The labourers stand in the marketplace, waiting to be hired. If they do a day’s work, they can expect to earn one denarius – just enough to support a family for a day. If they don’t find work, they and their families will go hungry today. When the landowner hires the men to work in his vineyard, he is offering them dignity and purpose, as well as a wage.
This parable of the kingdom is a parable of God’s generosity to us. God calls each one of us to work in the vineyard as disciples of Christ, helping to build the kingdom of heaven. Some disciples respond quickly and eagerly, others take longer to hear God’s call. But we don’t ‘earn’ our place in the kingdom– it’s always God’s gift. The reward is the same for every disciple, because God gives to each one the greatest gift that he could possibly give – eternal life with him. When God is so generous to us, how can we possibly be envious of one another?
Jesus’ teaching continues to challenge his disciples. Last Sunday, we heard him put into their hands the power to forgive sins – to bind and to loose. Peter’s reaction is a typically human one. How many times do I have to forgive my brother? Surely there has to be a limit? But Jesus wants to move the disciples on from a human way of thinking. The sum of money owed by the king’s servant in the parable is unimaginably large – impossible to repay. And yet the king releases him from his debt. This is how God’s mercy works. But the servant goes on to pursue one of his fellow servants, over a trivial sum. He hasn’t learned the lesson of forgiveness, but is stuck in human ways, demanding the last penny.
We can never pay back our debts to God. Every time we celebrate Mass, we remind ourselves that we are sinners, utterly dependent on God’s forgiveness. Having received mercy, we are challenged to become merciful ourselves; to allow God’s grace to transform us and to convert our hearts from hardness to compassion. Knowing that God has forgiven us, how can we refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives guidance to his disciples on dealing with a dispute within the ekklesia – the church community. If a member of the community has done something wrong, the duty of his or her fellow disciples is to challenge the offender – but always in love and mutual respect. The aim is to bring about reconciliation. Even if a Christian has to be “excommunicated” from the community, this should always be done in a way that offers them a road back. These rules, set out by Jesus, probably reflect what was happening in the community for which Matthew wrote his Gospel.
If we feel that we have a grievance against someone, it may not be easy to challenge them directly. It may be easier to grumble and gossip behind their back – but such gossip can be terribly destructive. Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel challenges us to address difficulties and conflicts in a responsible way. This is what it means to love our neighbour. Jesus adds, “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” If Christ is truly among us, then our Christian communities should be places of welcome and acceptance.
Last week, Peter recognised Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, and Jesus gave him the mission of leading the Church. But in today’s Gospel, Peter is harshly rebuked as “Satan,” a stumbling block in the path of Christ. Why? Because Jesus has begun to spell out to his disciples what lies ahead of him. He knows that his betrayal, suffering and death will be the price of our salvation. Peter, like any friend, is horrified at the thought of Jesus suffering in this way. He loves Jesus and is ready to follow him anywhere – but he hesitates when he is faced with the death that Jesus must suffer. Jesus makes it very clear. This is God’s way.
Peter hesitated again when he faced suffering himself, but in the end, he did take up his own cross. Like Peter, we feel drawn to Jesus, and the hope that he offers us – but we may hesitate when we have to pay a price for our faith in Christ. But where else will we go?
Jesus’ disciples have seen him walk on water, and feed five thousand people. They have seen the crowds respond joyfully to his teaching. Perhaps they have also felt challenged and disturbed by the radical nature of Jesus’ mission – welcoming sinners and pagans, as in last Sunday’s Gospel, when he praised the Canaanite woman for her great faith (after having reproached Peter as a ‘man of little faith.’)
They must be wondering who it really is that they are following – perhaps discussing it among themselves. And now, Jesus asks them: who do you say I am? Simon gives the right answer. Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah, God’s anointed one. And he is the Son of God.
Simon is able to give this answer, not because of human wisdom, but because God has revealed the truth to him. And the consequences of his profession of faith are dramatic. Jesus gives Simon a new name – Peter, the rock. With the new name comes a new calling. Peter is being called to a role of leadership in the Church, which will continue Christ’s mission after his death and resurrection.
