By Archbishop Francesco Follo

Roman Rite – XXV Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 20 September 20, 2020

Is 55.6-9; Ps 145; Phil1.20c-27a; Mt 20: 1-16.

Ambrosian Rite – IV Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor

Is 63.19b-64.10; Ps 76; Heb 9: 1-12; Jn 6: 24-35

1) God never tires of calling.

Today’s Gospel parable invites us to learn to think and act “out of fidelity to the One who never tires of going over the streets of men, up to the eleventh hour, to propose his invitation of love” (cf. Pope Francis) and receive Christ as “money”, the reward for our work in the Father’s vineyard.

With the parable of the owner of the vineyard who at various hours of the day calls workers to work in his vineyard and in the evening gives everyone the same pay, a denarius[1], arousing the protest of those of the first hour, Jesus helps us to enter into the logic of God whose way of thinking is truly different from ours: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, your ways are not my ways. Oracle of the Lord “(Is 55, 8).[2]

This parable is consoling from the very beginning because it assures us that humanity is the vineyard, the passion, the favorite field of God, who takes care of it with care, going out five times[3] to look for workers.

The critical point of the story lies in the moment of the pay: God, the Lord of the vineyard begins with the last, the workers of the eleventh hour, and to those who have worked only one hour he gives a salary equal to the one agreed with those who had sweated for twelve hours.

The workers hired first, instead of being happy to have worked for a good Master, are sorry for this apparent injustice, which instead is a more generous justice. Indeed, He gives everyone what He promised, but recognizes to those who arrived last but worked with equal hope, the right to enjoy, like the others, the Kingdom for which they worked until sunset.

If the first teaching of the parable is to remember that God is concerned with humanity, represented by the vineyard, the second is that being called to this collaboration is already the first reward: to be able to work in the Lord’s vineyard, to put oneself in his service and collaborating in his work, constitute an inestimable prize that repays every effort. Of course, this teaching is understood only by those who love the Lord and his Kingdom. On the other hand, those who work there solely for their own interest will never realize the value of this great treasure.

The money mentioned in the parable is not so much the currency that allows us to live for a day but God who gives himself to make us live in the day without end. God cannot give less than everything, acting with justice and charity that only for us men are two different realities. We men carefully distinguish a just act from an act of love. Just for us is “what is due to the other” while merciful is what is given out of goodness, and one thing seems to exclude the other. But for God it is not so: in him, justice and charity coincide; there is no just action that is not also an act of mercy and forgiveness and, at the same time, there is no merciful action that is not perfectly just.

Our logic is extremely far from God’s logic. God’s way of acting is quite different from ours and invites us to grasp and observe the true spirit of the law, to give it fulfillment in the love for those in need. “The fulfillment of the law is love”, writes St Paul (Rom 13:10): our justice will be even more perfect the more it is animated by the love for God and for our brothers.

2) The vocation to work in the vineyard of God.

Under the pretext of affirming our human and limited concept of justice, we risk challenging God’s goodness and mercy. We risk being envious because he is good. If we think back to the parable of the prodigal son, we see that something similar happens when the merciful Father welcomes with open arms the reckless son who has dissipated in the worst way all the inheritance he had demanded and organizes a great feast that arouses the indignation and envy of the elder brother. This son also unjustly considers himself the victim of an obvious but, in reality only apparent injustice.

God in his infinite goodness gives himself and all his goods not in an arbitrary way, but according to the logic of his infinite love. He invites, he calls everybody, and, if the first called have responded with full availability and sincere love to his invitation, they have had the joy of working for God for a long time.

I think, therefore, that the profound theme of the parable of the workers called to work in the vineyard is “salvation”, which is a gift that God, with large hands, reserves for everyone and that everyone can welcome even at the last hour. In this regard, it comes to mind the moving episode narrated by the evangelist Luke about the “good thief” crucified next to Jesus on Golgotha. The invitation was manifested as a merciful initiative of God to him who, breathing his last, said: “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom”. From the mouth of the Redeemer, condemned to death on the cross, came the promise for him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23: 42-43).

To proclaim the Gospel, Jesus Christ did not use the criterion of merit or reciprocity: he gave and forgave. He did not donate anything, but he offered himself. He, who had praised the widow who had given all she had (cf. Lk 21: 4), gave all that he was, his life, so that all humanity might live of it.

To proclaim the Gospel, we must respond humbly but promptly to the call of the Lord who invites us to be industrious workers in His vineyard.

Then, this question immediately arises: “How?”. If we cultivate the seed of faith, through participation in the sacraments, we will be able to dedicate our existence to the mission to which Christ calls us all, witnessing with our lives that salvation is not a question of economic interests, nor does it arise from a relationship between employer and employee. This collaboration takes place starting from the only, gratuitous benevolence of God, who does not use the criterion of “do ut des” (= I give you so that you give me), but of “do ut es”, that is, “I give you because you may be”.

