Summary: God truly is different in His reality than the gods of pagan religion, and so we too are different from their followers.
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Course 2014
What Kind of Vineyard Owner?
When you first heard the parable from today’s Gospel, perhaps when you were a child, what did you think of the householder, the vineyard owner? Was he mean, or generous? I suppose the hired hands in the original story would answer that according to when they were hired. The ones who described themselves as toiling like mules all day and bearing the worst heat of the Palestinian sun probably thought the owner was a total jerk. But ten hours before, they, who had no prospects for earning their daily bread, had considered him a hero for hiring them! But what is your opinion of the owner? Do you see yourself in solidarity with the first hired, or the last?
The key to our understanding, and changing our minds and hearts today, is how the owner described himself. The only virtue he claimed is the virtue of generosity. He was generous enough to give them something to do, and to pay each of them what was considered a fair wage. Jesus wants us to look at the Father in that way. Some of us came to faith in Christ, the faith of the Catholic Church, as kids. Others did so as young adults. Some did so late in life. And, truly, there may be some here who are still struggling with accepting faith in Christ. It’s all OK. The Father will give us everything we need, whatever our stage of faith, whatever our growth in grace.
That’s hard for some to accept. In Jesus’s day, and even up to our day, most believed in God, or in gods, but thought in ways that were different from true Jewish and Christian belief. Pagans thought of the gods as kind of supermen, who fought with each other and used human beings as playthings. The best treatment a pagan god could give a human is indifference. So they sacrificed to these false gods, who were really demons, hoping that they would not send some catastrophe upon them. In other words, their prayer was, “O Apollo/Zeus/Hermes/Minerva/whatever, please leave me alone.”
As Isaiah wrote, however, the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was so far above the false gods that He existed in an entirely different category. His thoughts are not our thoughts–mean, venal, selfish. His ways are not our ways–covetous, lustful, mendacious. As the heavens are high above the earth, so God’s ways are above ours. He loves us. As Pope emeritus Benedict continually says, He has loved us to His own detriment. He literally loves us to death–the death of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. The very name, Jesus, Yah-shuah, means “God saves.” That’s why the only reasonable response we can make to this loving God is to run–not away from Him as the pagans do, but toward Him. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, so we must seek Him while He may be found.
There are practical ways that God has given us to seek Him. We’ve been looking at these and, I hope, practicing them all year during 2014. First, we will daily become more and more a people of prayer. When we bounce, roll or slide out of bed, the first words on our lips should be “praise the Lord,” not “start the coffee.” As we eat breakfast, we should be giving thanks to God and praying for all those in our care, including those God wants us to serve each day. There should be fifteen to thirty minutes each day, budgeted in advance, when we pray, when we communicate with God in the presence of Mary and the other saints: the divine office, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, or the Memorare. If we pray, we each day become more like the saints, more like the people we are designed to become. If we do not, we will become more like the despairing people of secular society, who think pleasure and power are the best things in life.
Second, we are helpful people, we saints-in-training. We obey the ten commandments, and above all the commandment to love God and love our neighbor. We look for opportunities to give without expecting return, a helpful hand, a listening ear, a gentle word of rebuke or a heartfelt expression of support. When we sin, we confess, to God and, regularly, to our priest-confessor. We can be supremely grateful that for two years we have two priests in residence, whose very lives are given over to reconciliation and sacrifice. We should pray for them–and even for us deacons–every day. It is our privilege to serve the servants of God–you.
Third, we are generous people. No, we are not generous enough. We really owe God everything, and so we should give the firstfruits of our labor to the Church. If we all actually did that, then our monthly income deficit would become a surplus and we could retire that almost $2 million debt very quickly, and do wonderful things with the interest we save each month. Beyond that, we should give to the poor, and we should also give of our talents and time. I know all our choirs need members. The religious education and evangelization teams are always in need of help. Give until it hurts, and keep giving. God gave everything for us; can we not give part of that back to him?