Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Minding is for the Crossing

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

109th World Day of Migrants & Refugees

Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 144 (145):2-3, 8-9, 17-18; Philippians 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16

Picture: By AXP Photography on Unsplash

Please mind the gap. My dear friends, do these words ring a bell? As many of us know, this friendly warning is usually heard on the MRT. Reminding commuters to take care when crossing between the platform and the train. Please mind the gap. In effect, this is also what our scriptures are telling us today. Warning us that there is a wide and easily forgotten gap between God’s point of view and ours. That the heavens are as high above earth, as God’s ways are above our ways.

Isn’t this what the gospel parable illustrates? By painting a scenario in which a bunch of labourers are given the same wage for different durations of work, the story stirs our indignation at the apparent unfairness of it all. How could the latecomers be paid the same as those who started first? Surely those who worked longer deserve more! And yet, doesn’t this objection mirror the angry reaction of the religious authorities, when they saw Jesus mixing with tax collectors and prostitutes? Could he be implying that God actually sees and treats those latecomers to the kingdom in the same way that God sees and treats pious and respectable people like us? But why be envious because God is generous?

Following the logic of the parable, what if we were to go a little further? What if the labourers were paid the same wage for playing different roles in the vineyard? The supervisor and the cleaner, the winemaker and the grape-picker, the general manager and the pantry lady… All paid the same. What if the women were paid the same as the men? The foreigners the same as the locals? Which is not to say that we should adopt such a pay-structure if we were to actually run a vineyard. After all, a parable is not meant to be taken literally.

What the parable does is highlight the real possibility that our first impression of any given situation might well be quite far from God’s take on it. And that’s not all. If the scriptures warn us to mind the gap between our perspective and God’s, it’s only to encourage us to cross over from the one to the other. To seek the Lord while he may be found. Just like St Paul is doing in the second reading. He who once persecuted Christians now centres his whole life on Christ. Such that he even feels torn between life and death, between remaining at work in the vineyard, and going to his eternal reward. For either way, he will be glorifying the Lord. Either way, he has safely crossed over into God’s kingdom.

Just like on the MRT, what the scriptures offer us is not just a warning to mind the gap, but also an invitation to cross over it. Which may explain the location of this parable in Matthew’s gospel, sandwiched between the call of the rich young man and Jesus’ third prediction of his Passion. As he did the rich young man (19:21), the Lord is calling us to leave the proud platform of our narrow worldly perspectives, and follow him on the humble and loving train to Calvary and beyond.

Sisters and brothers, how might we help one another to better mind the gap, so as to safely make the crossing today?

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