|By Fr. Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose and Vicar General for special projects, Diocese of San Jose. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gospel of the different laborers receiving the same wage can be difficult to hear. On one level, we understand what the Lord is saying; on another level, inside of us there is something that says, “That’s just not fair.” The key to hearing this Gospel is actually found in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. “God’s ways are above our ways.” If we first come with a sense of humility, then we can come to a better understanding of what it means.
When I was a child my father always said, “Never judge another man until you walk in his shoes for a day.” It is helpful to do that every now and then. Imagine that we are the person who is hired last. We are the one who was still out in the marketplace at 5 o’clock.
Put aside all the immigration issues and just imagine the raw human experience of what Jesus is trying to say. Imagine we are that day worker and the only money we get is for each day of labor. When the landowners come by and they do not pick us, we see the clock ticking away and we see our opportunity to earn money slowly slip through our hands. We know that our family is at home, is waiting for the money; waiting for the food that we will bring home because of that money. We are feeling yet again today my family has no food. Just experience the rawness of that hopelessness that disappointing, sinking feeling. Then a landlord says, “Go back into the vineyard for the last hour.” And we say to ourselves, “One hour is better than nothing.” We run out into the vineyard and we work one hour, delighted that at least we will have something for the day.
To our shock, we get a full day’s wage! In some ways, we are confused; we are thinking, “Oh you made a mistake! I only worked for one hour.” But instead we take the whole wage feeling completely unworthy. It is very obvious that we did not earn it because we only worked one hour. But we take it because we know our family needs the food.
That is the perspective Christ is trying to get us to feel. This Gospel is not just about social justice or labor. It is about what “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Eternal life is a generous gift from God. We do not earn our way into the kingdom. No matter how hard we think we have worked in this life. Whether we have done a full day of labor or a half day of labor. Because we are all sinners!
We all need the Lord to be that generous because he says, “Come with me into eternal life.” This is about God’s generosity to all. May we celebrate that God forgives everyone even in the last moment; the last hour of their lives.