Sunday, September 21, 2014

"You mean he gets away with it?"

My Mom & Dad

Six years ago, I received the most spectacular phone call of my life. My Dad, who was 68 years-old at the time, called me and said exactly two words to me: “I’m ready.” I knew just what those words meant. My Dad, who many of us had prayed would become a Catholic for many years was finally ready to accept the grace of Baptism in his life. To this day, the absolute honor of my priesthood was the opportunity to Baptize, Confirm and give First Communion to my own Dad. My Mom served as his sponsor, or godmother, and leading up to the day of his Baptism the three of us would gather and talk about issues of faith as part of his catechesis to prepare him to enter the Church. During one of these sessions, my Mom said, with some satisfaction, “You know what Scott? Now, you have to go to confession!” However, her satisfaction was quickly deflated when I explained that actually he didn’t – that baptism forgives all of his sins. I would, of course, invite my Dad to make a good examination of his conscience, to call to mind specifically all of the things that he would like God to forgive, but for him, Baptism would be his sacrament of reconciliation for everything up to that point. Mom’s response? “You mean he gets away with it?”

Of course, this made me think of today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard who all received the same reward no matter when it was that they came to work in the field. We know how the story goes, some are there all day “bearing the burden of the day and the heat”, some are there about half the day, some come at the very end – but all receive the same reward. And, those that got there early are not very happy about it. “You mean they get away with it?”

The answer – indeed, they do. Indeed, we do. Whether we came to the Lord early or late or over and over again, there really isn’t anything we can do to earn what Jesus gives us in offering us salvation. Jesus isn’t rewarding us for a job well done. Instead, Jesus gives us this parable today so that we might be more profoundly aware of the great generosity of God, who despite our unworthiness still desires to bring us to Himself anytime we come, early or late or over and over again. Jesus asks us to ponder a simple question today: Do we see ourselves as family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a competitive individuals, each with their own agenda? We call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?

Family, I think, is the key to understanding today’s parable of the workers. For the early-bird workers who ended up being reprimanded by the landowner it was all a business affair. Their working in the vineyard was preceded by a detailed contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. The latecomers were less legalistic in their approach. They took the job trusting in the landowner’s word of honor. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’” And, the ones employed in the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours were told nothing whatsoever about payment. “He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’“ There is no employer-employee contract here. Everything is based on trust. These later workers approached the work with a family spirit.

This parable reminds us that the Kingdom is really a family much more than a society. A society is characterized by us-and-them, by rivalry, competition and the survival of the fittest. A family, on the other hand, is all “US” and no “them.” It is characterized by love and compassion, not competition. If the latecomers were family members of the early birds, the early birds would have rejoiced with them at their good fortune rather than grumbling.

Today we are invited to think about our own notions of the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s generosity and challenged to see God’s promised Kingdom truly as a family where our joy and our greatest desire is to see everyone with us in Heaven – no matter when they finally turn to the Lord; just like God does.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a family drawn together by the love of their Father, lead and guided through the example of Jesus their Brother, motivated out of their love for each other, driven by their desire to help one another, called to be holy, working towards eternal life, saved and transfigured and united as one.

May the Lord give you peace.

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