Sunday, September 18, 2011

Get to Work

This is coming to you a few hours later than usual because I spent the afternoon working not in the vineyard, but in the harvest--our parishes' annual Harvest Festival, that is.  (I'd hoped to have some photos for you--and even brought my camera along with me--but never managed to take a single shot.)  Spectacular weather, top-notch volunteers, scrumptious food, playful kids, and dancing seniors all came together to make it a real treat.  And we'll all sleep pretty well tonight, too!

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

I want to see a show of hands:
How many of you think that’s the very best parable Jesus ever told?
Just as I suspected…
Now, why do you think this parable isn’t generally very popular?
Because it’s not fair.

I don’t know if I can improve this parable’s standing in the polls…
…but I certainly want to see if I can help you better understand
what Jesus was getting at.

To begin with, we need to realize that Jesus didn’t tell this story
to make a point about fair labor practices.
What’s he teaching his disciples about?
The kingdom of heaven—God’s rule, God’s reign,
God’s breaking-into our daily lives, on earth as it is in heaven.

Now, since this is a parable,
we have to reckon who the characters really are.
The landowner is…God.
His vineyard is…as we just said, the kingdom.
And all those workers?  They’re us—disciples trying to follow Jesus.
But which workers are we?
Those hired at dawn? at noon? at five o’clock?
Oh…that makes a difference, doesn’t it?
If I think of myself as a laborer who’s worked all the day long,
then what’s my gut feeling toward that landowner?
You cheated me!
But if I was hired just before quitting time
and still got a full day’s wage?
Wow!  This is the best boss ever!

So as we take this parable apart,
we see that it’s going to tell us something important
about ourselves.

Who am I?
First: I’m not God.
That landowner asks his grumbling employees,
“Am I not free to do as I wish with my money?”
Am I gonna tell God what to do?
No, we workers—no matter when we were put on the job—
don’t get to call the shots in this vineyard.
Right off the bat, I can tell I’m not in charge
because I need to be hired.
I’m not the boss.  I don’t own the company.
I don’t have what it takes to get by all on my own.
I lack the necessary resources to make my way through this life,
leave alone find my way to the next.
And so the landowner comes out in search of me
and brings me into his vineyard.

So we’re hired workers.
Now—to be honest—are we all putting in a full day’s work?
Oh, I may faithfully show up every Sunday to punch my timecard,
but what about all those days and hours in between?
There are very few people in this world—leave alone in this church—
who can march up to God and demand overtime pay!
Most of us try to squeak by, don’t we?
What’s the least I need to do?  What are the minimum requirements?
When will this homily, this Mass be over with?
Give my full day—every day—to God?  Well…um…uh…

But even if I’m now working full days in the vineyard,
shouldn’t I be able to remember how things were
when I didn’t have the job?
I don’t have to imagine what it was like to be in those shoes.
I’ve been there!  I might even end up there again.
Can’t I at least muster a little sympathy for those hired late?
“There but for the grace of God go I.”

And that’s the secret right there, isn’t it?
That’s the key to understanding this parable: grace!
Our gut—in one sense—is right: God’s way is not fair.
And thank God it’s not fair!
If God gave me just what I deserve,
then I’d be in mighty big trouble.
I once found these three fundamental Christian concepts—
justice, mercy, and grace—defined in this clever way:
   1.   justice: when you get what you deserve;
   2.   mercy: when you don’t get what you deserve;
   3.   grace: when you get what you don’t deserve.
We’re not being cheated at all, are we?
In fact, God is being much more than just, more than fair.
God has put us all on equal footing,
making no distinctions whatsoever,
loving us in a way that’s perfectly unconditional.

Which brings us to another piece of the parable:
the paycheck at the end of the day.
It isn’t really a wage, is it?
It’s only a wage if we think we can earn it.
No, what God wants to give us isn’t the salary of the laborer,
but the inheritance prepared for his sons and daughters.
And by inheritance, I don’t just mean some distant, future heaven;
God’s offering us the free gift of his grace
to get us through each and every day here on earth.

So, who are we?
We’re hired workers, who don’t always get their work done,
and who get so, so much that they don’t deserve.

But this parable doesn’t only tell us something
pretty important about ourselves;
it tells us something pretty important about God.

Who is God?
God is generous beyond measure.
He’ll never run out of capital to invest in his workforce.
There’s no corporate ladder to climb in the kingdom,
no need to fight your way to the top.
Unlike the human economy, where there’s only so much to go around,
in the divine economy, there is no scarcity of resources.

Let’s consider again those workers who get hired at five o’clock.
Why were they still hanging around in the marketplace?
Because no one hired them.
If they were just lazy,
I suspect that they would’ve gone home by then.
But even so late in the day, they’re out looking for work.
They needed the job—to pay the rent, to put food on the table.
So, what if they’d only been paid for an hour or two?
Would’ve hardly been worth it, right?
But God doesn’t tease us like that.
The landowner gives every laborer
enough to provide for himself and his family for another day.
Those who were hired first worked longer and harder, it’s true…
…but they’ve had the security of a just wage all day.
Those who were hired last didn’t know until the eleventh hour
how they were simply going to survive.
Instead of envy, what joy there ought to be
when all the workers realize that each of them
is given exactly what he needs!

I hope this scratch beneath the surface
has softened your feelings just a bit
toward this rather unpopular parable of Jesus.
Maybe I haven’t quite been able to move it
from last place to first.
But that doesn’t matter one lick
as long as I know that God’s generous grace can do so
for a late-hired laborer like me.


muffin24 said...
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Victor S E Moubarak said...

Thank you Father for a great post explaining this difficult parable. It's not unlike the one about the prodigal son.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add a little bit, if I may. You see, I am one of those people in the 'vineyard' who went a-stray. I took the wrong turn and didn't go to the vineyard to find work. My family prayed and new that I was a 'decent guy’ but it wasn't until MUCH later that I found my way back to the vineyard and was able to receive 'gainful employment' there. When I finish my work in the vineyard as do the rest of my fellow workers... shouldn't I be paid as well? You see... if we look at the vineyard as the kingdom of heaven... it isn't really money we are getting paid... it is gaining access to the 'eternal vineyard.' We are either 'in' or 'out'; although I made it to the vineyard latter than I should have... I give thanks and praise that Almighty God, the landowner is going to let me in. After all, I was looking for the vineyard; I just lost my way on the journey to it. Yes, it's all about the GRACE and THANK GOD that GOD is in charge and not the workers who worked all day... or I would be in BIG TROUBLE!
Thanks again Father ... I truly love your blog.

PEACE everyone!

muffin24 said...
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