Sunday Connection

Sunday Connection

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Sunday Scripture readings. The Sunday Connection provides useful background and activities to better understand the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings, helping you to connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sunday, September 24, 2023

This Sunday's Readings

First Reading
Isaiah 55:6-9
God's ways are far beyond the ways of human beings.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 145:2-3,8-9,17-18
God is near to those who call upon him.

Second Reading
Philippians 1:20c-24,27a
Paul tells the Philippians to live for Christ.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 20:1-16
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus teaches about God's generous mercy.

Background on the Gospel Reading

In today's Gospel, Jesus moves from Galilee to teach in Judea where he is sought out by great crowds and tested by the Pharisees on issues such as marriage and divorce. Jesus also encounters a rich young man who is unable to accept Jesus' demand that he leave his possessions to follow him. Jesus' response to the rich young man sounds very much like the conclusion we will find in today's Gospel: the first will be last and the last will be first.

On the surface, the parable of the workers in the vineyard appears to be an offense to common sense. Those who work a longer day ought to be paid more than those who work just an hour or two. When viewed in this way, the landowner seems unfair. That is because we are reading into the parable our own preconceived notions of how fairness and equality should be quantified.

A close read shows us that the landowner paid on the terms that were negotiated. The landowner, it seems, has acted completely justly. The parable goes beyond that, however, and we come to see that the landowner is not simply just, he is exceptionally just. He is radically just. He has given those who labored in the field for a full day their due pay. But he has also given a full-day's wage to those who worked only a single hour. No one is cheated, but a few receive abundantly from the landowner just as we receive from God more than what is merely justifiable or due. God, like the landowner, is radically just and abundantly generous. The workers who complain are made to look foolish as they lament the fact that landowner has made all workers equal. Indeed, what more could one ask for than to be treated as an equal at work or anywhere else?

The parable reminds us that although God owes us nothing, he offers abundantly and equally. We are occasionally tempted to think that our own actions deserve more reward, more of God's abundant mercy, than the actions of others. But God's generosity cannot be quantified or partitioned into different amounts for different people. When we think that way, we are trying to relate to God on our terms rather than to accept God's radically different ways.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 20:1-16
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus teaches about God's generous mercy.

Making the Connection (Grades 1, 2, and 3)

Jesus teaches us that God’s love for us is abundant. Teach younger children than when they focus their attention on what they lack or feel they ought to have, they miss out on noticing the many gifts that God gives us.

Materials Needed

  • sign with the words “God loves you!” in large writing; a basket with small treats for children, such as stickers

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Ask children to put a hand on each side of their face so that they can only see straight ahead. Ask children to stay still and name things they see. While children are talking, pin the poster at the back of the room and put the basket underneath it. Then have children lower their hands and look around the room. Ask them to notice what they missed, including the sign and the basket. Say: When our attention is only focused in one way or on one thing, like on the part of the room you could see when your hands blocked some of your vision, we miss important things!
  2. Ask a child to read aloud the sign and then invite children to come up and get a treat.
  3. Say: In today’s Gospel, we will hear a parable, or story, that Jesus told his disciples about workers in the vineyard, a place where grapes are grown. Some of the workers get upset because they’re only focused on one thing and miss the bigger picture.
  4. Read aloud today’s Gospel, Matthew 20:1–16.
  5. Say: Some of the workers arrived early in the morning. Then the owner of the vineyard saw more workers and offered them work. Some started at nine in the morning, some at noon, some at three o’clock, and some at five o’clock. What happened later when the work ended? (The workers got paid.) Say: The ones who started at five o’clock got paid first. They made as much as the ones who worked all day! The ones who started early were not happy. Ask: Why do you think they were upset? (They had been working for a longer period of time. They thought they should get more than the others.) Say: That’s right, but the ones who were first had agreed to the wages. They got exactly what they’d agreed to.
  6. Say: Jesus tells us that the last will be first and the first will be last. He teaches us that God loves and values each one of us. He gives us his love freely and generously. When we spend our time thinking that we deserve more that we have, it’s as though we have our hands on our heads, blocking some of our vision. We cannot see and appreciate the wonderful gifts God gives us. We miss out on having a grateful, generous heart. Let’s all take time this week to notice and be grateful for the many gifts God has given us.
  7. Conclude in prayer together thanking God for his endless, generous love for us. Pray together the Lord’s Prayer.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 20:1-16
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus teaches about God's generous mercy.

