Pondering Today's Mass Readings

“The Workers in the Vineyard” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube

The Gospel reading is one of my favorite of Jesus’ parables, taken from Mt 20:1-16a:Jesus told his disciples this parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

A pretty humbling story that — in a way slightly similar to the story of the prodigal son — reminds us that God’s judgment, mercy and salvation are His to dispense, and that it is not our place to worry either about whether we are first or last through the gate, or to waste time imagining we know the state of another’s soul and where Eternity will take them. A heart can be turned in a moment — perhaps in that very millesecond between life and death — so none of us may assume anything.

Abigail Benjamin shares a relevant story about a family member:

And my Father-in-law was mad at God. Very mad at God.

At age 73, he caught a rare form of blood cancer that for some reason was ubiquitous in his small town. A victim of an environmental toxicant, perhaps? He was dead within 12 weeks of his diagnosis.

Yet something amazing happened to my Father-in-law during those last 12 weeks. His twin brother, the favored one–the one that got to stay with Mom while he was sent far from home–prayed for him. His son prayed for him. The twin brother called his little known nephew, my husband. These men prayed together on the phone for my Father-in-law’s conversion.

The Gospel is presaged
(and reinforced) in the first reading, from Is 55:6-9.

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Better to assume — since none are perfect, save Christ — that all of our tryings fall short; it’s a humbling reminder of our dependence upon grace, and mercy, and our accountability to Justice. Makes me shiver to know all I have to answer for.

Which leads me to this very wise and funny piece by Betty Duffy:

At last it was my turn. The man before me came out of the confessional, and the priest followed right behind him explaining that he had to prepare for Mass, but if the rest of us could stick around, he could finish hearing Confessions after Mass.
I slunk to a nearby pew, quietly raging at all the people who went before me in line. Do they think Confession is therapy or something? And the priest—didn’t he see how much effort I had put into even being there? What if I really couldn’t stick around until after Mass? He could have heard just one more—as long as it was mine.

I set the baby down, letting him wander all over the pew, touching people nearby. That’s the price you pay for making me wait—the attack of my baby.

Did I mention that Adoration was going on all this time? That I was in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament throughout my harrowing wait?

Only when the bells rang for Benediction did a little alarm sound in my brain that perhaps before I bend the priest’s ear with my oh-so-humble Confession, I should address the air of entitlement I have acquired towards the Sacrament itself—towards all the Sacraments.

Yeah, you’ll want to read that whole thing. Very disarming, is Ms. Duffy!

Also: It’s Catechetical Sunday!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Resentments to the “Other” Saved

    I am so glad for the Gospel citation and reflections, Anchoress. I was struck by this reading at last night’s vigil mass.

    It definitely brought to mind the parable of the prodigal son, but then a real life instance sprang to m ind and I was lost in contemplation while Monsignor read the readings.

    Lately in our SF, CA Archdiocese there was a grand ceremony for all those who wished to have their marriages regularized/blessed. Many had only had civil marriage rites performed and after proper catechesis, made the choice to be properly married in God’s eyes.

    The Cathedral of the Assumption was the place and many couples arrived in white wedding gowns and black tuxedos. My mother told me that when she was at her daily coffee clatch with the other retired church ladies, there was quite a scandal over the “newly married” wearing white wedding gowns. The other elders resented the women wearing the ceremonial white of the bride.

    Well, while hearing this story, something rather unexpected happened to me. I burst into tears and began quoting the story of the Prodigal Son defending these couples. I was so sad to hear this less than welcoming spirit. Did not the father of the prodigal put on a new robe on him, give him his ring and give a large celebration? How was this any different? Our Archbishop was welcoming home these prodigal sons and daughters with arms open wide, organ playing, flowers adorning the sanctuary and they in their best ceremonial garb. Many unions became sacramental that day. Perhaps many souls saved and children influenced toward the faith.

    While I can understand mixed feelings about something like this, I was truly awakened to the resentment of the day-long vineyard workers and Elder Son. In theory we want them all saved but when it comes to pass, many find only hot pride in their hearts toward these less fortunate of the flock. I myself am guilty of the Elder Son in me too. I think we’re all a mix of the Father, the Elder Son and the Prodigal.

    Great post. Thanks for making us think.

  • Dan 2

    Just returned from mass. It is interesting to note that no one ever mentions the role, the support Jesus gives to property rights.

    “Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
    Are you envious because I am generous?’”

