When we read a gospel like the one for today’s Mass we are tempted to side with the laborers who were hired first and who worked the longest. When we find out that they got paid the same as the men who only worked an hour the thought occurs to us that this is unfair somehow. And Jesus deals in his own way about the objections of unfairness issue, indicating simply that it is not for us to say how he will “spend” his grace. It’s his and the rest of it is none of our business.
I would further add the caution that we ought to be very careful before we ask God to be “fair.” Really what we want to ask from God is that he be merciful. For, if he were fair we’d all be in hell right now. The fact is we have no innate capacity to stand before God in pure justice, we simply cannot measure up to that. It is only grace and mercy that will win the day for us. So be very careful before trying to play the fairness card on God. In fact when we see Him being merciful to some one else, we ought to rejoice, for is also means we might stand a chance.
But another aspect of this Gospel that is important to learn from are the various dispositions of discipleship that are taught as the parable unfolds. Lets look at them each in turn.
I. The AVAILABILITY of discipleship – the text says, A landowner went at dawn to hire laborers to work in his field….He went later and found others standing idle….Why do you stand idle here all day?
Now it is clear that what we have described here are “day workers.” These were men, much like the Latino men of our day, who stood in public places hoping to be hired for the day. It was a tough life for, if you worked, you ate, if you didn’t you’d have little or nothing to eat. They were (are) called day laborers because they were hired only on a day to day basis, as needed. This is a terrible form of poverty for its vicissitude and men like these were (are) the poorest of the poor.
But note how their poverty, their hunger, makes them available. Each morning they show up and are ready, are available to be hired. Their poverty also motivates them to seek out the land owner and indicate that they are ready and willing to work. The well fed, and otherwise employed, do not show up, are not available. There’s something about poverty that makes these men available. Because their glass is empty, it is able to be filled.
But these men are us. We are the poor who depend on God for everything. Sometimes we don’t want to admit that, but we are. And every now and then it is made plain to us how poor, vulnerable and needy we really are. And this tends to make us seek God. In our emptiness, poverty and powerlessness, suddenly, there is room for God. Suddenly our glass, too often filled with the world, is now empty enough for God to find room. And in our pain we stand ready for God to usher us into the vineyard of his kingdom. An old gospel song says, Lord, I’m available to you, my storage is empty and I am available to you. It is our troubles that make us get up and go out with the poor to seek the Lord and be available to him. When things are going too well, Lord knows where we are to be found! Another gospel song says, Lord don’t move my mountain but give me the strength to climb it. Don’t take away my stumbling block but lead me all around. Cause Lord when my get a little too easy you know I tend to stray from thee.
Yes, we might wish for a trouble free life, but then, where would we be? Would we seek the Lord, would we make ourselves available to God, would we ever call on him at all?
II. The CALL of Discipleship – The text says, The Land OWNER said, “Go into my vineyard”….HE sent them into HIS vineyard.
So notice that it is the land owner who calls the shots. Too many, who call themselves the Lord’s disciples, rush into his vineyard with great ideas and biggie-wow projects that they have never really asked God about. But this passage teaches us that entrance into the vineyard requires the owners permission. If we expect to see fruits (wages for the work) at the end of the day, we have to be on the list of approved workers.
Fruitful discipleship is based on a call from the Lord. Scripture says, Unless the Lord builds the House, they that labor to build it labor in vain (Ps 127:1). Too many people run off and get married, take new jobs, accept promotions, start projects, etc., without ever asking God.
But true discipleship requires the Lord’s call first: “Go into my vineyard.” Got a bright idea? Ask God first. Discern his call with the Church, and a good spiritual director, guide, or pastor.
III. The TIMING of Discipleship. The text says, The vineyard owner came at Dawn, 9:00 am, Noon, 3:00 pm, 5:00pm
We may puzzle as to why God call some early, others late; none of our business. But he does call at different times. And even those he calls early, he does not always call us to do everything now. There is a timing to discipleship.
Moses thought he was ready at age 40, and in his haste, he murdered a man. God said, “Not now!” and made him wait until he was 80.
Sometimes we’ve got something we want to do but the Lord says, “Not yet.” And we think, “But Lord! This is a great project and many will benefit!” But the Lord says, “Not yet.” And we say, “But Lord I’m ready to do it now!” And the Lord says, “Not yet.”
Sometimes we think we’re ready, but we’re not. An old gospel song says, God is preparing me. He’s Preparing me for something I cannot handle right now. He’s making me ready, just because he cares. He’s providing me with what I’ll need to carry out the next matter in my life. God is preparing me. Just because he cares for me. He’s: maturing me. arranging me, realigning my attitude. He’s training me, teaching me, tuning me, purging me, pruning me, He’s preparing me.
IV. The PERSEVERANCE of Discipleship – The text says, When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to foreman…summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.
Notice the wage is paid in the evening and in the order determined by the land owner (who is God). The lesson is simple, we’ve got to stay in the vineyard. Some start things, but do not finish them. But if you’re not there at six, no pay.
Scripture says that we must persevere. Jesus says, But he who perseveres to the end will be saved (Mat 24:13). We also read To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life (Rom 2:7). And again, You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb 10:36).
Yes, we must work till evening comes. Saying we had faith when we were young and that we got all our sacraments when we were young will not suffice. We have to work till evening. An old spiritual says, Some go to Church for to sing and shout. Before six months they’s all turned out. How about you?
V. The GIFT of discipleship – The text says, Those hired first grumbled…we bore the heat of the day and burdens thereof.
Notice how the early workers think of their entrance into the vineyard and its labors as a “burden.” Of course the vineyard is really the Kingdom of God. And, it reamains true that many “cradle Catholics,” of a lukewarm nature, consider the faith to be a burden and think, somehow, that “sinners have all the fun.” Never mind that this is a completely perverted thinking, it is held anyway, consciously and unconsciously, by many.
But consider the laborers hired last. Were they having a picnic? Not exactly. Most were resigning themselves to the fact that they and their family will have little or nothing to eat tonight. Similarly, most sinners do not live the life of Reilly. Repeated and life-long sin brings many griefs: disease, dissipation of wealth, regrets, loss of family, addiction and so forth. Sinners do no have all the fun, no matter what they tell you.
Further, being a Christian is not a burden. If accepted, we receive a whole new life from Christ, a life of: freedom, purity, simplicity, victory over sin, joy, serenity, vision and destiny.
How do you view the Christian life? Is it a gift, a treasure beyond compare no matter its difficulties? Or is it a burden, a bearing of the labor in the heat of the day? Scripture says, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. It goes on to describe our “works” not as burdens but as something God enables us to do: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)
So here are five dispositions of discipleship which the Lord teaches in this parable: Availability, Call, Timing, Perseverance, and Gift.
Note well what the Lord teaches, for too often, we want to decide what it means to be a disciple. Beware, for the worst kind of disciple is the kind that gets out ahead of the Lord and self-defines his or her role. Jesus is Lord, let him lead.
This Song says, “I’m available to you…” And it reminds us that the owner of the vineyard still seeks souls to enter his vineyard and he wants to use your voice to say to someone: “You too, go into my vineyard!”