To David’s great surprise, indeed the beggar was Tom who was one of his classmates.  David, being a man of great compassion, immediately invited Tom for lunch and was keen to learn what had happened to Tom who at one time was holding a very good job and was married to someone whom David envied, and even wished that his wife was as beautiful as her.  Before David rushed off for his appointment, he gave Tom $500.  Tom was moved to tears and gave David a big hug, and they parted ways. 

David promised to send Tom some money regularly.  After a few months, there was no communication from David.  Tom, feeling desperate had to rely on his begging once again to survive.  Several years later, David happened to go for another business trip in the same city.  To his surprise, he found Tom begging at the same corner of the street where he had first met him some years ago.  David immediately went up to Tom, embraced him.  And, as David was rushing for his appointment and had to leave, he took out his wallet and gave Tom a $50 note.  Tom was shocked and disappointed at David and asked, “David, I thought you were my friend?  For the past several years, you did not bother to send me any money and left me to suffer on my own, and now you give me $50 instead of the $500 you gave me when you first met me?! 

David, looked at Tom with great sadness and apologised, “Tom, my friend, for the past years, my wife has been sickly and could not work.  Moreover, I had a aging mother and two children to support.  We were going through very difficult times financially, and so I hope you understand me. . . I am so sorry.  To this Tom replied, “Oh, so now you are raising your family from my money?!”  

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the story of Tom and David in many ways illustrate the “Parable of the Vineyard”; it is a story of ingratitude.  Instead of being grateful, Tom began to expect David to continue to give him the money as though he has the right to David’s money.  And even though David humbly explained to him that he and his family was in financial difficulties, Tom could not see the generosity of David.  Instead, he added insult to injury, and accused David of raising his family from his money!  In asserting this, Tom was not aware that while he was originally moved to tears at David’s great generosity when he received $500, he is now making ungrateful demands from him.

 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, some of us may be upset at the ingratitude of Tom, but if we reflect on our own lives more deeply, this story may remind us of the times when we too have made ungrateful demands on God as though we have a right to the abundant blessings that He has so generously and graciously given us even though we do not deserve them.  Like Tom, at times, have we also not been upset with God when He did not seem to answer our prayers in the way we want of Him?  Have we not been impatient with God instead of trusting in His Goodness, Care and Love for us?  

When the workers in the vineyard entered into an agreement with their landowner that they were to receive one denarius for their whole day’s work, they knew very well that it was the one denarius was the minimum subsistence wage that all family needed to provide for their basic necessities.  As such, should they not feel grateful that they were given a job for the day?  The other workers who waited the whole day, were not lazy workers.  It is just that they were not able to find anyone to employ them.  And so, when the landowner came along, he felt compassion for them, and so he employed them, and also paid them the minimum wage of one denarius, that the workers needed to feed their families.  If the landowner were to stick rigidly to the justice and pay them any less than the one denarius, their families would suffer.  And, rightly so, Jesus challenged the disgruntled workers, “Have I no right to do what I like with my own?  Why are you envious when I am generous?!”

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember that if God were to relate to us “strictly on the bases of justice”, and not out of His infinite Compassionate Love for us, none of us would be here today; we would probably all have messed up our lives, our families and the many people that God has placed in our lives, and when we die, none of us would deserve to get into heaven.  We are all still living our faith because God has protected our relationship with Him by constantly been so infinitely forgiving and compassionate towards us. 

In other words, the two good questions that we can ask ourselves and reflect on in the coming week are: “Have we taken God’s Goodness and Compassionate Love for us for granted?”  “Are we making unjust demands from God, like Tom in our story?”  And if we do, then Jesus, as in today’s Gospel would answer us, “Why are you envious of others, when I am generous towards them?”

The answers to these very basic questions in many ways reveal the quality of our relationship with God.  The deeper and more personal our relationship is with Jesus, the less envious we would be of others.  This is because “envy and jealousy” are signs of our emotional insecurities in life, and as such they are signs that we are still too preoccupied with our self.  “When someone is praised or has achieved success, are we happy for them and do we truly rejoice with them”? or “Do we feel uneasy and lousy within”?  If we do, then envy and jealousy are still gnawing within us and eating us up and God is not yet our deepest joy and our greatest security.  I would like to end with a poem that captures the spirit of the meaning of what Jesus is trying to say to us . . .

Lord, may I always have,
an appreciative attitude,
one filled with adoration
thanksgiving and gratitude.

May I always be grateful,
whether sick or healthy,
may I always be thankful
be I penniless or wealthy.

Lord, may I be thankful,
to You, for all things,
happy with the provision
Your daily grace brings.

May I always be glad,
to receive Your benefits,
may my praise to You
to the world be evident.

Lord, may I always have,
a heartfelt gratitude . . .
coursing through my life
gushing out in my attitude!

                                                By Deborah Ann

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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