Living Flame

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ARTICLE: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A

Is 55.6-9; Phil 1.20-24, 27; Mt 20.1-16

 The Law of the Seed

Take a look at an apple tree. There might be five hundred apples on the tree, each with ten seeds. That's a lot of seeds. We might ask, "Why would you need so many seeds to grow just a few more trees?"

Nature has something to teach us here. It's telling us. "Most seeds never grow. So if you really want to make something happen, you should better try more than once."

This might mean.

  • You'll attend twenty interviews to get one job.
  • You'll interview forty people to find one good employee.
  • You'll talk to fifty people to sell one house, car, vacuum cleaner, insurance policy, or idea.
  • And you might meet a hundred acquaintances to find one special friend.

When we understand the 'Law of the Seed', we don't get so disappointed. We stop feeling like victims. Laws of nature are not things to take personally. We just need to understand them - and work with them.

Successful people fail more often. They plant more seeds.

Is God Unjust?

Has God been unjust to us? To me? To my family? To my Country? To my community? These questions cannot be answered. But God’s grace is really great. It comes to us without any of our merits.  Whatever we have today has been a gift of God’s grace.

That’s what the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is really about.  God’s grace comes to different people at different times and in different ways. And that includes everyone here.  Perhaps some of us may feel that we have not been the persons we could and should be. Maybe we are correct.  But we haven’t missed our opportunity for salvation.  God’s grace is amazing.  There is still time for him to radically change our lives. The landowner has "hired" (misthoomai) the workers (ergates), which implies an offer to pay (misthos) them for their work. In contrast, Mt 21.28 has a father telling his son, "Go and work (ergazomai) in the vineyard today," which may not involve payment for work done.

An Agreement

"What do you pay your volunteers?" is a question raised by experts in volunteerism. We don't pay them with money, but what kind of recognition, self-fulfillment, joy, sense of accomplishment, etc. do they receive for their work? An agreement (symphoneo) is reached between the landowner and the first workers. (Symphoneo was used in 18.19: "if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.") A denarius for a day’s work does not indicate a generous landowner. It was the minimum wage a family in poverty could exist on. This agreement speaks against interpreting this parable primarily as an illustration of God's generosity. The wages aren't that great. The workers have barely enough to live on. They remain in poverty, but their needs for this day will be met. Thus it may be better to translate agathos (v. 15) as "good" than as "generous". It was good for the landowner to give the workers a minimum wage that was enough to live on for the day. It was not a generous wage.

An interesting picture can be created with the word "idle" (argos = lit. "not working" which can imply "doing nothing" or "being ineffective"). The "cure" for being unemployed (at least in the parable's picture) has to come from someone else being willing to invite you to come and work. This results in two benefits: the hiree is given what is needed (work & wages) and the hirer receives what is needed (work done).

We need to Work

Does God need us to work? That seems to be a theme in Matthew where Jesus says: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (9.37b-38). Perhaps our great emphasis against works-righteousness (which is centered on getting what one deserves, i.e. "What do I have to do to be saved?") has kept us from seeing the importance and necessity of good works (which is centered on responding to God's grace, i.e. "You are saved, what are you going to do?").

The "cure" for our unfulfilled and non-productive lives is not going out and finding something to do to fill up the time that benefits just me; but hearing our "owner's" invitation to work in his vineyard.

The Owner’s Fault

The whole problem at the end of the parable is the landowner's fault - not because he paid them all the same, but because he paid the last first. Remember, as I said near the beginning of these notes, this parable comes as an explanation of Jesus statement: "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first" (Mt 19.30). Now we see what happens when this is acted out.

If he had paid a denarius to the first ones hired first, they would have gone home and not seen the last one's hired getting paid the same amount. The payment order allowed the first hired -- the long term workers (or church members?) to witness the last one's getting paid, which resulted in the first hires to think that they would get more (v. 10).