    It is my field, my money to give as I choose, my choice to be generous or not.

    In fact today most people are full of envy and wish to take our money to redistribute as they think it should be.

    But I have another question, that came from mass today. For the second week we talked of forgiveness. And it seems to me there are two different standards for forgiveness.

    When I come to the God for forgiveness, there is a process. I must ask for forgiveness, I must admit that I have done wrong, that I wish to change and I am willing to do penance. This seems wise to me.

    Yet I am asked to give forgiveness to terrorists and other evil people, without them going thru the same process. They do not have to admit they were wrong, that they wish to change and exhibit a willingness for penance.

    Why? Am I somehow more spiritual than God, that I can forgive before they ask, before they know they have sinned?

    Anyone have an answer?

  • http://rau.3littlefoxes.com LindaF

    Don’t know the answer, but did anyone else notice the Internet reference?


  • Mutnodjmet

    Dan 2: I had the same initial thoughts as you did during the homily today. You have given me additional things to consider on my walk today. God bless you.

  • Briggs

    Dan 2-

    Perhaps our requirement to forgive the unrepentant is practice of love and humility, both beyond our means humanly speaking, which the Father utilizes to bring us near Himself.

    If by the Spirit we are being transformed into the image of Christ, this would be an evidence – the essence of one who is content with her or his wage, having borne the heat of the day.

  • ThirstforTruth

    I am not sure this completely answers Dan 2′s question but I think the idea of unconditional forgiveness( as in the Our Father) is a goal..to adopt a forgiving spirit towards one another in recognition that we all are sinners and fall short. In a specific case where one has been wronged..and the person commintting the offense is either unaware or unwilling to ask for pardon, one can lift it all to the Lord so that one does not harbor animosity or worse in their heart. I have done this many times in my life…where I have been wronged by someone..or at least felt I had been wronged. The situation is such that there is no expressed reqret or admission of quilt from the other person…perhaps they admit to no wrong. One still can free oneself from harboring ill feelings by lifting it to the Lord and letting Him in His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy resolve the issue. Thus you are admitting God is the Great and Only Arbiter…and emptying yourself of any bad feelings
    toward another.

  • Margaret

    I greatly appreciate this question about forgiveness, Dan 2, because I also wonder about forgiving people who do not ask for forgiveness.

    ThirstforTruth, you have some helpful comments and I thank you for them. However, I wonder how one then treats the offender? How does one avoid the appearance of condoning bad behavior/action?

  • Dan

    Dan2 ‘s theology is wrong.

    God forgives always. I have to ask and accept. It is me that does the asking for forgiveness, and it is freely given.

    We are to forgive, and we would be failing in holiness if we didn’t forgive as God’s freely forgives us. The posture of the penitent is not my responsibility when it comes to providing forgiveness; itbis however my responsibility when it comes to my own penitential posture.

    It has to do with what I am supposed to do, not what I am supposed to get. Forgiveness will not give me the satisfaction of human justice, whichnin many conservative Catholic conversations begins to sound like a self-righteous form of karma.

  • kevin

    I think in this passage Jesus was really addressing the Jews of his day and future, who don’t accept that gentiles are welcome at God’s table. This is not the parable of the Prodigal Son

  • TeaPot562

    A reflection that may help Dan2:

    When a person carries a grudge, envy or resentment, he/she will have physical effects. These can include higher blood pressure, tensing of certain muscles leading to headaches, possibly ulcers. When I sincerely forgive (ask Jesus to help me forgive) and LET GO of the hurt or offense against me, I am also enabling my physical bodies to let go of the effects of the resentment, envy, etc.
    Resentment, envy and hate, unless acted out, do not disturb the object of the destructive emotion; but they DO have the ability to cause disease or injury in the person keeping the destructive emotion. God will judge and/or have mercy on the person who offended me. I need to forgive and let go for my own health.

  • Dan 2

    I have thought on this and asked a few people.
    It seems to me there might be another word needed. Some seem to use the word forgiveness, as in not holding resentment. I can do that, I can let it go.

    But I guess my question is the process of forgiveness, or is it the process of absolution, that requires steps. You cannot proceed to step 2 until step 1 is taken care of. And it requires two people, if only one person participates, you can only do half the job.

    So what would we call the process where the wrong-doer comes and says they did wrong, and the asks for … what? absolution, forgiveness, I am not sure what, but if they don’t ask it is wrong of me to jump in and give it.

