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  • St. John's Church

Sunday, September 20 Readings


God Speaks to Families Through the Sunday Readings

First Reading

Isaiah 55:6-9

God's ways are far beyond the ways of human beings.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him.

Second Reading

Philippians 1:20c-24,27a

Paul tells the Philippians to live for Christ.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 20:1-16

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus teaches about God's generous mercy.

Background on the Gospel Reading

In today's Gospel, Jesus moves from Galilee to teach in Judea where He is sought out by great crowds and tested by the Pharisees on issues such as marriage and divorce. Jesus also encounters a rich young man who is unable to accept Jesus' demand that he leave his possessions to follow Him. Jesus' rsponse to the rich young man sounds very much like the conclusion we will find in today's Gospel: the first will be last and the last will be first.

On the surface, the parable of the workers in the vineyard appears to be an offense to common sense. Those who work a longer day ought to be paid more than those who work just an hour or two. When viewed in this way, the landowner seems unfair. That is because we are reading into the parable our own preconceived notions of how fairness and equality should be quantified.

A close read shows us that the landowner paid on the terms that were negotiated. The landowner, it seems, has acted completely justly. The parable goes beyond that, however, and we come to see that the landowner is not simply just, he is exceptionally just. He is radically just. He has given those who labored in the field for a full day their due pay. But he has also given a full-day's wage to those who worked only a sin-gle hour. No one is cheated, but a few receive abundantly from the landowner just as we receive from God more than what is merely justifiable or due. God, like the landowner, is radically just and abundantly gener-ous. The workers who complain are made to look foolish as they lament the fact that landowner has made all workers equal. Indeed, what more could one ask for than to be treated as an equal at work or anywhere else?

The parable reminds us that although God owes us nothing, He offers abundantly and equally. We are occasionally tempted to think that our own actions deserve more reward, more of God's abundant mercy, than the actions of others. But God's generosity cannot be quantified or partitioned into different amounts for different people. When we think that way, we are trying to relate to God on our terms rather than to accept God's radically different ways.

Family Connection

The workers in this parable sound very much like squabbling children, comparing what they have each been given and making complaints to the parent. Among children there is a tendency to equate love with gifts and material things. This tendency can devolve into a spirit of entitlement, which runs counter to the spirit of gratitude. Any effort we make to overcome this tendency, to keep love from being entwined with gifts and possessions, will enable our children to accept completely the love that God gives freely and generously.

Observe together any tendency within your family to make comparisons. Are children sometimes heard saying that another child received a greater portion of a favorite food at dinner or dessert? Does one person complain that a parent spends more time with one child over another? Ask if such comparisons are helpful. Discuss together why such comparisons are made. Then read together today's Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16. Consider these questions: Why do the workers grumble? Is the landowner's assessment accurate? Unfortunately, we are sometimes like these workers when we make the comparisons we discussed earlier.

Conclude in prayer together remembering that love cannot and ought not to be measured. Sit quietly together acknowledging God's great love for each person as individuals and for your family. Pray together today's psalm, Psalm 145, or the Lord's Prayer.

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