All of us Christians must use this method of Christ and of a life given to God without calculation and without measure. The consecrated Virgins in the world are witnesses of this. With the offering of themselves to Christ, they show that the vineyard is not only the people of God but Christ himself, to whom one can cling like the branches to the vine. Let us often repeat these words of Jesus: “I am the true vine and my Father is the winemaker (…). Remain in me and I in you” (Jn 15: 1-4). These simple words reveal to us the mysterious communion that binds the Lord and the disciples, Christ, and the baptized.

By living united to Christ and to their brothers, these women show a living and life-giving communion in which Christians do not belong to themselves but are of Christ, as the branches are of the vine.

These consecrated women are witnesses “of a different way of doing, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world. We are talking about an eschatological gaze, of the values ​​of the Kingdom embodied here, on this earth. It is about leaving everything to follow the Lord. No, I do not mean ‘radical’. Radicality is not only of the religious: it is required of all. But the religious follow the Lord, in a prophetic way. I expect this testimony from you. Religious must be men and women capable of waking up the world” (Pope Francis). The consecrated women are women who with the prophecy of their life proclaim the spirit of the Gospel. And it is because that their life may always be a prophecy that, extending his hands over them, the Bishop prays: “Grant, Lord, your support and your protection to those who stand before You and who in their consecration expect an increase of hope and strength upon them (Ritual of the Consecration of the Virgins, n. 64).

Patristic Reading

St Catherine of Siena

Dialogue on Providence, n 165

How God does not reward merit according to the labor of the obedient,

Nor according to the length of time which it takes, but according to the love and promptitude of the truly obedient; and of the miracles which God has performed by means of this virtue; and of discretion in obedience, and of the works and reward of the truly obedient man.

