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This Sunday's Programme

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25th Sunday Year A

Sunday 24th September 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mt 20:1-16

After Jesus had warned his disciples about the danger of riches, he told them this parable.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like landowner who went, first thing in the morning, to the labour exchange to hire labourers to work in his vineyard. They agreed on the daily rate – $200, and he sent them into the vineyard. Going into town again, at 9 am, he noticed others standing around idle looking for work and he said to them: “Go out to my vineyard and I’ll pay you what is just.” Well, he had a few trips into town that day and each time he noticed workers waiting to be hired – at noon, at 3 pm – and he sent them out into the vineyard. Even at 5 pm when he saw a group standing idle he asked “Why have you been hanging around all day?” They said: “Because no- one has given us work.” He said “Well, go out to my vineyard and I’ll pay you justly.”

When evening came, the landowner called his supervisor and said: “Call in the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the ones who came last.” When they came in, the ones who had started at 5 pm were paid $200. When the ones who started first came up, they expected a bonus, but they too got $200. They resented this and complained: “What’s this? How come you gave the people who came last the same amount as us? We slaved all day in this heat?”
But he answered one of them: ‘Listen mate, I haven’t been unjust to you. Didn’t we agree on $200? Take what is yours and go. I chose to give the ones who came last the same as you. Aren’t I allowed to do what I like with my own money? Why let envy twist your heart because I chose to be generous?”

So the last ones will be first and the first last. Many are called, but few are chosen.’

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 144: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18

Each and every day I will bless you, God.
From eternity to eternity praise of your name will fulfil me.
Glorious God, beyond our praise,
Great beyond compare.

God is gracious, compassionate,
patient, abundant in mercy.
Good to all and each, God’s tenderness and love
embraces all creation.

God’s ways are just,
love is the essence of God’s deeds.
God comes right up close to those calling out,
enters into their hearts to hear their pleas.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Lord our God, in our pursuit of justice we often close our hearts to another’s need. Make us conscious of your mercy towards us, that in our dealings with others we may allow your generosity to temper our desire for justice. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

Traditionally this Sunday’s parable is named ‘The Workers in the Vineyard’ but the story really be should be named ‘The Generous Employer’ as the story revolves around his actions and the workers have their role as they are hired and as they are paid.

The Gospel follows after the story of the Rich Young Man and a discussion of the dangers of riches. That man, having faithfully followed all the commandments, came to ask Jesus what he should do to be perfect. When Jesus invited him to sell all his possessions and follow after him, the man went away sad. Jesus went on to assert the dangers of riches and the generosity that God would show to those who leave all to follow him. Seen in that light, the point of the parable becomes clear: the utter generosity of God and the danger that riches, even modest riches, pose in making us mean-hearted.

Fundamentally the story is fairly straightforward. The strange elements, i.e. the hiring of workers at 5 pm and the payment of this group first, set up the tension of the story. The payment made to each is the usual daily wage – the amount a family would need to live on. It is also the amount that the first workers agreed on. This highlights that at no point was the farmer unjust. Rather he was just _and_ generous. His justice was according to the norms of society but his generosity was on his own terms. The first workers are rude and abrupt when they challenge the farmer yet he remains polite when he challenges back: ‘why let envy twist your heart because I chose to be generous.’

The point of this parable is to provoke us: where do our sympathies lie? About the only two groups of people who would _not_ be disturbed by his largesse would be saints and people who, having known situations of desperate poverty, have also experienced largesse from generous-hearted people when it was least expected. Before God, we are all beggars. When we truly understand the generosity of God to us we will, in turn, be generous.

 

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

The core on this parable turns on the question: ‘Why be envious because I am generous?’ Envy is a frightful habit of the heart. It is not the same as jealousy. Jealousy makes us fear that we will lose something that we love: spouse, children, possessions. It makes us hold them too tightly. Envy resents the good another has simply because they have it and we do not. In our delusion, another’s good fortune spoils our happiness. Envy breeds resentment and together they make us greedy. I recently read of a study that showed that a significant component of what many people thought would make them happy was having a bit more than people around them…but when they do get that bit more, they then notice others who have a bit more than them and the cycle of envy, resentment and greed goes on with the people never achieving what they wanted: happiness.

We are made for happiness and that is what God desires for us. Our misplaced needs and unrealistic desires, which are fed by the clever and creative advertising that saturates our world, undermine the habits of the heart that will truly give us happiness and contentment.

Central to the pursuit of happiness is recognition of the generosity of God towards us. The old-fashioned advice to count one’s blessings is a truly profound and an amazingly effective means in transforming our outlook on life. Yes, at times we experience tragedy but that isn’t what stops us being happy. What stops us is not appreciating what we have already received. As we become grateful, we become generous. Only when we are generous, like our generous God, will the cankers of envy and resentment be overcome within our hearts.

 

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Imagine those first comers, the ones who had worked hard all day in the severe heat, saying, ‘Isn’t it fantastic that the landowner gave the men who came late a full day’s pay? We were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough for their families’ needs. We realise that some of them are no-hopers but we can go home happy and content now because we all have enough for our needs.’ Who on earth would think like that? Saints – and isn’t that what we are called to be.

Imagine how our society would operate if the genuine good of all was the true guiding principle for the way we treated all, especially the marginalised.
Imagine:

– If we truly sought the rehabilitation of prisoners and the real protection of society, we wouldn’t talk in terms ‘paying a debt to society’ or of ‘punishment’ but rather of being rehabilitated to live well in society…then if violent offenders didn’t choose to be rehabilitated then they choose not to live in society.
– If we truly sought to give the disabled a meaningful involvement in the community, then we would offer work they could do even if it meant we had to be patient and adapt to their needs. Yes, you did read that right, we adapt to their needs and stop expecting them to live up to our abilities.
– If we truly saw the need of asylum seekers to be integrated members of society, then we would endeavour to bring them into our local community with the offer of work.

Yes, I admit the above sounds idealistic but this is our calling as Christians. We are the recipients of the largesse of a generous God and God seriously expects us to be God-like in our generosity. St Catherine of Siena said ‘You have only truly received a gift from God when you have given it away.’

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

–  Workers in the Vineyeard from Codex Aureus of Echternach.

– This Illustration  by Matthaeus Merian the Eldershows the landowner sending workers into the vineyard.

– Rembrandt’s Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard

– In this print by John Everett Millias note the anger of the men in the group.  The landowner looks like he is about to be physically attacked.

The Labourers in the Vineyard_ by Eugène Burnand.

Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard   by Jacob Xavery. Note the horror and anger in the red-coated worker’s face.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

God’s generosity to us is with us at all times yet we can be so caught up in our own affairs that we fail to see it. During this week, mull on how God has been generous to you…
– with the people you love,
– with the things you can do,
– with the creation that surrounds you,
– with the opportunities and challenges that have come your way,
– even with the suffering and failure you have known.
Fill your heart with this knowledge so that you can go through the week with a full and generous heart.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

God’s generosity has surrounds us in so many ways, even in the midst of suffering, pain and failure. Having experienced that generosity, we are to allow it to pass through us to others.

Rest in the love of your God.

Consider the manifold ways God has been generous to you: in the people who love you, in the opportunities that have come your way, in the gifts and talents you have received, in the creation that surrounds you. Continue to meditate on this generosity till you have a full and generous heart.

Now consider some relationship where you know you are mean-spirited towards another person. Conscious of the generosity God has shown you, how can you be generous to that person? What kind words could you say, what loving gestures could you do? As you struggle with your attitude, imagine that you are the means by which God wants the divine generosity to flow into that person’s life. How would God use you?

Rest in the love of your God.