Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Weekly Reflections

Weekly Reflection

Gospel Reflection For Sunday 24th September 2023

Gospel Reflection for Sunday September 24th 2023 | 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I am reminded this week of the saying that “history is written by the victors.” When reading the Gospel of today, particularly the last sentence, “…the last shall be first, and the first, last.”, I felt very strongly that it had to be “the last” who remembered, savoured and retold this story, while “the first” had very good reason to want to forget it!

For the workers who were last into the vineyard, and worked less than an hour, their pay of one denarius spoke of a super-generous and kind landowner. I can imagine one of these workers sharing a cup of wine or a tankard of beer with his friends that night regaling them with ever more exaggerated tales of the generosity of the owner and the fury of those who had worked all day and got the same wage. Long after the event this landowner would still be a hero to “the last”.

But just try to imagine one of those who were first into the field and who had worked twelve hours doing, as the Gospel tells us, “…a heavy day’s work, in all the heat.” I can see him going into the family kitchen, throwing his single denarius on the table, and telling his wife, in a very non-child-friendly way, of the meanness of the landowner and the huge injustice perpetrated against them. “He said he was being generous, paying us what we agreed, and choosing to give the others the same for a tiny amount of work. Call that generous? Why couldn’t he be generous to us too? We worked longer and harder…so give us twelve denarii and them one denarius! That’s generous. What he is, is a mean, unjust……. (finish the sentence yourself!!).

Luckily, what Jesus is telling is a story – a parable – and not something that ever happened. If it did, the landowner would be lynched and the vineyard probably destroyed in the ensuing battle between “the first” and “the last”!

Without doubt, this parable is absolute genius, telling a story in language everyone can understand and leaving us with many preconceived ideas to reassess, and lots more to reflect upon.

As with all parables it relies on exaggeration and caricature to make its point. The landowner may well be generous, but he is also, at best, foolish, inviting upon himself the “grumbling” and anger that followed. Likewise, the repeated invitation of workers to go into the vineyard at the “third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hour” serves only to make us aware just how unfair this man actually is. Lest we forget it, we are reminded again, and again, and again, and again!

It’s not hugely important to the meaning of this Gospel, but as one who seeks to be with Jesus on the trails he followed day after day, it is a delight to witness his ability as a story-teller. No wonder the authorities and powerful became jealous and afraid of his growing popularity and his message of a coming ‘Kingdom of God (or Heaven)’ which was utterly different to anything they expected or wanted.

The whole point of this parable is that it is so utterly unfair! The landowner’s argument that he is not being unfair or unjust because the ‘first’ into the vineyard agreed to one denarius for their day’s work and his arrangement with the others was for a “fair wage” without specifying an amount, may well be legal from a contractual point of view, but for those listening – and for us – it is simply unfair and unjust. Tell this story to a classroom of nine or ten-year-olds who have a straight forward and untainted understanding of right and wrong, and without any hesitation they will shout “wrong” and “unfair”.

So, what is the point then? It is that we see things always and only in our own terms. We judge people, condemn others, are critical of what we see around us, based on our ‘human’ understanding of what is right and good and what is bad and evil.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is all we can do, since after all, we are human! Our laws, our courts, our Governments legislate what is best for us in good conscience (we hope!!), and in keeping with our internal values of good and bad. Parents do the same; they bring up their children, passing on to them what they understand as ‘goodness’ and ‘fairness’.

The problem arises – and it is huge problem – when we imagine that God judges things as we judge them, or that God sees things as we see them.

Quite simply, this is a complete reversal of the beautiful story of our Creation. We are created, the Book of Genesis tell us, “ in God’s image and likeness.” Genesis does not say that God created us as Gods, equal to God in every way. The ‘image’ of God is within us, meaning that we are created loving, caring and good people. But an ‘image’ of something is not perfect. Like the most accurate digital image available to us, it will be flawed in some ways. The Hubble Space Telescope, and now the even more accurate James Webb Telescope, send us images of the very beginnings of our Universe in almost incredible clarity. But these images, no matter how good, will never be perfect. They will always be only images.

Likewise with us, being created in the “image and likeness of God” must never be mistaken to mean that we are God. We are created good, and loving and blessed people and we can rejoice in that reality, but within us there are also things pulling us away from what is good and loving and blessed. There is nothing shameful in this. It is who we are; not Gods, though God’s image lies within us always.

The ‘Sin’ of Adam and Eve, Genesis tells us, was that they wanted for themselves “the knowledge of good and evil.” This is a knowledge only God can have. Having ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ would make us into Gods and that is not how we were created.

The ‘sin’ of Adam and Eve was wanting to be, or maybe thinking that they were themselves Gods rather than beautiful, awesome, wonder-filled ‘images’ of God. Put simply it is the sin of pride – the belief that we are God – always right, always good, having the “knowledge of good and evil”.

This is a sin with which we all can identify. If we don’t believe we are guilty of this sin, then WOW, how proud is that?!!!

The message of today’s wonderful Gospel is just this:

We must never imagine, even for a moment, that we see things as God sees them.

We must never imagine, even for a moment, that we act just as God acts.

When we do this we are ‘making God in our image and likeness’ rather than the other way around.

Just think of the pressure we put on ourselves when we think we are God. Then we must always be right, always knowing what is good and evil, never weak or wrong or unfair. We were not created to take this pressure upon ourselves. Nor will we be able to carry this kind of pressure. It will break us.

Once we accept that we are not God, that we don’t in fact have the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, that awful pressure lifts. It is suddenly OK to be wrong and to make mistakes and even to be unfair at times.

The most beautiful thing about our relationship with God is that we don’t always have to be right or good or perfect. We can leave those things to God. It is enough for us to be who we are created to be – loving, good, caring and gentle. Living like this is more than enough for us, and it is only what God asks of us!

There is one final point worth making about this Gospel.

In the parable the conclusion is that the landowner, in a way that we cannot understand or even agree with, is even more generous than we would ever be.

The story could have been of a landowner who paid all of his workers only half a denarius, saying that he was the owner and therefore could do as he pleases. The message would be the same. God’s ways are not our ways, and we must not forget it. Whether God is generous or mean, whether he gives to us or takes from us, God is still God and we are not God.

What Jesus is pointing out to us is that God will always be ‘more generous’, ‘more just’, ‘more fair’ than we can ever imagine.

When we are generous, God is more generous than that – always more generous than that.

When we forgive, God’s forgiveness is greater than that – always greater than that.

When we are caring, kind, compassionate and patient we can always say to ourselves that God’s caring, kindness, compassion and patience are greater – always greater, infinitely greater.

How could we ever fear a God like the one Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel?

When our time of judgement comes, the God we stand before will be more generous, more forgiving, more gentle, more understanding, more tolerant than we can even imagine.

In fact, God will be so generous, so forgiving, so gentle, so understanding, so tolerant that we might well think him unfair and unjust!!!

Just imagine that – entering Heaven complaining, not that God is harsh and punishing, but that God is too generous to us.

That is what today’s Gospel is saying, if we are willing to hear it.

Many thanks,


If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at b.maher@oblates.ie

Gospel Sunday September 24th Matthew 20:1-16

Why be envious because I am generous?

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’
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