9-24-2017 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sep 25, 2017
25th Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Today’s Gospel is confounding for most of us—we struggle with it, wondering what the point is, feeling that an injustice has taken place, that someone got cheated and others got what they did not deserve. And like little kids, we say, "It’s just not fair!"
On a theological level, the grumbling reflects a common (though incorrect) attitude about grace and good works. When we do good works, we earn grace, and we get into heaven. When we don’t do good works, when we are evil or sinful, we don’t earn grace, and we don’t go to heaven. Tit for tat. We get something when we work for it; and we don’t get anything if we don’t work for. Otherwise, it’s just not fair!
I remember reading an article by someone who was upset at the notion of "universal salvation," that everyone might go to heaven. "It’s just not fair," the author said, "because some of us have worked hard all our lives to get to heaven. And then someone else comes along, who led an evil life, and they get to heaven as well. It’s just not fair!"
Perhaps the Prophet Isaiah said it best: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your way my ways, says the Lord."
The parable of the Gospel is familiar to us. Workers in the vineyard go out at dawn, at 9:00, noon, 3:00 and 5:00. At the end of the day, the last workers are paid first, and, surprisingly, they receive a full day’s wage—and even more surprisingly, the first workers receive the same.
Scripture scholars tell us that the original point of the parable may have been a comparison of the Jews and the Gentiles in salvation history. Israel served the Lord for many generations; and now the Gentiles come along—Johnny come lately—and they will receive the same salvation as the Jews? It’s just not fair!
The smallness of this attitude can be seen if we imagine another parable. Imagine two brothers at home, and their house catches on fire. They do their best to put the fire out. An hour later, a third brother comes home, and he begins to help. But there is a fourth brother, out of town on business, and they call him to help. He drops everything, flies home, and arrives four hours later. With his help, they finally put out the fire, and they all rejoice! Now, imagine the four of them, sitting around the table, tired but happy, and the original two brothers say, "We should get more credit than you two since we worked the longest. It’s just not fair!" Wouldn’t that be odd, and trivial, and self-serving, in the moment of success—in which they all win? Why not just rejoice at the success?
Or, imagine a baseball game. A seasoned player who has been with team for years, hits two home runs in the first two innings. But the game goes neck-and-neck, to the ninth inning, where the score is tied. A rookie gets up to bat, and, for the first time, hits a home run. The game is won! At the tavern later, everyone is rejoicing at the victory, patting the rookie on the back. Except one. The seasoned player, who says, "I should get more credit. It was my first two home runs that got us started. It’s just not fair!" Wouldn’t that be odd, and trivial, and self-serving? Not to rejoice at the success that the team won—and to pout!
So let’s go back to universal salvation—let’s imagine that all of us in this church will be saved. And there are some here who are sinful, and others who are saints. The roof caves in on us, and we all die. We wake up in heaven, and we see everyone who was with us at church—and we’re thrilled and rejoice that we all made it! But one person grumbles: "I lived a good and holy life, but I know there are sinners here. It’s just not fair!" Wouldn’t that be odd and trivial and self-serving? Why not just rejoice that everyone made it? After all, the presence of others takes nothing from him.
And the master of the vineyard said, "Are you envious because I am generous?" And that generosity will give to each of us . . . a full day’s wage.