My mother had a lot of trials in life and many health issues but she never complained. She would often say: “God’s ways are not our ways”. Mom seemed resigned to whatever the cross required of her. Mom would have no trouble with our Gospel today. The land owner pays the latecomers as much as those who had laboured all day, and it seems unfair to those who had put in longer hours of work. I can hear my Mom counter, “We cannot pass judgement on those God blesses, only be happy he blesses!” Mom was never envious but would always rejoice for those God rewarded and blessed. She was a saint.
However, when I was working prior to my studies, I was in a trade union and we had a person who would find today’s Gospel challenging. He was our shop steward and he was a little on the militant side. He spoke of a fair wage for a fair day’s work. He knew all about differentials. Skilled and unskilled labour, length of service, last man in first man out. He was always calculating (as we all did as children, when we felt we had been given a smaller piece of the pie than another at the table). Make sure you are paid for everything you do, was our steward’s motto. This man would have issues with the vineyard owner who pays people who have arrived for the last hour the same wages as people who have worked all day. His sense of justice would cause him to represent the workers who grumbled at the vineyard owner. But our God does do things differently. This parable today is about the Kingdom of Heaven and how it operates
There is a saying: “God works in mysterious ways”. This could have been taken from our first reading from Isaiah, God says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, … My ways are not your ways”. The truth is that we are into justice but God is into mercy. Once, a young soldier in Napoleon’s army deserted, was caught and sentenced to death. His mother appealed to Napoleon to spare him: “My son is only a teenager; he was petrified by his first battle. Please Sir, he deserves mercy”. Napoleon answered the young man’s mother: “Madame, your son’s desertion at a crucial point in the battle deeply unsettled his comrades, who thankfully stood their ground and fought. You say: “He deserves mercy”. But the whole point of mercy is that it is freely given to the undeserving or it would not be mercy. Your son deserves justice and justice requires he die. But I will accept your appeal. I will not give your son justice, I will give him mercy, hopefully he will be a better soldier having received it”.
You see, the grumbling workers were into justice. They had worked longer than the latecomers. But the more inclusive and sensitive vineyard owner felt sorry for the workers who had been idle as no one had offered them employment. It was not their fault they were not picked after turning up for work. They were happy, even at the last part of the day, to be asked to do an hour’s work. They too had families to feed even if one hour’s wages would not be enough it was better than nothing. So the vineyard owner ensured they had enough for their needs, he paid the late comers the living wage of one denarius, the agreed payment to the other workers. So for the owner it was important that all families would be fed.
Our Lord’s message was a call to all who already belong to the Church, to the Kingdom of God, to take every opportunity to reach out to people and take every opening to include them in the labour of the Lord’s vineyard. To call them to consider faith and to work with us guided by the values of God’s Kingdom. God is ready to hire whoever and whenever makes him/herself available. Our God is generous and magnanimous as we should be. We should be on the lookout for anyone who is waiting to be told how important they are to God, how He wants to harness their life, talent, time and love in His service. Come and join us and you will enjoy equal blessings with us. We are not one’s to talk about ‘differentials’. We cradle Catholics do not feel seniority compared to a convert or one who is reconciled at the last moment to his/her life. We, like the angels in Heaven, are thrilled the Lord has another person who has chosen life – at whatever point God’s grace helps them to choose. Like the thief on the cross beside Jesus who was promised a place in Paradise by the Lord: better late than never. You ask a priest how good he feels when he hears a deathbed confession and reconciles a dying person to God. A great buzz, I can assure you. Priests often call a priest friend to share the joy.
Finally, this Gospel puts me in mind of a past experience. I remember when I was spending my first night away from home in the west of Ireland having left home early that morning. I was beginning my studies for the priesthood and I felt broken hearted. I had arrived in the late dark of the evening and I never met another soul other than Father Rector who gave me a sandwich and showed me to my room. I remember intense loneliness and a deep sense of loss and disorientation. I loved my family whom I missed terribly. I also missed my home, my bedroom, my car and my friends. I missed my job and my colleagues. I missed the sheer sense of the continuity of my life that now seemed abruptly changed. I sat in the dark room feeling no warmth, thinking of the long road ahead of me and at the end I would never have a family/children or have a say in where I would in due course live and work. I said to myself “This sacrifice isn’t asked of everybody who are good Catholics – it’s not fair”. Quite frankly, I wanted to go home. In fact, I didn’t fully unpack my suitcase for several weeks as I was sure I’d be headed home very soon. I’m not sure what reassurance the Lord gave but the nett effect was I stayed put. The vineyard owner in the Gospel today says to the grumbling worker: “My friend, I am not being unjust with you”, or another way: “My friend, you have not been cheated”. I look back over the many years of priesthood and the many blessings God has given me, especially Bridie. I have known times of loneliness, but I have not been unjustly treated or have missed out. On the contrary, I have been immensely privileged to be called to the care of souls in the Good Shepherd’s Name and enable as many as I can to be ready for Heaven. What the grumbling workers could not see was that just to have the blessing of working in the vineyard is itself a reward.
Fr. Gerard X