Sunday, September 21, 2014

Help Wanted

   Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

based in large part on a reflection by Fr. Al Lauer

When Pope Saint John XXIII was asked,
“How any people work in the Vatican?”
he famously replied, “About half.”

Elsewhere in the gospel, we hear Jesus say,
“The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few” (Mt 9:37).
That can sound pretty surprising to folks
in these days of soaring unemployment rates.
Besides, bringing in the harvest
is generally the most enjoyable part of the job—
better than plowing or planting, fertilizing or weeding.
Not to mention the Lord has a reputation for paying pretty well:
a full day’s wage for barely an hour of work.
You’d think everybody’d be signing up!

According to the Pope, only half truly work in the Vatican.
But how many are willing to work—really work—
in God’s Kingdom?
Why are the laborers so few?

Well—if you agree to work in the Lord’s vineyard
it usually starts with a few odd jobs.
Stick with it awhile, and he then asks you to go full-time.
Before you know it, God wants you to be “on call” 24/7.
In the end, the Lord seeks to have you be more than his worker:
he’ll tell you he wants you to be his slave—
with no pay, no vacation,
setting aside your own life and will for his.

This is, of course, 
why the Lord has so many openings
but gets so few applications.
If we are willing to work for him,
most of us only want a part-time position, at best.
In fact, 
I’ve met a few Catholics over the years
(maybe you have, too)
who give the distinct impression
that the Lord should feel lucky 
he gets them for an hour a week—
and they’d prefer an even shorter shift
at a time that doesn’t interfere
with anything else on their schedule.

Most of you remember Fr. Martin Cline.
He’s got a great t-shirt that reads:
“I work for the Lord.
The pay is low…but the benefits are out of this world!”

Now, I want to avoid giving the false impression
that working for the Lord full-time
must mean becoming a priest or a nun.
Far, far from it!
Every one of us was assigned a job in the vineyard
on the day we were baptized.
But if the average Catholic has lost the sense
that their whole life—no matter their specific vocation—
ought to be given to the Lord and his service,
then we shouldn’t be too surprised that so few these days
are willing to leave the pew for the pulpit
or the choir for the convent.

To be a slave of Jesus Christ
is not a punishment or disgrace, but a privilege.
You see, this sort of slavery
is utterly devoid of mistreatment and cruelty;
it’s one, rather, we must willingly embrace.
And it’s not about working for pay or any other reward;
it’s simply about doing what’s requested or needed,
what’s right and our duty—
even if we don’t understand it 100%.
It’s the sort of thing we admire when we see parents
become the slaves of their newborn baby,
or a husband of his terminally ill wife,
or adult children of a frail and elderly parent.
To be the Lord’s slave is not the slavery of forced labor;
it’s the freely accepted slavery of love.

How many of us have heeded the call
and gone to work in the vineyard?

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
Thanks be to God that his work ethic is not like ours!
The Almighty might have stopped creating before the sixth day
and never gotten around to making the human race.
Or Jesus might have stayed in that carpenter’s shop,
knowing it’d be much less demanding to work with wood
than to save the world by dying on it—
himself becoming our slave in order to set us free.

God’s ways may not be our ways,
but we can certainly make our ways more like God’s.
Start with a few odd jobs for the Kingdom.
Before you know it, you’ll be doing slave labor…
…and nothing—I promise—this side of heaven
can make you any happier.

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