The Gospel reading is one of my favorite of Jesus’ parables, taken from Mt 20:1-16a:Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
A pretty humbling story that — in a way slightly similar to the story of the prodigal son — reminds us that God’s judgment, mercy and salvation are His to dispense, and that it is not our place to worry either about whether we are first or last through the gate, or to waste time imagining we know the state of another’s soul and where Eternity will take them. A heart can be turned in a moment — perhaps in that very millesecond between life and death — so none of us may assume anything.
Abigail Benjamin shares a relevant story about a family member:
And my Father-in-law was mad at God. Very mad at God.
At age 73, he caught a rare form of blood cancer that for some reason was ubiquitous in his small town. A victim of an environmental toxicant, perhaps? He was dead within 12 weeks of his diagnosis.
Yet something amazing happened to my Father-in-law during those last 12 weeks. His twin brother, the favored one–the one that got to stay with Mom while he was sent far from home–prayed for him. His son prayed for him. The twin brother called his little known nephew, my husband. These men prayed together on the phone for my Father-in-law’s conversion.
The Gospel is presaged (and reinforced) in the first reading, from Is 55:6-9.
Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.
Better to assume — since none are perfect, save Christ — that all of our tryings fall short; it’s a humbling reminder of our dependence upon grace, and mercy, and our accountability to Justice. Makes me shiver to know all I have to answer for.
Which leads me to this very wise and funny piece by Betty Duffy:
At last it was my turn. The man before me came out of the confessional, and the priest followed right behind him explaining that he had to prepare for Mass, but if the rest of us could stick around, he could finish hearing Confessions after Mass.
I slunk to a nearby pew, quietly raging at all the people who went before me in line. Do they think Confession is therapy or something? And the priest—didn’t he see how much effort I had put into even being there? What if I really couldn’t stick around until after Mass? He could have heard just one more—as long as it was mine.
I set the baby down, letting him wander all over the pew, touching people nearby. That’s the price you pay for making me wait—the attack of my baby.
Did I mention that Adoration was going on all this time? That I was in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament throughout my harrowing wait?
Only when the bells rang for Benediction did a little alarm sound in my brain that perhaps before I bend the priest’s ear with my oh-so-humble Confession, I should address the air of entitlement I have acquired towards the Sacrament itself—towards all the Sacraments.
Yeah, you’ll want to read that whole thing. Very disarming, is Ms. Duffy!