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Wednesday – Twentieth week – OT1
Readings: Jdg 9:6; Mt 20:1.
1/ First Reading: RSV Judges 9:6 And all the citizens of Shechem came together, and all Bethmillo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. 7 When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you. 8 The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, `Reign over us.’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, `Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored, and go to sway over the trees?’ 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, `Come you, and reign over us.’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, `Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over the trees?’ 12 And the trees said to the vine, `Come you, and reign over us.’ 13 But the vine said to them, `Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go to sway over the trees?’ 14 Then all the trees said to the bramble, `Come you, and reign over us.’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, `If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
2/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to them he said, `You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, `Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, `You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, `Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 saying, `These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
I. THEME: The difference between the heavenly and the worldly king.
Worldly leaders promised many things with people before they are elected; but once they were elected, they forget all of their promises; if they remember them, there isn’t many. In opposition, God is loyal in all what He promises to people, even they aren’t faithful to what they promised to Him. Moreover, He always finds a way to help the poor, the sinful and the weak.
Today readings show the difference between God and the worldly leaders. In the first reading, Abimelech returned to his native place to campaign among his fellow-country men so he could rely on them later because he knew that they have a tendency to elect the one from their native place. Once he became a king, Abimelech forgot all of his promises and oppressed without mercy those who elected him. In the Gospel, Jesus compares the heavenly kingdom as the landowner who hikes labors to work in his vineyard. He negotiated with his workers that he shall pay them a dennarius for a day; this is the wage of a labor per day. Later, he went out and hired more labors to work in his vineyard at different hours. When the evening comes, he pays wages for them. Those who worked at the earliest hour complained because they received the same wage as those who worked at the later hour. The landowner declared that he doesn’t commit unjustice to them because he paid what he and they were negotiated; they have no right to prevent him to have mercy for those who worked later.
1/ Reading I: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you.”
1.1/ The reason why people of Shechem anointed Abimelech as a king: Abimelech is the son of Gideon with a maidservant which we heard from yesterday reading. Since Gideon had many wives, so he also had many children, more than seventy children. His mother was born in Shechem. This is the reason why Abimelech returned to his native place to convince his fellow-country men to anoint him as a king with these following words, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon) rule over you, or that one rule over you? Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh” (Jdg 9:2).
Abimelech is very shrewd; he knew the people of Shechem shall elect him to be a king with a hope that he shall give them benefits later. Then, all the people of Shechem, together with people of Bethmillo gathered; they came to anoint Abimelech as a king, near to the oak, before the stone at Shechem. Abimelech used the money which he collected from his fellow country men at Shechem to hire vagrants to kill all his brothers at Ophrah, all seventy brothers on the same stone; only Jotham, Gideon’s youngest son escaped.
1.2/ Jotham pointed out the danger of this anointing: When people brought this news to Jotham, he climbed to the top of Mount Gerizim, called out and said to people who anointed Abimelech as a king, “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you.” Then he told them a parable of all the trees on the way to anoint a king to rule over them. The parable only tells an important thing. In this parable, Jotham wanted to imply that the worthless king was Abimelech and all the trees were the people of Shechem. Abimelech was compared as a “bramble,” meaning a worthless and wicked person, isn’t deserved to be a king. He was anointed as a king when all other trees refused to be it. Jotham forewarned dangers which the people of Shechem shall be received from Abimelech in the parable when the bramble said to all the trees, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”
After Abimelech became a king, he maltreated the people of Shechem without mercy, and they also gathered to oppose him.
2/ Gospel: The good shepherd cares for all of his sheep.
2.1/ The sign of a good leader: The main point in today parable isn’t about social justice or injustice, that is: if you work a little, you shall eat a little or if you work hard, you shall eat more; but about everyone has enough to eat. A good leader is the one who knows how to arrange works so that everyone has a job to earn a living worthy of their dignity. The passage begins with Jesus’ introduction to the parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.”
The Gospel didn’t give us reasons for those who worked late; but there are many unexpected things can happen in life. Instead of spending our effort to find out why they didn’t go to work as those who worked from the beginning, we can group them as those who don’t have many opportunities (untalented, diseased, even lazy ones). A good leader can find opportunities for these kinds of people.
Jesus continued his parable, “Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise.Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’”
To the last kind of people, we know the reason why they stood around. These people worked only one hour since at the end of the sixth hour is the end of a working day.
2.2/ A strange way to pay wages: The compensation for a working day in Palestine at this time was one denarius, and the owner made a contract with them from the beginning. The owner didn’t unfairly treat any group so they had no reason to rebuke him. When the evening came, “the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage.So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.”
Jealousy is one of people’s bad habit; people don’t want those who worked less hours than them to have the same money as them. So, on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner,saying, “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.”
Why did the landowner do such a thing? His answer showed he is a good shepherd; he had both justice and mercy. He arranged so that all could have works and money for their living. He answered to those who grumbled against him, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– God is always loyal to His promise; we should put our complete trust in Him. Do not put our trust in leaders who can’t save anyone as Abimelech.
– We shouldn’t apply worldly standard for God; let God be Him when He generously gives grace for all people.
– God is just, but also very merciful. We should rely on God’s mercy more than His justice.