Today’s parable of the workers in the
vineyard is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t primarily intend his
parables to be lessons for moral behavior. What kind of chaos would
it be in the workplace, unions and business world if we were to
follow the land owner’s payment criteria: persons working a full day
and those just for an hour, all receiving the exact same pay? This
is not a parable told to accomplish justice in the world; other
teachings by Jesus do that (cf. Chapter 19). In this parable Jesus
tells the tale of the workings of God’s kingdom, both here already
among us and to come.
The parable helps us focus and directs
our gaze so that we can recognize how, where and when God is active
in our lives. We reflect on this and the other parables so we can
have our vision, blurred from using the world’s value systems,
The last group of hirelings draws our
attention because their moment of payment shocks, not only the
all-day workers, (who "bore the day’s burden and heat"), but us as
well. It sounds like an ancient tale from long ago and far away.
Still, we get it and it seems unfair to us, as it did to the
full-day laborers. Who among us isn’t a hard worker and who doesn’t
expect fair pay for a hard day’s work? That late-working group must
have been the most surprised people in the story as they clutched
their day’s wage — see the surprised expression in their eyes and
their jaws dropped open in dismay as they realize their good
Why weren’t those latecomers hired
earlier, the need certainly seems to have been there? When the owner
asks why they are standing around idle, they respond quite frankly,
"Because no one has hired us." They weren’t wanted. By the standards
of the work world perhaps they weren’t considered useful or valuable
workers. They remind me of some of those physical or mentally
challenged young people and adults who pack our groceries in the
supermarket. Hooray for the supermarket that sees their worth! If
not at the supermarket, where else would they find work? Having a
job often gives people a sense of their own worth; not having one
does the opposite.
Doesn’t the parable challenge our own
standards? The owner had a pressing need, there were grapes to
harvest. He obviously saw something of worth in the last-hired and
it wasn’t about how much they hadn’t yet done. In the kingdom of
heaven, which has already begun, people are judged on an entirely
different scale of values. God may very well be like the landowner,
generous to both the big producers and the seeming-undeserving.
So, is this a parable to encourage
slackers? Should I just cut back on my good deeds in God’s name and
presume on God’s final generosity? We will all get the same "pay"
after all. Well, yes and no. I continue to look for ways to serve in
the Lord’s vineyard each day. I try to respond to needs and
opportunities that come my way. Still, at the end of the day I’ll
probably feel, "I could have done more." Or, "I wasted the day and I
got so little done." At these moments of discouragement, the parable
is a consolation and offers freedom from achievement-anxiety. I
remember a poem from my college days:
"Into thy vineyard I run in haste.
Eleven sounds in its ancient tower.
So many years have gone in waste.
What can I do in a single hour?"
I find that simple poem consoling
because I will always feel I am not doing as much for God as I
should, or as others do. I may even have wasted time – weeks, hours,
years – with other pursuits and only lately come back to the Lord.
Thank heavens the "pay scale" isn’t based on my sense of just wages.
Nor need I compare myself to the great saints who spent time and
heroic energies in God’s service. I am a day laborer, trying to do
the best I can. God will work out the reward...someday. However, not
to fear, on "payday"we will all be surprised!
I have arrived tardy to work and am
completely dependent on the generosity of the vineyard owner. At the
end of the parable it is clear that the owner is quite generous,
despite the arguments of the upright, hard workers who, with another
owner, might have a strong case for a sliding pay scale. Those who
work the most, get the most; those who work less, get less. That’s
fair. But not with the owner depicted in the parable who says, "Are
you envious because I am generous?"
We can’t argue about "fairness" over
the distribution of God’s grace. We haven’t a leg to stand on if we
decide to dispute what’s fair with a generous God. Most of us
churchgoers have been diligent in our observances and ministry over
the years. Still, we had better appeal to the generosity of God than
to the "works" we have performed. After all, we are not earning
wages from God. We haven’t signed a contract with payment spelled
out. We offer God our best work and we expect God, who has made a
covenant with us, will reward us out of a heart overflowing with
generosity. We don’t have inner-circle rights with God, even though
we have offered years of service. We might have a legitimate case in
the world’s workplace; but here we are involved with "kingdom
economics" and so we have to throw out our system of reckoning and
wait in line for our reward with all the other laborers. One thing
we know, it will be very, very generous and we will be surprised.
The parable would have had significance
in the early church whose first members were Jewish Christians. To
them the "late arrivals," the Gentiles, deserved a lesser place in
the kingdom. After all, they were not the first invited, as were
God’s chosen people. Judging from the heated epistles, like
Galatians and the accounts in Acts, the conflict between the two
groups could get quite intense. The first places at table, whether
at a wedding banquet or the eucharistic meals, were hard to yield to
newcomers who lacked the status of the early arrivals. There is also
the issue of the eschatological banquet when the Lord returns and we
go home with him and one another to the eternal kingdom. There the
rewards will not be based on our usual pay scales and priorities,
but will be generously given to all, reminding us, once again, that
God’s ways are not our ways.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s
|Yes, I see
the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have
blemished and scarred that body through social neglect
and through fear of being nonconformists.
----Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Letter from Birmingham Jail."
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy
of the gospel of Christ.
In four different letters, Paul advises
Christian followers on proper conduct. In Colossians 1 and
Thessalonians 4, he names a list of ways the Christian should be,
including "in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the
knowledge of God" (Col. 1: 10) and "aspire to live a tranquil life"
(1Thess.4: 11). This flies in the face of modern society that urges
us on for more and more—more stuff, more extreme actions, more
emphasis on the superficial, more, more, more… Are you caught up in
this kind of world?
There is another way. It is called
contemplative living and anyone can choose to live this peaceful
way, just as you choose to live in a frenetic way of more and more.
Here at Sacred Heart, we have been offering Bridges to
Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton (Ave Maria Press).
Thomas Merton converted to Roman Catholicism while a student at
Columbia University. He entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community
of Trappist monks, and that led him to profound changes in his
self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the
political arena. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent
issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent
civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest
example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the
Bridges gently leads participants on a journey toward spiritual
transformation and a more contemplative and peace-filled life.
Inspired by the monastic tradition, Bridges is
specifically formatted for the lay person through prayers, readings
and questions. Come away to a more peace-filled world. We have
another session starting this Thursday evening and the only cost is
your time and $7 for the booklet. The tranquil life is possible
amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life. To join in this
eight-session program, contact
To whet your appetite for a more
tranquil way, contemplate this prayer from St. Teresa of Avila:
today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are
meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are
born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass
on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow your
soul the freedom to sing, danse, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of you."
------Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries
Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.
Mini-reflections on the Sunday
scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is
also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people
From today’s Gospel reading:
"What if I wish to give the last one the
same as you!
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my
Are you envious because I am generous?"
In the kingdom of heaven, which has
already begun, people are judged on an entirely different scale of
values than the ones we use. God, like the landowner, is generous to
both the big producers and the seeming-undeserving. It is not in our
hands to decide and give rewards based on what others have or have
not done for God. When it comes to a final reckoning God will have
the last word -- and it will be a generous one!
So we ask ourselves:
- Have you ever gotten a present
from someone that was more than you expected?
- Did that surprise have any effect
on your relationship with that person?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"The use of the death
penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most
forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this
space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a
postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not
forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through
North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If
the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Lyle May #0580028 On death row
P.S. Lyle May, a man I visited for 12
years on Raleigh’s death row, has just published his autobiography,
"Waiting for the Last Train." It is available as a Kindle download.
If you have a Kindle or a Kindle App on some other device, it is
available for $2.99.
----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service
Center, Raleigh 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic
position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic
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