The word for "think" (nomizo) does not refer so much to a rational process (as logizomai), but "to assume," "to presume," "to suppose," based on what one expects to happen or what is "customary" or the "rule" (which are meanings for the root nomos). Usually such assumptions are wrong as in its other uses (Mt 5.17; 10.34).

God’s Ways

Look at some of the amazing ways that God has changed people we know. So often we have all encountered a person who has done serious damage to his or her life and family through alcohol or other chemical dependency.  Then we marvel how God’s Grace not only led that person to recovery, but made him or her, a source of strength for others looking to recover.  That is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer.

John Paul II was very much aware of the working of God’s Mercy.  He addressed women who had suffered through an abortion and empowered them with the determination to work for life and protect other women from going through what they went through.  This is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer.

Don’t Give Up

The Gospel encourages us not to give up on ourselves.  God never gives up on us.  We can always start new, whether we have just been lukewarm Christians or whether we have been at war with God.  Not only does God refuse to hold us to our pasts, He forgives us through confession and transforms us to become vehicles of conversion for others.  The Divine Employer does not want us wasting any more time.  Even if we are pretty well advanced in age, and the day is drawing to a close,  He still has work for us to do.

Pride of Performance does not represent ego. It represents pleasure with humility. "The quality of the work and the quality of the worker are inseparable." Half-hearted effort does not produce half results; it produces no results.

What are you Doing?

Three people were laying bricks. A passerby asked them what they were doing. The first one replied, "Don't you see I am making a living?" The second one said, "Don't you see I am lying bricks?" The third one said, "I am building a beautiful monument." Here were three people doing the same thing who had totally different perspective on what they were doing. They had three very different attitudes about their work. And would their attitude affect their performance? The answer is clearly yes.

The Traditional Symbol

The vineyard was a traditional symbol for Israel (see especially the classical text of Isa 5.1-7) and Matthew will present another vineyard story in 21.33-46. Although the story itself does not directly state this, the reader can presume it is the harvest time since the landowner hires a number of day laborers to work in the vineyard. The story begins reasonably enough. At dawn a "landowner" (literally, the "head of the household") goes into the village marketplace to hire laborers and offers them the usual daily wage of one denarius; see 18.28). The fact that the landowner himself hires the laborers (instead of his manager mentioned in 20.8) is somewhat unusual and begins to put the spotlight on the one who is the focus of this story. The landowner goes back to hire additional workers at different periods of the day (literally in the Greek "early in the morning," "noon," "the third hour" and, finally, "the eleventh hour"), tracking for the reader the long day of hard work. No specific wage is promised, only the landowner's word that he would pay "the usual wage" (literally, "what is just"; dikaios, the term so favored by Matthew; see, e.g., 1.19; 27.19). Curiously the laborers hired last, when asked why they are idle, reply that "no one has hired us"-an explanation that suggests they were willing to work but were ignored.

The parable breaks beyond the conventional pattern when at sundown the landowner sends his manager to gather the laborers and gives them their pay (payment was expected at the end of a day's labor; see Lev 19.13; Deut 24.14-15). The manager is instructed to give out the wages "beginning with the last and then going to the first"-words that alert the reader to the words of Jesus framing the parable. The laborers hired last receive a full day's pay of one denarius and when those hired first come for their wages, they expect to receive more and thus complain to the landowner when they receive pay equal to that of the other workers. The expression of their complaint is one of the keys to the parable's interpretation: "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (20.12).

The landowner's reply is gracious (he addresses the laborer as "friend," 20.13; see also 22.12) but firm. The laborer received exactly what was agreed and was not treated unjustly. More important, the landowner is supremely free to do what he wishes with what belongs to him and therefore the laborers should not look on his generosity with an "evil eye" (the literal expression behind the "envious"; see above 6.23). Therefore the parable ends with a firm emphasis not on conventional assumptions about a fair wage but on the sovereignty and generosity of the "lord of the vineyard" (the literal words of 20.8). He is the one who determines that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Practical Conclusion

Excellence comes when the performer takes pride in doing his best. Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it, regardless of what the job is, whether washing cars, sweeping the floor or painting a house. Do it right the first time, every time. The best insurance for tomorrow is a job well done today.

