25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I don’t know a lot about vineyards, I know more about blueberry and raspberry patches. I know what it was like to be “employed” in the berry patch. And like the vineyard in the Gospel, there was no quibbling about hours or pay. We all received the “day’s” wage, which was essentially the opportunity and joy of being a productive member of the family who enjoyed a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, Catholic elementary and high school education and family fellowship. That means we didn’t get paid with money.
I am always grateful for the way I was raised. I learned to value the earth, the dirt, and how it could be worked to provide good things to eat. I appreciated a certain work ethic that noted the time for work and the time for play. I appreciated the sense of the value and responsibility of belonging to something that was a whole greater than any of us individual parts. We were nurtured in this value as family, but realized it applied to our life in the Church and in the world. Because of our work, the food we raised somehow tasted better and the games we played on so many summer evenings or weekends were that much work enjoyable.
The Gospel parable today is about being employed in the vineyard. It is the vineyard of the kingdom of God. And no matter when one is called to work in the vineyard, all receive the “day’s wage” which is union with God, here on earth and for all eternity in heaven. In the historical context of its original presentation, Jesus was speaking to His fellow Jews who enjoyed the privilege of being God’s people, and therefore first in line to respond to the new call to enter the kingdom of God. But all people would be called and the reward would be the same. The parable is not a lesson in economic justice. It is a lesson in the generosity of God and the bottom line truth that membership in God’s kingdom is His free gift to give to whomever and whenever. And for those who might challenge God’s generosity the parable reminds them that as humans they would not necessarily understand and appreciate His generosity. God was acting on a higher standard, the standard of the omnipotent and all loving God. It is a standard not limited by a mere human sense of fairness.
A sense of the difference of God’s way or God’s view from ours is noted in the first reading. The prophet is presenting God’s message that His people should call on Him, in spite of their sins. They should turn from wicked thoughts and ways and seek His mercy. He is near to them and wants to forgive them of their sin so they can be restored in their relationship with Him. But they are reminded that God’s thoughts and ways are higher, more elevated than theirs. They do not automatically or instinctively see, think and judge according to God’s vision.
Perhaps what is most different, about God’s ways, is the supreme and fundamental value of the gift of relationship with God and the availability of that relationship. Then as a matter of faith, and not instinct or spontaneity, God’s people must seek Him while He may be found and in all His nearness.
Although we are made in God’s image and we are adopted as His children in baptism we don’t automatically and instinctively see everything as God does. Baptism marked the beginning of our employment in God’s vineyard. It released for us the wage of new life of union with God here and in eternity. And yet we are here to work, to develop our relationship with God in Jesus Christ and help bring about a harvest of new souls to discover God in all His nearness. We must continually, deliberately and actively seek Him in the places of His nearness. He is near in the prayer we engage in every day privately. He is near in the small group efforts of prayer in families, or groups in the parish or community. He is near in our study, our reading of a spiritual book, our accessing fundamental Catholic education on the internet, our participation in education opportunities in the parish, especially those that serve our children and young people. He is near in the works of the apostolate whether we serve in one of the many parish ministries or serve in the greater community. He is near in our fellowship with our fellow vineyard workers. And in all of these things we should find joy in the simple privilege of being employed in God’s vineyard.
While we remind ourselves of our place and responsibility within the vineyard of the kingdom of God, our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our membership in the Church we know that we are involved in all sorts of subsidiary work fields. For our young people it is the work field of school, and for many right across the street. For parents and children it is the work field of family: providing for material and spiritual needs of children, brothers and sisters and parents. There is the work field of our professional working situation and even the work field of recreation. In all of these work fields our pursuit of the God who is near to us as workers in His vineyard should shine through our actions and interactions with others. That’s how we build up the harvest of vineyard of God’s kingdom.
But our efforts to seek the Lord, while He may be found, need to be fresh and ongoing. In my previous parish I had a conversation with a person, about my age, who was having trouble accepting some Church positions whose conflict with the culture were being highlighted, albeit inadequately, in the secular press. I asked him, “Well, have you read the catechism on that issue.” He replied: “Oh Father, when I was in elementary school we learned from the catechism.” I reminded him there was something more thorough, adult and contemporary available. (As I was recalling this conversation in the midst of homily preparation I found myself cynically wondering whether this person was trying to travel on the roadways and freeways in Vancouver and Portland on his tricycle.) The nearness of the merciful God is found in the guidance of the truth, and the gifts or grace help us to choose and act rightly. And when for whatever reason we just don’t measure up the near and merciful God is ready to forgive our sins. And as we move on in our worship today let’s do our best to take advantage of the uniqueness of God’s nearness in so many ways in this Mass, if only I choose, with mind and heart, to seek Him.