25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Published: September 21, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.

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Bishop Taylor

Happiness is largely about expectations, so if you want to be unhappy, start comparing yourself and the treatment you receive unfavorably to others and the treatment they receive. 

Start imagining that you deserve things you're not getting and worse, that others are. And if you really want to be miserable, develop in yourself an attitude of entitlement rather than an attitude of gratitude. Then all of the things that others would consider to be blessings, you'll just take for granted ... at first. Then they'll start to seem insufficient and eventually begin to feel like an injustice. All because you've forgotten who you are before God. That he doesn't owe you anything. That you owe him everything.

In today's Gospel we have one of the most controversial parables in the New Testament: the workers in the vineyard. Those who work the least in the vineyard, in the cool of the evening, get paid the same as those who work all day long in the heat of the day. These first-hired had agreed to the usual daily wage and would have been happy to receive it, except that they began to compare themselves and the treatment they received unfavorably to those who had worked less. 

Jesus inaugurates a whole new system of values.

These latter had no specific contract to receive the usual daily wage, just the master's verbal statement that he would pay them "what is just," which created the expectation that they would get some fraction of the usual salary proportionate to the amount of work.

Had that expectation been fulfilled, the first hired would have compared themselves favorably to the last hired because having worked longer, they were taking home more pay. And had the master paid them first, they might have gone home happy too, since they might not have found out about the good fortune of those who had worked less and so would have made no comparison. 

But as it was, they did know and did compare and so felt entitled to more — even though they had already gotten all the pay for which they had contracted. Their envy of the good fortune of the others is what made them unhappy, not the amount of the payment. They could just as well have rejoiced to know that their neighbors would also have enough income to meet their needs. 

How about you? Happiness is largely about expectations. You can be happy in a shack and miserable in a mansion. Kids who have their own private bedrooms are no happier than those on bunk beds in shared accommodations, and often a lot less — it's a matter of what you think is important and gratitude for one's blessings.

Matthew's point in preserving this parable of Jesus is that the new Gentile converts entering the Church have the same rights and are heirs to the same promises as the Jewish Christians who have a covenant — an agreement with God going back to Moses — and have been members from the beginning. Jesus inaugurates a whole new system of values.

While the promises remain and those who are faithful to the covenant will get everything God ever promised them, these promises are surpassed by the sovereign goodness of the master of the vineyard who now receives everyone on an equal basis, including those who are least worthy according to human criteria, but whom God cares about with special concern.