“I have appointed you all to labor in the vineyard of obedience in different ways, and every man will receive a price, according to the measure of his love, and not according to the work he does, or the length of time for which he works, that is to say, that he who comes early will not have more than he who comes late, as My Truth told you in the holy gospel by the example of those who were standing idle and were sent by the lord of the vineyard to labor; for he gave as much to those who went at dawn, as to those who went at prime or at tierce, and those who went at sext, at none, and even at vespers, received as much as the first: My Truth showing you in this way that you are rewarded not according to time or work, but according to the measure of your love. Many are placed in their childhood to work in the vineyard; some enter later in life, and others in old age; sometimes these latter labor with such fire of love, seeing the shortness of the time (Mt 20,6), that they rejoin those who entered in their childhood, because they have advanced but slowly. By love of obedience, then, does the soul receive her merit, filling the vessel of her heart in Me, the Sea Pacific. There are many whose obedience is so prompt, and has become, as it were, so incarnate in them, that not only do they wish to see reason in what is ordered them by their superior, but they hardly wait until the word is out of his mouth, for with the light of faith they understand his intention (Mt 20,1-16). Wherefore the truly obedient man obeys rather the intention than the word, judging that the will of his superioris fixed in My will, and that therefore his command comes from My dispensation, and from My will, wherefore I say to you that he rather obeys the intention than the word. He also obeys the word, having first spiritually obeyed in affection his superior’s will, seeing and judging it by the light of faith to be Mine. This is well shown in the lives of the fathers, where you read of a religious, who at once obeyed in his affection the command of his superior, commencing to write the letter o, though he had not space to finish it; wherefore to show how pleasing his prompt obedience was to Me, My clemency gave him a proof by writing the other half of the letter in gold. This glorious virtue is so pleasing to Me, that to no other have I given so many miraculous signs and testimonies, for it proceeds from the height of faith. “In order to show how pleasing it is to Me, the earth obeys this virtue, the animals obey it– water grows solid under the feet of the obedient man. And as for the obedience of the earth, you remember having read of that disciple who, being given a dry stick by his abbot, and being ordered by obedience to plant it in the earth and water it every day, did not proceed to ask how could it possibly do any good, but, without inquiring about possibilities, he fulfilled his obedience in such virtue of faith that the dry wood brought forth leave sand fruits, as a sign that that soul had risen from the dryness of disobedience, and, covered by the green leaves of virtue, had brought forth the fruit of obedience, wherefore the fruit of this tree was called by the holy fathers the fruit of obedience. You will also find that animals obey the obedient man; for a certain disciple, commanded by obedience, through his purity and virtue caught a dragon and brought it to his abbot, but the abbot, like a true physician of the soul, in order that he might not be tossed about by the wind of vainglory, and to prove his patience, sent him away with harsh words, saying: ‘Beast that you are, you have brought along another beast with yourself.’ And as to fire, you have read in the holy scripture that many were placed in the fire, rather than transgress My obedience, and, at My command were not hurt by it. This was the case of the three children, who remained happily in the furnace — and of many others of whom I could tell you. The water bore up Maurus who had been sent by obedience to save a drowning disciple; he did not think of himself, but thought only with the light of faith of how to fulfill the command of his superior, and so walked upon the water as if he had been on dry land, and so saved the disciple. In everything, if you open the eye of the intellect, you will find shown forth the excellence of this virtue. Everything else should be abandoned for the sake of obedience. If you were lifted up in such contemplation and union of mind with Me, that your body was raised from the earth, and an obedience were imposed on you (speaking generally, and not in a particular case, which cannot give a law), you ought, if possible, to force yourself to arise, to fulfill the obedience imposed on you, though you should never leave prayer, except for necessity, charity, or obedience. I say this in order that you may see how prompt I wish the obedience of My servants to be, and how pleasing it is to Me. Everything that the obedient man does is a source of merit to him. If he eats, obedience is his food; if he sleeps, his dreams are obedience; if he walks, if he remains still, if he fasts, if he watches – everything that he does is obedience; if he serves his neighbor, it is obedience that he serves. How is he guided in the choir, in the refectory, or his cell? By obedience, with the light of the most holy faith, with which light he has slain and cast from him his humbled self-will, and abandoned himself with self-hatred to the arms of his order and superior. Reposing with obedience in the ship, allowing himself to be guided by his superior, he has navigated the tempestuous sea of this life, with calm and serene mind and tranquility of heart, because obedience and faith have taken all darkness from him; he remains strong and firm, having lost all weakness and fear, having destroyed his own will, from which comes all feebleness and disordinate fear. And what is the food of this spouse obedience? She eats knowledge of self, and of Me, knowing her own non- existence and sinfulness, and knowing that I am He who is, thus eating and knowing My Truth in the Incarnate Word. What does she drink? The Blood, in which the Word has shown her, My Truth, and the ineffable love which I have for her, and the obedience imposed on Him by Me, His Eternal Father, so she becomes inebriated with the love and obedience of the Word, losing herself and her own opinions and knowledge, and possessing Me by grace, tasting Me by love, with the light of faith in holy obedience. “The obedient man speaks words of peace all his life, and at his death receives that which was promised him at his death by his superior, that is to say, eternal life, the vision of peace, and of supreme and eternal tranquility rest, the inestimable good which no one can value or understand, for, being the infinite good, it cannot be understood by anything smaller than itself, like a vessel, which, dipped into the sea, does not comprehend the whole sea, but only that quantity which it contains. The sea alone contains itself. So, I, the Sea Pacific, am He who alone can comprehend and value Myself truly. And in My own estimate and comprehension of Myself I rejoice, and this joy, the good which I have in Myself, I share with you, and with all, according to the measure of each. I do not leave you empty, but fill you, giving you perfect beatitude; each man comprehends and knows My goodness in the measure in which it is given to him. Thus, then, the obedient man, with the light of faith in the truth burning in the furnace of charity, anointed with humility, inebriated with the Blood, in company with his sister patience, and with self- contempt, fortitude, and enduring perseverance, and all the other virtues (that is, with the fruit of the virtues), receives his end from Me, his Creator.”

[1] For a family one denarius was enough for a day living. The boss does not think only of the workers, but also of those who they have at home. He knows that if a man does not work for a day, the whole family does not eat.

If those who worked only an hour receive as much as was agreed with the first workers, the ones who were hired at six in the morning, worked eleven hours, a whole day, and endured the weight of the day and the heat expected a recompense at least three times higher . But when they see that they are paid one denarius (on the other hand that was the agreement), they vent their disappointment and discontent because they were certain “that they would receive more” (Mt 20,10) and believe the master unfair.

Indeed, the Gospel says that they murmur (Mt 20:11): “But how? Do you treat those who have worked for only one hour like us?”. Take note that they murmur: they do not tell him their dissatisfaction openly, they speak low, behind his back. It is typical of those who murmur, of those who always have something to say” behind somebody’s back”.

Jesus targets the foreman who shouts and protests more and replies: “Friend (literally” my dear colleague “with a good-natured and reproachful tone), did we not agree on this?”. “Isn’t that what we established?” “Yes!”. “Am I taking away from you something of what was said?”: “No!”. “So, what do you want from me? Take what is yours and go. Can’t I do what I want with my things?”. But was the boss unfair or was he generous? The boss is not unfair (what he had agreed upon is what was given), but generous. The owner takes nothing away from anyone, on the contrary.

[2] First reading of this Sunday’s Mass. The parable of the workers called to the vineyard is the Gospel.

[3] The hours of the day called in the ancient way (third, sixth, ninth hour …) also make us think of the prayer of the Church distributed throughout the day. This too is a daily call; this too is a necessary and capable work of tilling the vineyard so that the fruits ripen.

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