Michelangelo had been working on a statue for many days. He was taking a long time to retouch every small detail. A bystander thought these improvements were insignificant and asked Michelangelo why he bothered with them. Michelangelo replied, "Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle."

Most people forget how fast you did a job, but they remember how well it was done.


Friday - 24th Week -Year A - Luke 8:1-3


Friday - 24th Week -Year A - Luke 8:1-3

Thursday - 24th Week - Year A - Matthew 9:9-13


Thursday - 24th Week - Year A - Matthew 9:9-13

Wednesday - 24th Week - Year A - Luke 7:31-35


Wednesday - 24th Week - Year A - Luke 7:31-35

Tuesday - 24th Week - Year A - Luke 7:11-17


Tuesday - 24th Week - Year A - Luke 7:11-17

Monday - 24th Week -Year A - Luke 7:1-10


Monday - 24th Week -Year A - Luke 7:1-10

24th Sunday In Ordinary Time - Year A - Matthew 18:21-35


24th Sunday In Ordinary Time - Year A - Matthew 18:21-35


Saturday - 23rd Week - Year A - Luke 6:43-49


Saturday - 23rd Week - Year A - Luke 6:43-49

ARTICLE: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A


24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Sir 27.30-28.7; Rm 14.7-9; Mt 18.21-35


First Things First

It is rather comical when the primary things are made secondary. Victor Borge told about a couple going on vacation, standing in line waiting to check their bags at the airline counter. 

The husband said to the wife, "I wish we had brought the piano." 
The wife said, "Why? We've got sixteen bags already!" 
The husband said, "Yes, I know - but the tickets are on the piano!"

We the Churchy People

We need to forgive people and accept the differences. Very often we who pretend to be holy and holier we cannot accept that the other person is different than me. We want all to be just like as I have been. I wish praises, first seats in the Church, best preference, I want people to greet me even when I don’t even look at their faces, I want them to serve me accompany me and take care of me. I cannot bear a comment, a joke, or a homily that stirs my conscience and targets my weaknesses. Hence, I feel everything is bad, disgusting, because I don’t like it. That is where we speak of “forgiveness” seventy times seven. If we are not able to do such adjustments in our own family, community and society, what kind of disciples are we? We spend hours and hours before the Blessed Sacrament praying, but when it’s a question of being with others, I am the first person to cast a stone at others who are so called sinners. We need to learn the best lesson from Jesus, He lived with all kinds of people, all sorts of cultures, personalities, temperaments, characters, with all kinds of criticism, and am pretty sure he listened to pretty base language of the sinners too.. Do we come to church to find fault with others? Do we come to church to see the clothing of others? Or how others behave? Do we come to Church to hear things that are only pleasing to us? Well when someone says something unpleasant do I have the capacity to accept that person as Jesus accepted the tax collectors, prostitutes and the pagans and the publicans? If not, well all that I learn about forgiveness is only to hear and forget, which amounts to creating a lot of “spiritual garbage”.

Levis or Nothing

Long back there was an ad of Levis pants on TV. The words were magical: “Levis or Nothing”. I used to think of this ad and tried to find a sense in it in the following of Christ; I would coin the phrase as: “Forgiveness or Nothing”. In Christianity if there is lack of forgiveness; there is going to be nothing at all. Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.

Forgiveness is one of the hallmarks of Christian faith. Not only that we can receive forgiveness from God, but that we must grant it to others too. And we are constantly confronted by the need to forgive people because we all have people sin against us, in big things and in little things. From injustice in the workplace, or some sort of abuse in a friendship or marriage, down to the daily little slights we receive from others, like people pushing in front of us in the checkout line at the supermarket.

And we know that we can allow these things to build up, to make us bitter, to nurse these grievances until all that is left in our heart is a nasty festering mess of hatred. All because of what OTHER people have done to us, not because we've gone out to do wrong to others. And often it doesn't seem fair. After all, sometimes we don't want to forgive, what we want is JUSTICE.

As C.S. Lewis put it, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you". As N.T. Wright puts it, "failing to forgive one another isn't a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching"--to fail to forgive means to "cut off the branch we are sitting on". It is to deny the very basis of our own salvation - forgiveness of sin.

I will make all things New

Two peacemakers went to visit a group of Polish Christians ten years after the end of World War II. "Would you be willing to meet with other Christians from West Germany?" the peacemakers asked. "They want to ask forgiveness for what Germany did to Poland during the war and to begin to build a new relationship".

At first there was silence. Then one Pole spoke up. "What you are asking is impossible. Each stone of Warsaw is soaked in Polish blood! We cannot forgive!".

Before the group parted, however, they said the Lord's Prayer together. When they reached the words "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive . . . ", everyone stopped praying . Tension swelled in the room. The Pole who had spoken so vehemently said, "I must say yes to you. I could no more pray the Our Father, I could no longer call myself a Christian, if I refuse to forgive. Humanly speaking, I cannot do it, but God will give us strength!".

Eighteen months later the Polish and West German Christians met together in Vienna, establishing friendships that continue to this day.

Unique to Matthew

The concluding parable, one unique to Matthew, anchors the call for limitless forgiveness in a theological conviction (18.23-35). The story of the king who decides to settle his accounts has certain fantastic features that smack of popular storytelling. The monarch begins his accounting with a "slave," a member of the royal household, who owes a staggering amount, "ten thousand talents." Ten thousand was the highest denomination in ancient accounting and Josephus reports that the entire yearly revenue from the Jewish tax was only six hundred talents! When the slave is unable to pay this amount, the king threatens to punish the slave by having the hapless debtor and his entire family and possessions sold. The slave appeals for more time to pay off his debt even though this, too, seems an act of fruitless desperation. The king is deeply moved by the plight of the slave (the verb splangchnistheis-literally a stirring of one's intestines-implies a profound emotional reaction), and instead of simply giving him more time he decides to forgive the "loan" (curiously Matthew uses "loan" [Gk. daneion] rather than "debt" [Gk. opheilema] here).

Ungrateful Slave

Instead of being overwhelmed by his unbelievably good fortune, the slave goes out and acts brutally toward a fellow slave who owes him only "a hundred denarii" (by contrast, a single "talent" may have been equivalent to between six and ten thousand denarii!), by seizing the man by the throat, ignoring his plea for mercy, and casting him into prison. The rest of the slaves are greatly saddened by this display and report the merciless servant to the king. Judgment comes swiftly-the angry king condemns the slave for his lack of mercy and has him tortured and cast into prison until he should pay his original debt.

Reciprocal Act

This vivid story and its concluding saying illustrate Matthew's fundamental theology of reconciliation: "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (18.35). The driving motivation for unlimited forgiveness within the community is imitation of God's own way of relating to humanity. Because the slave was already forgiven a staggering and un-payable debt by his king, he should have lived his life in memory of that inaugural grace. Matthew asserts an identical motivation in 5.43-48 where love of enemies is motivated by the realization that the Father in heaven "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (v. 45). Likewise, Matthew's emphasis on the threat of judgment for those who do not forgive echoes previous teaching in the Sermon: The disciple prays for forgiveness of debt "as we also have forgiven our debtors"-a codicil of the prayer amplified in the sayings that are appended to the prayer: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (6.14-15). For Matthew, the divine will remains the guiding ethical principle for the community, a divine will proclaimed in Jesus' teachings and embodied in his actions.

