Sunday, September 24, 2017

Workers in the Vineyard

Workers in the Vineyard
Homily for September 24, 2017    25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Jesus today compares our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven to working for a landowner in his vineyard.  It reminds me of the day-workers that gather at a local landscaping nursery. I see them almost every morning on my way to work.  They arrive around dawn and hope that they will be called upon to join a work crew.  If they don’t get picked, they don’t get paid that day.  And I’m pretty sure that they get paid by the hour so if someone comes by at noon to employ them, they’ll only get a partial day’s pay for the time they do work.  It’s a hard way to make a living, but better than no job at all.

Did you know that unemployment is one of the top 5 stressful situations a person can face, along with Divorce, Moving, Major Illness, and Death of a loved one?

Financial problems doesn’t crack the top 5, although financial woes are often related to them.

And of all of the social problems we face in this country – whether it be discrimination, marginalization or any other type of inequality – they are almost always intertwined with employment or lack of it.  The dignity of the worker and fair treatment in employment is in the foundation of Catholic Social Justice teaching.

I think we all know of someone looking for a job – maybe we’re even unemployed or underemployed ourselves.  The average person spends almost 1/3rd of their adult life working, at least if they’re given the opportunity.  And nothing shatters a person’s self-worth, their sense of dignity, than to be out of work, especially if they have been fired. 

So, why do we work?  So we can afford to eat?  Put a roof over our heads?  Earn enough so we can retire and not have to work anymore?

No.  We are made for it.

From the very beginning, in the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we hear that:  “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed.  … The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”  We were made to work – to care for God’s creation – and each other.

We might not be happy at the work we currently do, but if we don’t find suitable work for ourselves according to God’s purpose for us, we definitely won’t be happy.  Think about how you’ve felt at the end of a “job well done.”  The satisfaction we feel – that warmth and peace in our hearts – that’s God smiling on us.

Pope Francis said a few years ago, on the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker: "We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work." He noted: "Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts."

And so we have today’s Gospel about workers in the vineyard.  We can look at this Gospel from two perspectives:  the earthly “Here-and-Now” and the spiritually “Eternal Kingdom”.

First, the Here-and-Now.  On the face of it, it seems unfair – those “who bore the day's burden and the heat” earned the same as those who only worked an hour before sunset. Where’s the sense of justice?  Where’s the indignation?  He made those who didn’t work “equal” to those who did – what did they do to deserve that?

It is an almost socialistic attitude. 

But Jesus wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom – he was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven.  And his comparison of the various workers and how they were hired reflects God’s desire for us to enjoy the eternal rewards He has prepared for us.

It starts with the landowner going out to hire the workers.  He doesn’t send an underling to do it – he goes himself and hires a crew.  He goes out again, and again, and again – each time finding more workers.  Where were they when he first went out?  Doesn’t matter.  For whatever reason, they weren’t in the first group.  He sought them out anyway. 

Jesus is telling the Jews that they were indeed called first by God as His Chosen People. But Jesus is also telling them that God is calling everyone, even those who are sinners or Gentiles – all are called.

Second, he agrees to pay each group the daily wage.  When you think about it, that is what we ask of God every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  There’s an implicit recognition that we are dependent upon God for every day of our existence, and in turn God will give us what we need – today.

And there is an underlying understanding that anything more than our “Daily Bread” can cause us to sin.  We see that in the 7 Deadly Sins:
Pride (I earned more than you), Lust (I want this for my pleasure),
Envy (I want what others have too), Greed (This isn’t enough for me),
Sloth (If this is all I get, I don’t need to do more),
Gluttony (I’ll take it all), or Anger (Give me more – or else.)

Third, he calls those he first called, “friends”.  There is an intimacy between the landowner and his workers that is beyond just an “employee” – a relationship that is based on trust, or, in our case, faith, that he will do as he promised.  The Jewish people were privileged to have an intimate relationship with God and God made promises to them that He had – and would – continue to fill.

Finally, why not treat the first group “special” and give them more?  Because in God’s eyes, we are created equal and receive an equal portion of His Love – and that is infinite for each and every one of us.  Even if we are “called” late to the game due to our sins, as we heard in our first reading he is “generous in forgiving” and is out there still looking for us.

You know, we too are called each and every day to work in God’s vineyard.  We as Christians are now the “Chosen”, called at our baptism.  And we should be willing and able to do the “heavy lifting” of tending the vineyard by spreading the faith – a responsibility we must not take lightly.

But while God continues to seek us out as long as we live, we must be ever vigilant and answer His call to work, even in our twilight years.

Paul said in his second letter to the Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”  If we want to dine in the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to do our part.

Are you hungry for the Kingdom of Heaven? Are you ready to work for it?