Sunday, September 21, 2014

The workers in the vineyard

A homily on today's readings from a great and inspired servant of the Lord. The late Bishop Joe Grech preached this back in 2005. (It is from the website of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bendigo (Australia). Go HERE for some info about Bishop Joe.

The parable in today’s gospel is a wonderful story, but it is also very challenging, so much so that some of the people involved got very hurt and very angry at how the master of the vineyard dealt with them. It is quite correct to have pity and be generous with the latecomers, yet it is also hurtful to be treated in the same manner after you had gone through a hard day’s work.

Let us put the parable in context. The first thing to remember is those who were employed at the very last moment were not lazy, good for nothing people. They were sincerely trying to get some work. It was a case that no one had hired them before the very last hour.

In those days, men gathered from early in the morning in the market place hoping to get a day’s work from any employer who might turn up. It is conceivable to imagine that all sorts of workers turned up. There were those who were really craftsmen and who had the necessary skills and tools for their particular work. There were also others with no specific skill, and who hoped to get any type of work. If an employer turned up, naturally he would just pick those with the necessary skills, those who proved to be the cream of the crop; or those who looked most promising. If this was the process, then who would be left waiting at the eleventh hour? Those who had been rejected all through the morning, those with no skills, the lowest class of workers.  Now here is the lesson. It would have been totally foreign to anyone listening to this parable to understand why the master of the vineyard treated those who were chosen for work at the last moment, in an equal manner as those who had worked all day.

This is irrational. It is not right. Yet the first reading of today taken from the prophet Isaiah has God saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.” (Is 55:8) God thinks differently and His way of doing things is different from ours. I am sure that the people knew who Jesus was referring to in the parable. The people of the eleventh hour were the sinners and those who were not members of the chosen race. Those who had been working all day were the Jews, those who belonged to the chosen people of God. Therefore what Jesus was publicly proclaiming was that he had come to demonstrate that God is for everybody, and he desired to treat those who were forgotten in the same manner as those who considered themselves to be the cream of society. Jesus wanted to make clear that He is interested in everybody, especially in those who were confined to the margins of our society. He wants us to understand that his generosity and care extends both to the old people in the aged care facility as well as to those who considered to be self-fulfilled and in the prime of their life. He is also challenging us to act in the same manner, to remember that each person is created in His image and therefore deserves our respect and friendship and companionship.

It is not the first time that I have met people who have been away from God for quite a long time. I always try to share with them that as far as God is concerned the past is gone. What matters is to ask for forgiveness and build on the present with God.  God does not hold any grudges. We do. Very often I have heard this reply, “I would be a hypocrite if I turn to God now when I am in need.” We may act in this manner with one another. But God is different. God does not care whether you want to establish a personal relationship with Him at the very last moment. What matters is that we do when the opportunity arises. Like at this very moment. My brother, my sister, if you are in such a situation at this present moment, pray with me.

“Jesus I stand here before you. You know my past. You are well aware of where I am at this moment. I do not know how to pray but I am confident of one thing. You care for me because you died for me. Bless me at this moment. Put your hands around my heart. Heal me.  Make me feel your presence. Make me feel your love. I trust you. Thank you for thinking about me. Thank you that you are very generous with me.” Amen.


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