Jesus calls disciples, and not admirers. When we recognise him as the Son of God, he calls us to a life-changing response. Peter ultimately gave his life for Christ. We are asked to do the same.
Today, Jesus tells two parables about people who find something precious: a treasure hidden in a field, and a beautiful pearl hidden inside an oyster’s shell. Each is so valuable that the finder is prepared to “sell everything he owns” in order to have it.
The parable prompts us to ask ourselves what is precious to us. When Solomon became king of Israel, he might have asked God for wealth, or for victory in battle. Instead, Solomon asked for wisdom to lead God’s people with justice and discernment. That was the kind of king that he wanted to be. Wisdom was the treasure that Solomon desired.
Jesus wants his disciples to see that the kingdom of heaven – the truth and wisdom that he is teaching them – is more precious than anything in the world. But the kingdom comes at a price. We may be too attached to the things of the world: money, possessions, status, reputation. Christ calls us to let go of our attachments, so that we can be free to follow him, and have real treasure.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers three parables about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who finds weeds sown in his wheat field. Instead of pulling up the weeds straight away, the man tells his servants to wait and see: wait for the crops to grow, before making a judgement. There is both good and evil in the world, and Jesus tells his disciples to wait patiently, to observe with a discerning eye, and to leave the judgement to God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a strong, vigorous plant. Or the kingdom of heaven is like a small measure of yeast, that is enough to make a whole batch of bread rise. A small number of believers in a community, living out the values of the kingdom of heaven, committed to love of God and love of neighbour, can make a big difference. The Lord calls his disciples to be that tiny seed, or that small measure – living in the world, and building God’s kingdom.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus likens the “word of the kingdom” to seed sown on the ground. Some of the seeds never take root and are eaten by birds. Some fall on rocky ground, spring up too quickly and then wither away, while others are choked by thorns. But some seeds take root in good soil and produce precious crops. This would be a familiar picture to many of Jesus’ disciples, who lived by farming, and knew how much work was involved in getting their food from the soil.
The word of God’s kingdom is good news, but there are many reasons why it can fail to take root in our hearts. We can be distracted by the things of the world, or discouraged by the opposition that we face. As disciples, we are all called to sow the seed – to spread the good news of God’s kingdom, by witnessing to our faith with our lives. Sometimes our witness will be fruitful, sometimes the seed will fall on stony ground. The parable of the sower tells us not to be discouraged, but to persevere in sowing generously, as Christ himself did.
Life is not easy. We all have our “yoke” to carry: the daily challenge of earning a living or caring for a family; the struggles of illness or disability. We all, sometimes, feel weary and “overburdened,” as Jesus says in today’s Gospel.
God doesn’t watch our struggles from a distance. Jesus, the Son of God, was truly human, and he shared in all that we experience. He felt hungry, tired and discouraged. He wept at the loss of friends. The life of Jesus reveals God’s compassion for us. God is closest to us at the saddest and most difficult times in our lives, and God has a special love for the poor and powerless.
Jesus calls us to live our lives by his law of love: love of God and love of neighbour. His “yoke” is easy to carry, because he calls us to be free, truly alive and truly ourselves. His invitation is offered to everyone: Come to me.
It can be difficult to witness to our Christian faith. We may feel afraid that if others – friends, work colleagues or strangers – know that we are Christians, they will jump to conclusions about who we are and what we believe. We fear being labelled as strange or eccentric.
Jesus knew that it wouldn’t be easy for his apostles to witness to him in the world. They would face persecution and martyrdom, just as the prophet Jeremiah did, for faithfully proclaiming the word of God. But Jesus reassures the Twelve. They are loved and cherished by God. Every hair on their heads has been counted.
We witness to our faith, above all, by our lives. Christians should be known as people who act justly, and who show care and compassion to their neighbours. The Lord calls us to trust in him, to let our faith be known, and to take the risk of living bravely and generously. He is with us every step of the way.