Part of our seminary days in the College seminary in Cebu Philippines was a day- off the seminary once a month. This was our free day when seminarians can get out of the seminary for the day to stroll around, go to the films, visit a friend or just hang out to unwind.
In one of those free days, my friends and I decided to visit some popular tourist destinations and places to hang out around Cebu City. The first place we went to was this Taoist Temple located on a hilltop overlooking Cebu City. It was a beautiful place to unwind I must say, and still is. One thing I wouldn’t forget in that particular visit was that one of my friends threw in a couple of Philippine peso coins into the wishing well. And I think he had wished He would get it back somehow, multiplied few times over. I really didn’t think much of that. We went on strolling around the temple. After sometimes there, we moved on to another destination.
Our next stop was this beautiful five-star hotel as one of my friends suggested just to get away from the humidity outside and chill in this hotel’s air-conditioned lobby. As we were strolling around this big lobby of the hotel we met this lady we knew personally because of her connections with the seminary we’re in. We exchanged greetings and then parted ways. But before leaving us, she gave us a couple of Philippine notes, two-thousand peso bills. I thought ‘Wow That was a quick grant for my friend’s request on the wishing well!
My friend then said words to this effect: ‘Had I known, my wish would be granted, I would have thrown more money on that well so that I’ll get more than this (P2,000 pesos), we have now.’
I’m sharing this with you because it is true that at times we expect to get more than what we deserve. It is just part of our humanity. At times too we expect to get more than what we have put in, which is not a bad expectation per se otherwise, we wouldn’t put in for investments.
What makes this expectation a challenge for us though is when we have the same sort of expectation for our God, when we expect God to play on our terms, when we expect God to give in to whatever we ask of him or to whatever we expect of him.
Then when our expectations are not met, we would readily complain to God: ‘God is unfair’ or ‘God doesn’t listen’ or worst ‘God doesn’t care for me at all.’
God is not unfair. He is a God of justice. However, this is a challenge we have to face as we reflect on our gospel today. The challenge here is to understand that this gospel is more on God’s goodness, mercy and generosity than on God’s justice. If we expect God’s justice in this, then we would really be disappointed. So we must not see this as God’s justice system, otherwise we could say rightly ‘He’s unfair indeed.’
We also need to understand that it is not just about the ‘owner of the vineyard’ i.e. God, but more so about the Kingdom of God, i.e. the kingdom of God being offered as a gift, as an opportunity for anyone of us to enjoy.
Another message for us on this gospel is that God does not work of merit system. No amount of work we can do to earn the gifts of God. We can’t dictate God. We can’t limit God’s mercy. We can’t tell God how He should show his generosity because his grace is a gift for us. We can’t do anything to deserve God’s gift.
What we can do however is to make ourselves available for God’s grace to flow in and through us. This means we are to real witnesses for God’s grace.
How we might realize this in our lives?
In our First Reading, Isaiah says: “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked man abandon his way…Let him turn back to the Lord.” In other words let us be persons of prayer. “God’s purpose in prayer’ says John MacArthur, “is not for us to inform or persuade Him to respond to our needs but to open sincere and continual lines of communication with Him. Prayer, more than anything else, is sharing the needs, burdens, and hungers of our hearts with a God who cares. He wants to hear us and commune with us more than we could ever want to commune with Him, because His love for us is so much greater than our love for Him.” ― John MacArthur, Alone With God: Rediscovering the Power and Passion of Prayer.
Furthermore, to be channel of God’s grace, Isaiah would urge ‘humility’, ‘repentance’ and a ‘change of heart’ for God’s grace to flow in and through us. If prayer is the line of communication between us and God, then repentance, humility and change of heart are the messages that come out of that personal communication.
Our second reading today would also offer us a way to be channel of God’s grace and to be witnesses of the love of God for us in Christ. St Paul wrote to the Philippians , not to the Philippines, I must stress this, because I heard few people before reading “A Reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippines.” No, as far as I know, St Paul didn’t write a letter to the Philippines for two plausible reasons: (1) We were not discovered as a country yet then and so Paul would have no idea about Philippines; (2) We were still illiterate then, so we didn’t know how to read and write, and didn’t know or hear of Christ until the year 1600 or so, some 1,600 years after Paul had died.
But going back to the point to be channel of God’s grace is to live a life that St Paul would urge the Christians in Philippi in our reading i.e. to “avoid anything in our everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” In other words, let us live as Christ-like as we can be, enlightened, motivated, empowered and sustained by the message of the gospel. It is important to note that Paul said ‘everyday’ because this means we must allow Christ and his message be part of our day-to-day life, not just on Sunday, or on Holy Days of obligation but everyday.
Christ comes to love the unlovable, the forgive the seemingly unforgivable, to care for the neglected and marginalized, to enrich the poor, and to die for us to live. If Christ has done this, we Christians must endeavour to be Christ too everyday, towards our brothers and sisters.
Our gospel today would also offer a way to become channel of God’s grace, goodness and generosity. Matthew would urge us to respond to God’s invitation to work for him, and to be workers with him in his vineyard. Just as the landowner went out to look for people who are looking for work, God constantly offers us ways, chances, opportunities to work for his kingdom. So for God’s grace to flow in and through we need to make ourselves available for it. We need to meet God halfway. We need to come with him. We need to take the opportunities that God lays out before us. For God, it doesn’t matter how much time and effort we have spent working for him, but on how lovingly we respond to his invitation and how willingly we work with him.
Prayer, humility, repentance, change of heart, availability for God, and living a Godly life, are just few of the ways and opportunities God has given us to be channels of His grace, mercy, generosity and compassion. Taking on these opportunities might be a big ask for us, but if we do strive to take these challenges, then we can be assured not only of getting back what we have put in, of getting what we deserved, because God’s goodness and generosity can multiply these things millions of times over, and make them our security, our investment for eternal life and happiness forever.