Making the Connection (Grades 4, 5, and 6)

The message from our society sometimes leads us to overvalue success and achievement. Today's parable reminds us that while we owe everything to God, God owes us nothing.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Ask the group to consider the questions: Is it better to be first or last? In what instances is it better to be first? Are there instances when it might be better to be last? Invite the group to offer some examples.

  2. Say: Sometimes our assumptions and judgments are far from the values of God. Sometimes our society overemphasizes the importance of being first or being number one. As your examples showed, there are instances where the ordering of things might be better in the reverse. Today's Gospel invites us to reconsider our values and make our judgments on more than appearances.

  3. Invite one or more volunteers to read aloud today's Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16.

  4. Ask: Do you think that the landowner acted fairly toward the workers who were hired first? Why or why not? Encourage discussion of this question among the group; if the consensus is that the landlord was unfair, remind the group that the first workers agreed to work the entire day for the usual daily wage.

  5. Say: The mistake that the workers make is to believe that they were entitled to something more than had been negotiated. It is the workers who are being unfair; they are seeking to change the terms of the agreement. As the landowner in the parable observes, they are jealous because he is generous. They cannot be thankful for the payment they received and the opportunity to work at all.

  6. Say: Sometimes it is like this between God and us. We forget that God's love for us is given to us freely and generously. We have not earned it. God owes us nothing but offers his love abundantly.

  7. Conclude in prayer together, thanking God for all that he has given to us. Pray together today's psalm, Psalm 145, or the Lord's Prayer.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 20:1-16
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus teaches about God's generous mercy.

Making the Connection (Grades 7 and 8)

Young people at this age are sensitive to issues of fairness. No doubt the parable of the workers in the vineyard will strike them as a story about unfairness. Our understanding is transformed, however, when we recognize that the story is not about what we deserve, but about God's love and generosity.

Materials Needed

  • Several newspaper or magazine articles describing injustice in the world

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Arrange the young people in pairs and distribute to each pair an article.

  2. Have each pair summarize their article for the group.

  3. Identify the person experiencing injustice in each of the articles. Say: It's no fun to be treated unjustly. It feels as though everyone else is benefiting from life more than you, as if you are stuck in last place. In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that makes us rethink our notion of justice.

  4. Have volunteers read aloud the Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16.

  5. Say: Jesus' conception of justice emphasizes generosity, not giving to each person what he or she deserves. He closes this Gospel by saying: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Re-evaluate your articles in light of Jesus' conception of abundant generosity, compassion, and love.

  6. Review each article and identify who is first and who is last.

  7. Discuss each story according to Jesus' ideas of justice and generosity.

  8. Say: Jesus is teaching us that we can do nothing to earn his generous love; it is given to any who are willing to accept it. Those who are “first”—those who think that they have done something to deserve God's love—will be last. Those who are last—those who know that they cannot earn God's love—will be first.

  9. Conclude by praying together the psalm for this Sunday, Psalm 145, which praises the goodness and greatness of God.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 20:1-16
In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Jesus teaches about God's generous mercy.

Family Connection

The workers in this parable sound very much like squabbling children, comparing what they have each been given and making complaints to the parent. Among children there is a tendency to equate love with gifts and material things. This tendency can devolve into a spirit of entitlement, which runs counter to the spirit of gratitude. Any effort we make to overcome this tendency, to keep love from being entwined with gifts and possessions, will enable our children to accept completely the love that God gives freely and generously.

Observe together any tendency within your family to make comparisons. Are children sometimes heard saying that another child received a greater portion of a favorite food at dinner or dessert? Does one person complain that a parent spends more time with one child over another? Ask if such comparisons are helpful. Discuss together why such comparisons are made. Then read together today's Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16. Consider these questions: Why do the workers grumble? Is the landowner's assessment accurate? Unfortunately, we are sometimes like these workers when we make the comparisons we discussed earlier.

Conclude in prayer together remembering that love cannot and ought not to be measured. Sit quietly together acknowledging God's great love for each person as individuals and for your family. Pray together today's psalm, Psalm 145, or the Lord's Prayer.