Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, in the words of Isaiah (55: 6-9) and Matthew (20: 1-16a), we hear that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. We further hear that God is generous.
Sometimes, God’s generosity leads people to see God as “unfair.” This is especially seen in the Gospel story we have today.
In this parable, a landowner found some workers at dawn. After agreeing on a daily wage, he sent them to work in his vineyard. He found other workers at 9 a.m., some at noon, others at 3 p.m., and still others at 5 p.m. At the end of the day, however, he paid all the workers an equal amount.
While those who were hired later in the day were undoubted pleased with the owner’s decision to pay them for a full day of work, those who had worked since dawn grumbled against the landowner and said, “these last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat” (Matthew 20: 11-12).
The owner, however, said that he was not cheating those who had worked all day, for after all, they had agreed from the beginning about the daily wage. The vineyard owner said, “Take what is yours and go. Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20: 14-16).
This parable is rich in meaning and can be approached in many different ways. In the past, we have looked at the vineyard as the Catholic Church in America. First came Catholics from Spain and Ireland. Later came Italians, Bohemians, and other Europeans. Then came people from Asia. Today we have more and more people from Latin American nations. But no matter when they came, all are equally members of the Church.
Likewise, the newly baptized infant is just as much a member of the Church as the pope, and persons who have “deathbed conversions” are just as “saved” as the lifelong “saint.”
This homily, however, focuses on the generosity of God or, more specifically, how we are to imitate God by developing the virtue of generosity. But before listing some of the biblical principles we can glean from today’s Scriptures, first let’s look at the story of a man known for his amazing generosity of treasure. His name was Robert Gilmour LeTourneau. Everyone called him R.G.
RG was born in Vermont on November 30, 1888. When he was just 14 years old, he left school and taught himself engineering. Eventually, he built a manufacturing empire of earth-moving machines. Many people say that these machines helped the United States and its Allies win World War II and build the highway infrastructure for today’s United States. By the time of his death in 1969, he had over 300 patents to his name, had founded a university, and had received major awards.
RG is also known as the man who gave away 90 percent of his personal income and stocks to worthwhile projects, and he was one of the leading spokespersons for the faith-and-work movement of his time.
RG was not always rich, nor was he always known for his generosity. When he was 30-years old, RG was deeply in debt. His sister, a missionary, chastised young RG and told him he better turn his life around. RG was confused, for he imagined that to do that, he had to become a preacher or missionary. But after praying together, his pastor showed RG that God needed good businessmen also. So, RG made up his mind to make God his business partner. When RG made God his partner, he felt that God was getting a “sorry specimen as a partner.”
As the years passed, RG became more and more successful. He also realized that all the riches of the world – including money – belong to God, not to humans. Humans were merely stewards of the riches. Thus, instead of asking how much money he would give to God, the question asked was, “How much of God’s money will I keep?” RG answered that by deciding he would keep 10%, and 90% would go to God. Like other great stewards before him, RG learned that one couldn’t out-give God, for God’s generosity has no limits.
Today, we learn some important Biblical principles that we see in our Scripture selections in the story of RG LeTourneau. Here are three of them.
First, God’s ways and thoughts are superior to ours, not the same as ours. Once we grasp that, we won’t be as likely to get angry with God for not thinking as we do.
Second, the entire material world belongs to God. We are merely stewards – or caretakers – of the material world. You and I move money around from place to place, from person to person, but when our bodies die, we leave it all behind.
And third, God’s generosity has no limits. That is why Catholic Christians pray for the salvation of all people, for we truly believe Jesus when he said that “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and that if we want something, we should ask for it (John 14: 13).
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would a good idea to reflect on the idea of having God as our vocational partner.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017.
- Peel, Bill. “Why R.G. LeTourneau Gave 90%.” Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University, no date.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “R.G LeTourneau.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 18 July 2017.