A Reflection on the Gospel for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
A few years ago while on a family holiday abroad my wife and I sought out a Catholic Church on Sunday morning. We eventually found the local parish Church and entered, we had arrived fairly early and so were prayerfully waiting for the next Mass to begin. A few minutes later a woman arrived looking rather disgruntled. Though there were only a handful of us in this rather large Church she made her way over to the exact pew in which we were sitting and headed straight for us. We didn’t speak the language but by her body language she made it very clear that my wife was sitting in her seat and so she squeezed herself as near to her normal seat as she could, squashing my wife and half sitting on her leg during the service. Needless to say, later in the Mass at the sign of peace, this lady was distinctly frosty!
As well as this personal experience some time ago I heard of a Church that was so effective at evangelisation and welcome that it was attracting significant numbers of new people to its congregation. As a result of this some of the more longstanding members of the congregation were beginning to feel left out and neglected claiming that the newcomers were getting all the attention at their expense- and they made this known in no uncertain terms to their priest!
In the Gospel passage given to us this Sunday Jesus addresses those who grumble against God’s welcome and generosity head on through the parable of the workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). He makes it clear that there is no preferential treatment for faithful service, no long service award. Rather he tells us quite explicitly that ‘the last will be first, and the first, last.’ This can challenge us and be a stark reminder that God’s way of thinking is so unlike ours, as the Word of God says through the prophet Isaiah ‘Yes, the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.’(Isaiah 55:9)
Fundamental to the RCIA process, to the life of the Kingdom and to our calling as Church is to be a people of welcome. The reality of this is costly. In our parish communities and on a personal level are we willing to embrace the cost of being a people of welcome? Are we willing, really willing, to be ‘last’ so that newcomers may be ‘first’?
Jesus tells us that at the last judgement he will welcome those who made him welcome in the stranger. The stranger can, among others, be the newcomer in our parish or in our RCIA group. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if their experience was one of unconditional welcome and support? Would each of them say of us and our parish communities:
‘I was a newcomer and you made me welcome’?
- Reflect on the ministry of welcome in your parish.
- Reflect on how you offer welcome in and through your RCIA process. Consider asking people who have experienced RCIA with you if they felt welcomed and what helped them feel part of the community. Was there any part of their experience that made them feel alienated or unwelcome? What can you learn from their perspective and experience?
- Scripture instructs us to make hospitality our special care (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:1-2). What are the practical aspects of hospitality you could develop further in your parish or RCIA group?