Reluctance to Forgive

Part of our reluctance to forgive, I suspect, is due to this misunderstanding that the purpose of forgiveness is for the benefit of the one who has wronged us. We don't want the person who hurt us to gain anything, so instead of forgiving them, we harbour bitterness. But as Lewis Smedes points out though, "the first and often only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness". The Christians in Poland found that out.

Forgiveness, like all of the other commands of Jesus, is not meant to burden us--it is meant to liberate us. Forgiving others is for our own good.

Forgiveness in the Community

Forgiveness is also for the good of the church. There are a lot of hurting people in this community we live in. Are people staying away from church because they suspect we will make them feel worse? What would happen if we gained a reputation for being a loving and forgiving church? A church full of people addicted to forgiving one another?

Jesus reduced the mark of a Christian to this: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another"(Jn 13.35). Look around the sanctuary. Do you love everyone that is here? Maybe you don't even know the name of everyone here! Maybe you know some people very well, but you still struggle to love them. Perhaps some of these people rub you the wrong way . . . perhaps you are insisting on harbouring bitterness toward them. Have you forgiven them? Or do you simply "tolerate" them?

If love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian, how do we get there? Forgiveness. We learn how to love by forgiving those who have wronged us.

Forgiving and Loving

Let us resolve today to be known as a forgiving and loving church. Where do we start? How about coffee hour. Be good to one another. Love one another. Forgive one another. And do it over and over and over again. Because the more you forgive, the more you will see the benefits of it for yourself, and most importantly, for the Church of Jesus Christ

We are reminded in today’s parable that if we demand justice from others, then we can only expect justice ourselves. And because we, ourselves, have sinned against God, if it is justice we demand, then the justice we will receive, is that we will be condemned and “handed over to the torturers”(Mt 18.34). Because God does not give us justice, He gives us mercy.

Mercy isn’t always easy. Most of us go through some time in our lives when we find it almost impossible to forgive. Sometimes every emotion in our heart, and every bit of logic in our head, screams out at us saying that this person does not deserve our forgiveness. And the truth is that they don't deserve our forgiveness. But we also do not deserve the forgiveness that our heavenly Father gives us. And if we accept forgiveness from Him, how can we refuse to give it others? As we will soon pray in the Our Father. the forgiveness we ask for from God, depends on us forgiving the trespasses of those who trespass against us. God puts forgiveness before us as a moral obligation. We must forgive, or else we will not be forgiven.

But we know that must also forgive for our own sakes, because it is the only way to heal the bitterness that can otherwise possess our hearts. Even though mercy is difficult, not having mercy brings us even more difficulty, it leaves us with a wound in our heart that can eventually destroy us.

When forgiveness is especially hard, we’d do well to remember that it wasn’t easy for Christ either -it led Him to the Cross.

Sometimes, when forgiveness is particularly difficult, and it only comes with time, it has to be the result of a long slow process, of a long way of the cross. Sometimes we need to carry our injuries as part of our own Cross, in union with Our Lord, as we walk the way of the Cross, until we are able to join Him in forgiving, just as He forgave His executioners from the Cross.

With the grace that comes to us from the Cross and the example of Jesus on the Cross, we can find the strength to forgive others.

There is no peace except in the cross, no peace except in forgiveness. So let us think today of those times when we have failed to forgive others, and ask the Lord for the help and grace to be able to forgive as generously as He has forgiven us.

Practical Conclusion

“Hate the sin; love the sinner.”  Such a rule turns out to be the realistic response to sin and injustice.  For only in this way do we renounce our claim to vengeance—both personally and nationally—without abandoning our claim to truth and justice.  Yet putting this rule into practice depends on the experience of having been forgiven by Him to whom we owe everything.  Hence, the more a culture loses contact with this experience, the more it separates itself from wellspring of forgiveness, and the more it makes itself unfit for the “real world.”


Friday - 23rd Week Year A - Luke 19:25-27


Friday - 23rd Week Year A - Luke 19:25-27