Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time A – Jesus Christ Is Extraordinarily Generous

September 24, 2023.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav’d a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears reliev’d;

How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.

             When I was presiding the Sunday Celebration of the Word without Priest with Communion in Fort McKay, Amazing Grace is one of parishioners favourite hymns to proceed the Sunday Celebrations and Ave Maria to end. I remember those good old days when there was only one parish and two priests in Fort McMurray, I presided the celebration on the first Sunday of the month and all funerals in McKay. The parishioners had no clue what deacons are and called me Father Deacon Raymond. The funerals were usually in the community centre hall with lunch after with delicious meals like Buffalo Beef Stew. The catering lady was so generous and always prepared a bag of yummy bannocks for me to take home.  Occasionally, I did the services in Anzac, Janvier and Conklin too. All services were free. I only filed a claim form for mileage at 30 cents per kilometre to cover gas signed by the priest and submitted to the Diocese for reimbursement.

            Now back to Amazing Grace. It’s a Christian hymn published in 1779 with words written in 1772 by an English Anglican clergyman and poet John Newton (1725–1807). Newton wrote the words from personal experience; he grew up without any particular religious conviction. He was pressed into service with the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severe that he called out to God for mercy. While this moment marked his spiritual conversion, he continued slave trading until 1754 or 1755. Newton later became an abolitionist, ordained in the Church of England and became the curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773.

             This Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matthew 20:1-12a), the parable of the labourers in the vineyard is really about God’s grace to different people at different times and in different ways. Look at some of the amazing ways that God has changed people we know. So often we have all encountered a person who has done serious damage to his or her life and family through alcohol or other chemical dependency. Then we marvel how God’s Grace not only led that person to recovery, but made him or her a source of strength for others looking to recover. That is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer. Since we are kids, we have been brought up to value justice. Play fair. That’s why when we hear this Sunday’s Gospel, the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, we immediately think, “That’s just not right. The guys who worked all day should have been paid more.” But the parable is not about who should get paid what. The parable is about God. He is the Good Employer, the Divine Employer who offers His grace to people at various times in their lives. The purpose of the parable is to invite us to leave aside the human logic with which we shape our world, and to enter the Kingdom announced by the Saviour, the new world shaped by God’s generosity and mercy. This parable shows us the generosity of God in throwing open the doors of the kingdom of heaven to Gentiles and sinners on equal footing with the Jews. It may have been directed originally at the Pharisees’ refusal to hear the Good News of God’s ways brought by Jesus; but the fact that we still find ourselves challenged by the story indicates that it has a lesson that is valid for every generation. Christ shows us the complete lack of understanding of the christian mission on earth, which is to bring salvation to all people.  Our salvation is not earned but it is a free gift of God’s love and mercy. We cannot explain God’s generosity but one thing is certain – Gods ways are not our ways.

             ‘Did we not agree? Take your earnings’. God will never be unjust. But the Lord’s great plan for the human family has a measure that goes far beyond our human calculations of what is appropriate and just – designs of generosity and mercy conceived in the eternal depths of the divine freedom. ‘Yes, the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways’. Jesus is calling us to bow down before the mystery of God’s ‘grace’. ‘Why be envious because I am generous?’ ‘Grace’ is the term used by the scriptures, for this new world of God’s generosity announced by Jesus. In a sense, ‘grace’ is the essential message of the New Testament – where the term occurs countless times: ‘God’s grace has been revealed to save the whole human race’ (Titus 2:11); ‘It is by God’s grace you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own … so that nobody can claim the credit (Ephesians 2:8). The ‘grace’ or favour of God announced in the Christian gospel is God’s generous outreach to each one of us determined before time began. Because God’s will is effective and all-powerful, ‘grace’ also refers to the many blessings of our new life in Christ. Our Catholic upbringing has stressed these created effects; but we should have given more attention to the folly of divine love made known to us through these blessings. This, we could say, is the point of Jesus’ parable: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:3).

             Brothers and sisters, our Lord and Leader is so bountifully generous, how can we claim to be his followers if we don’t follow his example? The landowner in the parable was looking out for the needs of his fellow men. He did not carelessly over-commit himself in order to meet those needs. But he did go beyond the confines of mere duty. How easily we do not! In our own hearts, we often stand by our “rights” when they are not rights at all, grumbling enviously because someone else is more successful or fortunate than us.  But that is not the Christian way to live life. St Paul wrote in his famous Hymn to Charity, in 1 Corinthians 13, that Christian love, truly Christ-like love, is never envious, jealous, boastful, or conceited, “it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful.” Nothing steals our peace of mind like envy, which resents other people’s successes. Nothing disturbs our souls like jealousy, the fear of losing our position, popularity, or goods. And yet, for most of us, envy and jealousy come much more easily than generosity, than rejoicing in the victories of others as much as in our own. In fact, it is safe to say that the Christ-like generosity we are called to live is beyond our reach if we try to reach it by our own strength. But, thanks be to God, we don’t have to, Christ comes to our aid. That’s what this holy sacrifice of the Mass is all about.

             A doctor entered the hospital in a hurry after being called in for an urgent surgery of a boy involved in a traffic accident. He answered the call asap, changed his clothes and went directly to the surgery block.  He found the boy’s father pacing in the hall waiting for the doctor. On seeing him, the father yelled, “Why did you take so long to come? Don’t you know that my son’s life is in danger? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?” The doctor smiled and said, “I am sorry, I wasn’t in the hospital and I came as fast as I could after receiving the call and now, I wish you’d calm down so that I can do my work”. “Calm down?! What if your son was in this room right now, would you calm down? If your own son dies while waiting for the doctor then what will you do?” said the father angrily.  The doctor smiled again and replied, “We will do our best by God’s grace and you should also pray for your son’s healthy life”. “Giving advises when we’re not concerned is so easy” murmured the father. The surgery took some hours after which the doctor came out happy, “Thank goodness! your son is saved!” And without waiting for the father’s reply he carried on his way running by saying, “If you have any questions, ask the nurse”. “Why is he so arrogant? He couldn’t wait some minutes so that I can ask about my son’s state” said the father when seeing the nurse minutes after the doctor left.  The nurse answered, tears coming down her face, “His son, about the same age as yours died in a road accident a few weeks ago. He was at the funeral when we called him for your son’s surgery.  And now that he saved your son’s life, he left running to finish his son’s burial.”

             “Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek reward, except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen”  St Ignatius Loyola’ Prayer for Generosity