TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR OF MATTHEW
24th September 2017
As we have noted before, the kingdom of heaven in Matthew is not a clear-cut concept but an attempt to name a mystery. It is not merely about “heaven” as “somewhere else” (in Bert Richards’ words), nor a “kingdom” as an earthly territory ruled by a king. It is perhaps why Jesus can only put us in touch with the kingdom through the accumulation of images provided by the parables. Thus we come to realise that the kingdom is an experience of God in Christ, moving among us and beyond us. It is a relationship, not a “place”, although we can access that relationship through the Church.
Today’s parable of the kingdom draws attention to the contrast between human and heavenly justice. It is not that God’s justice is an upgraded version of human justice; the kingdom exemplifies a wholly different outlook. The workers in the vineyard are promised the going rate for a day’s work. Some workers arrive later but are promised a “fair” wage. We know that they received one penny, the rate for the whole day. What does Jesus mean here by “fair”? Isn’t he creating discord unnecessarily, a “them and us” situation which divides instead of unites?
Our Christian life is ultimately dependant on God’s grace, not our human endeavours. Whether I am a great sinner reconciled to God on my deathbed, or Pope Francis, I have an equal opportunity of salvation. “Why be envious because I am generous?” is Jesus’ punch line. All are welcome. It is in living by faith and trust, not quarrelling about who is the greatest, that the kingdom is gained. And it seems to me that our world is sorely in need of just those gifts.
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