Sunday Sermon for September 24, 2023, the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 55:6-9; Phil 1:20c-24, 27a; Mt 20:1-16a

In the first reading today, God tells us through the Prophet Isaiah that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.  This should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially when we look at what the Lord says next: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  Since God is infinitely greater than we are, it is only natural that He thinks and acts in ways that are very different from the way we might think and act.

We see this, for instance, in the Gospel reading where we hear about the landowner who hires workers at various times throughout the day, then pays them all the same wage although some worked twelve hours and others worked only one hour.  Like the workers in the parable, most of us would complain that this is unjust.  It is not so much a matter that the workers who labored the full day were treated unjustly because they received the usual daily wage to which they agreed, but in our minds, the injustice is that the workers who labored only one hour received the same usual daily wage!

In the parable, our Lord tells us the landowner asks the workers who labored all day whether or not he is free to do with his money as he wishes.  He follows with the question of whether or not the workers are envious because he is generous.  Suddenly we see a complete shift in the narrative.  No longer is it a matter of an injustice to these workers; now it is a matter of the envy of the workers.  After all, they might suggest, if they had only worked one hour instead of twelve, they could have received the same pay.  Instead, they worked all day and received no more for it then if they would have worked only an hour.   

For our purposes, what is interesting is that the same word, generous, is used to describe God in both the first reading and the Gospel reading.  In the first reading we are told about God’s generosity in forgiving.  In the Gospel, it is His generosity in giving.  Either way, we must recognize ourselves as the undeserving recipients of God’s generosity.  While most of us fall into the category of one of the workers hired at some point during the day, some may object that they have been faithful since their childhood and therefore deserve more.  We must remind ourselves that our Lord told us that if we have been faithful all our life, we are to consider ourselves worthless servants who have done no more that what we were commanded to do.

This requires changing the way we think.  It requires beginning to think more like God.  This is not beyond us because we are created in His image and likeness.  While God is still infinitely above us, as we grow in the spiritual life, we become more and more conformed to Him, to His way of thinking, and to His way of acting.  We see this in the lives of the Saints, perhaps most clearly in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila who teaches us that at the heights of prayer our will becomes one with the will of God. 

We can also see this in the second reading today where St.  Paul explains to the Philippians that he does not know whether to choose life or death because he can see the good in both.  He sees death as superior because it would mean being with the Lord, but he sees the good that can come from productive toil if he remains to serve the people.  How many of us would think in either of these ways?  Most people recoil at the thought of death and most of us would not choose to remain in this life in order to serve God and His people.  Although St. Paul did not know which to choose, we can see how much higher his way of thinking had become by comparison to the way most of us think.

God calls each one of us to union with Himself.  This call is God’s gift to us; we must respond by striving to develop our prayer life.  While the entire spiritual life is about loving God, we also know that loving God is only possible because He has loved us first.  It is His generosity that allows us to have union with Him by receiving His forgiveness and His gifts of grace.  Experiencing God’s love for us causes us to love more like God loves.  When this happens, our thoughts become more like His thoughts and our ways become more like His ways.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit