Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2023
Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20-27; Matthew 20:1-6
24 September 2023
Building a new world that reflects the Gospel vision
Dear brothers and sisters,
This past week, people on welfare support such as Jobseekers, Youth Allowance and Age Pension received a modest payment increase. However, the Australian Council for Social Service said that the new rate still remains grossly inadequate and will leave people unable to meet basic living costs. They argued that the marginal rise in payments would do little to prevent widespread financial distress. In many ways, we no longer live in an egalitarian society. Increasingly, it is an unequal society or perhaps a socioeconomic meritocracy where “you get what you deserve,” and you “earn your own way.” It is a system that rewards people according to their abilities and achievements. The gap between the minimum wage earners and the big end of town salaries is another case in point.
God’s Word today provides a radical alternative system that defies the trickle-down and merit-based economy. It is one that is based on equity, inclusion, solidarity and preferential option for the poor. It was this system that the pioneering sisters and brothers endeavoured to emulate when they set up Catholic schools, orphanages, clinics, hospitals and other places of care for others. Not-for-profit, Gospel-centred learning communities grew out of this overarching ethos. Just as their support and advocacy for the women convicts at the female factory was part of their embodiment of the Beatitudes.
In the first reading, Isaiah envisions a new future for his people after the exile. He invites the Israelites to reject the competitive, greedy and self-centred practices which are prevalent in the Persian Empire where they have been captive. The essence of the covenant community is the love of neighbour that mirrors God’s everlasting love for them. Isaiah calls on his people to rise to the heights of divine generosity and compassion. In order for them to be the new vehicle of the kingdom, they are to adopt God’s ways which are above human ways.
Jesus expands on this notion of the divine generosity and compassion. In one of the most intriguing and confronting parables, he upsets the expectations and the commonly held views of the status-seeking and result-driven society. He makes it clear that the economy of the kingdom is not based on individual merit, competition, success and achievement. Rather, it is all about making sure that no one is lost or left behind. It is the ethic of care and concern for others that must set us apart from the world’s trickle-down and winners-take-all system.
In the parable, the owner of the vineyard goes into the market square and hires workers to work in his vineyard. He does this at different hours of the day and still he employs them, some as late as the 11th hour. At the end of the working day, the owner pays them their wages starting with the last arrival. These receive a generous day’s payment even though they have only worked for less than a day. Seeing this, the other workers are excited. Yet to their disappointment, they too get as much pay as the Johnny-come-latelies.
The way God works, as Isaiah says, is unlike our reward system that favours the strong and clever. It is really about paying attention to the weakest link in the chain. It is about taking care of the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable among us. Justice and equality are more important than fairness and entitlement.
Brothers and sisters,
Through the parable, we can see aspects of our own society. We are reminded of the faces of the most vulnerable including the lowest paid, those living on income support, those at risk of homelessness, and indigenous Australians. They are the asylum seekers, refugees and those who are easily expendable in the harsh calculus of the political system.
The owner of the vineyard feels real solidarity with these. He does not blame them for their inability to find work. He sympathises with them. He sees them as deserving a basic human dignity. He also sees the faces of their children, who need bread and clothing. We are challenged to see and act with the concern, generosity and compassion of the vineyard owner. We are called to create a society where the wellbeing of the most vulnerable is a matter of priority for everyone.
Jesus subverts merit-based mentality. He challenges the culture of entitlement and the survival of the fittest in which some are privileged while others are placed in an entrenched disadvantage. He makes it clear that following him has to do with an alternative mode of existence where the care for the dispossessed and disadvantaged are more important than our own prosperity, security and interest.
Let us pray that we have the courage to follow and measure up to God’s ways or as St Paul reminds us in the second reading, not to be unworthy of the Gospel of Christ. This week we also enter the Season of Creation that calls us to live out the demands of our stewardship of the earth and its finite resources. May our effort to build a new world of solidarity, harmony, sustainability and flourishing of all life forms be brought to fulfilment.