Things Could Always Be Worse
“Friend, I am not cheating you! Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?”
You’ve been working for this landscaper for five summers now. You’re going back to school in a few weeks and you’ve asked for extra hours. The owner assures you he will do what he can. But one day a new guy shows up and starts work — and the possibility of your working extra hours is out. “Guy’s wife just got laid off,” your boss says, introducing him. “I’m trying to help him and his family by taking him on for a few hours a week.” So much for loyalty, you think.
The task of taking care of your elderly parent falls pretty much on you. Your brothers and sisters live a distance away. They all call from time to time to see how Mom is doing and express their concern, but none of them are in any position to provide the necessary day-to-day help. “They all have problems of their own,” Mom says, “I just thank God for you.” Then mom dies and they all show up, grieving as if they’ve been there all along. And of course, Mom’s estate is divided equally “because I love all my children just the same” — even though it’s your life that’s been turned upside down and you’ve borne the costs of caring for her. Though you would never say it, you seethe: It’s not fair. And you’re right.
You’re filling out the financial aid forms for your child’s college application. In the process, you discover that you’re eligible only for so much assistance because, to put it bluntly, you make too much money. You’ve got to be kidding, you sigh, wondering how you missed the European vacations, the heated pool and the polo ponies that the form says you apparently could afford.
You’ve always played by the rules. You pay your bills. You go without so that your family has what they need. Yet your taxes go to bail out those who mess up, who can’t provide for their families because of their irresponsibility. Or you’re asked again to contribute to help someone far away when there is a real need right here. There always seems to be someone cutting in front of your place in line.
Today, we hear about Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard, also known as the parable of the generous vineyard owner from St. Matthew’s gospel. This parable was addressed to the Jewish people, whom God called at an early stage, centuries ago. Now the Gentiles are also being called — with an equal right to form part of the new people of God, the Church. In both cases it’s a matter of a gratuitous, unmerited, invitation; therefore, those who were the “first” – the Jews, to receive the call have no grounds for complaining when God calls the “last,” the gentiles, and gives them the same reward — membership as His people. At first sight the laborers of the first hour seem to have a genuine grievance — because they do not realize that to have a job in the Lord’s vineyard is a divine gift. Jesus leaves us in no doubt that although He calls us to follow different ways we all receive the same reward — perfect, eternal, and unchanging happiness in heaven, way beyond our wildest imaginations.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Gospel can be hard to accept. God’s generosity strikes us as almost being “unfair.” We begrudge God’s “extravagant,” almost irresponsible mercy. But the parable of the generous vineyard owner exposes our tendency to evaluate everything through the lens of money and material wealth: we track our pay stubs, our investments, and even our promotional consumer rewards. As wage earners, we seek fairness.
But notice what’s missing in Jesus’ story: “grace.” While we’re pursuing fairness, God bestows grace in the form of generosity, understanding and second-chances to the point of, in our estimation, pointless extravagance.
But to trust in the mercy of God instead should motivate us to appreciate all that we have received and how much God has blessed us; because we should remind ourselves from time to time that life could always be worse – much worse, in spite of the fact that God’s good grace didn’t appear obvious to us at that particular point in time, but if we stop and take time to think about it, we may realize the scary and horrifying possibility that our lives and those we love might be grossly altered if certain things went differently.
Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us!