    That requires two people, it requires step 1, ask.

    And as I think about it, even if I let it go and have no resentment, if the ex girlfriend or the terrorist doesn’t “let it go” regardless of what I do we are still tied together. And I could potentially be in danger, she comes to destroy my car, my life.

    Seems to me there are some things that take two people, well besides making babies. And we often use the word for forgiveness for that process, if that isn’t the right word what is it?

  • Dan 2

    Second it reminds me of the relationship with Jesus, He stands at the door and knocks. He does not come in until there is a response, it takes two. Requiring two people participate in the process- whatever that process is – requires a lot of patience and faith.

    Think about how long Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waits, knocks again, waits …. knocks.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    ((((Why? Am I somehow more spiritual than God, that I can forgive before they ask, before they know they have sinned?

    Anyone have an answer?))))

    How can any body know God Our Heavenly Father? I think that “IT” would be a LOT easier to know your weakest strongest loving cell incharge of each day who think they truly are God but are only playing god with each other.

    If we could have each and every one of humanity’ spiritual reality cells working together and who may and/or may not have worked during their eternity in “ONE” of God’s Vineyards at one time or another, we still could not come close to figuring HIM, HIM, HIM out cause He’s All LOVE and long story short most people when they team UP in reality usually find HIM and HIS (LOVE) to be a real push over cause HE’S just too nice of a Spiritual and Reality Guy for the likes of U>S (usual sinners) and only “True Loving Faith” might be able to understand a little of “IT”.

    As you probably might have guessed Anchoress, I could go on and on, on fire chasing my dog tail of 1946 around and still not know what I’m really talking about so I better just close for NOW if you know what I mean?

    P.S. The only reason I wrote this is because when I clicked your blog, believe “IT” or not my computer crashed and I told me, myself and I while rebooting that if I made “IT” back to your blog, I would write a little something and for what “IT” is worth, here “IT” is!

    I hear ya! There’s nothing wrong with you Victor, “IT” is the rest of The Wor(L)d.

    Your think? :)


  • Barbara Peters

    Jesus forgave His killers and asked the Father to forgive them. His killers never asked Him for forgiveness.
    I have been reading Father Barron’s new book “Catholicism”. I bought it largely on Elizabeth’s recommedation in a post a few weeks ago. I agree with Elizabeth – it is a book every Catholic should read. I think it answers some of the questions here.

  • Dan

    Regardless of any need for response-God always invites and is inviting. We are to mirror that arrangement in our lives. Awaiting the desire for forgiveness of the other is not our job. Our job is to forgive. Nothing less. We don’t insist on certain milestones be made in forgiveness before we move on.

    About the story and those Jesus was addressing: Jesus was addressing us all. Matthew however was writing these stories and shaping them for his post-Temple Jewish convert audience in Syria who were quite well-to-do and likely with a lot of residual mythos of the prevailing culture-things like “tit-for-tat forgiveness” and presumptions of other’s state of sin bearing on their state of life (such as poverty marking someone for bearing the sins of themselves or their family). Matthew needed to remind his wealthy audience to roll-back their presumptions of “earning one’s way” into the Kingdom, with a wild, world-changing reminder of God’s lavish grace.

  • Barbara Peters

    As a parent, I forgive my child even before my child asks for forgiveness – even as they are committing the disobedience. My forgivness is there always – they just have to realize that and be ready to accept it. Same as the father of the prodigal son. He was always waiting and rushed out to meet his son when he saw him coming home. He didnt wait for the son to ask for forgiveness. I believe that is what we are asked to do- to be forgiving to those who hurt us even before they ask for forgiveness. That is a very hard teaching but Jesus helps us love the way He commanded us to love. I have found that when I think of how much Jesus loves the person I am angry at and try to join my love of Jesus to that love, forgiveness starts to come a little easier and gets easier over time.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Amen Barbara!

    Hey Women too!

    Had to put your two sense, I mean two two cents in sinner vic?

    Hey what can I say, I’m Canadian Hey! :)


  • Joseph

    I take some solace in the parable of the workers in the vineyard when I think about those who die under circumstances that appear at least on paper to be dubious, or in sin. For instance, people who commit suicide, or people who have left the Church, or who have never accepted Christ. We should avoid the cardinal sin pf presuming upon God’s mercy, but we should also remember that with God all things are possible. God is not bound by mandatory sentencing laws.