A few summers ago, I had taken to driving to St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., for Sunday vigil Mass. Most Sunday liturgies in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are so well-attended and run at an hour or more, and I have MS and heat can provoke symptoms. St. John’s was the only chapel or church within miles that had air conditioning. The priest who celebrated Mass most of the time was from Africa. He was a gentle soul, kept his homilies under 10 minutes, and was well-regarded by the regulars in the congregation, most of a certain age, not really infirm and highly ambulatory. Before the new chapel opened in a distant building, prompting me to change venues because of inaccessibility, people came and left so fast after Communion it was practically a drive-thru.
Father was a student and had just completed his graduate degree. He would be leaving in a couple of weeks to return to his home diocese in Africa. Sorry to say, I do not remember his name. But I remember his face, his voice and one homily that changed me forever.
It was the 25th Sunday of the Year, cycle A. The Gospel reading was — and remains — one of the most incendiary of Jesus’ parables: that of the generous landowner and the vineyard workers he hired in the morning. Trouble came when the landowner hired workers throughout the day — at the same wage.
The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20: 1- 16 NRSV)
Father’s gently modulated homily followed, as best I can remember it Click here to continue reading