The foreman says to Murphy, “Look now, there’s four of you putting these telegraph poles into the ground, Murphy. The report says the other men all put in twenty today, and you’ve only managed four?’
‘Sir,’ says Murphy, ‘have ya checked to see how much of the poles they’re leaving sticking up out of the ground!’
Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers would have left Murphy scratching his head. “What just happened here?” the all-day laborers are thinking as they look down into their palms and see that they, just like the Johnny-come-lately’s in the vineyard, have received only the contracted wage. “Everybody gets the same?” they complain. “But? But? We did much more work than they did. Why are you paying us the same amount?”
Their complaint is not necessarily that the last hired received a payment, but that if the householder was so generous with the last, then certainly he should provide them with a “bonus” for having endured the heat of the day.
The fact of the matter is that from a purely human, logical point of view, they had reason to complain. However, this parable is not about fair labor management, but rather about the radical nature of God’s generosity and compassion which signals the in-breaking Kingdom. We can’t demand God’s kindness; we can only celebrate it.
The parable reaches its crescendo with the vineyard owner’s question: “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” The owner of the vineyard reserves the right to pay his employees not on the basis of their own merits but rather on the basis of his own compassion. And the workers have no response; they must swallow their objections and take what they have received and go.
“Are you envious because I am generous?” That question pulls back the cover from the self-righteous indignation of the workers response to reveal their sin. It is sin that calls God’s mercy and compassion unjust. It is envy that makes us sad that God has been more generous to someone than us. It is sin that makes us begrudge God his sovereign right to be lavish in mercy and compassion to whomever he pleases. What should have been the workers’ response? For the answer we look to another parable of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. “When you have done all that is required of you say simply, “We are unprofitable servants. We have only done what was demanded of us.”
As we celebrate our parish anniversary in the light of today’s gospel we recognize that there are folks who have been working in the Lord’s vineyard here at 129 West Daisy Lane for a long, long time. Some of our founding members are still at their posts as ministers – serving coffee and donuts, lectoring, taking communion to the sick, giving of their time, talent, and treasure to support our ministries.
Others of our founding members must wait for Jesus to come to them brought by a home visitor. “I can’t come to church anymore,” says the message written on their envelop, “but I still love my parish. Pray for me.”
And there are new workers in the vineyard; brothers and sisters who have come to us from across the United States; from Mexico and as far away as Wales. They have found a home here among us and made us richer for their love. They have signed on as sponsor couples who prepare folks for the sacrament of marriage. They are members of our Confirmation Prep and RCIA teams. Coaches and teachers and scout leaders – they too are the Lord’s workers.
And there are workers still too little, too young yet to know their gifts but their voices ring out during Mass when they are hungry and restless. Their little voices are a song, too. We are blessed when their moms and dads bring them to Sunday Mass for they are learning faithfulness to God from the best of teachers.
There is a picture that always makes me stop to remember what a great privilege it is to be here in this part of the Lord’s vineyard with you. It is the picture of Monsignor Marchino praying his breviary as he walks through the grasses of the field which would one day become the church on which Holy Family Church now stands. He worked this field for a long time, much longer than I. But God has given to both of us from his overflowing generosity the privilege of serving you, praying with you, sharing a little corner of field with you. I am content with my pay. And if you have shared your time, talents, and treasure with Holy Family Parish – whether you have put in years, or a day, or a few hours in the field here – I hope you are content, too.