Date: Sunday, September 24, 2017
“God is always present, but not always apparent.” St. Paul writes to the Church at Philippi: “Christ will be magnified in my body.” Paul is being pulled. He longs to be with Christ departing this life but for the sake of the Philippians (and other churches he loves) Paul is content to continue serving and glorifying God in the present moment of his imprisonment. For Paul, his reward is “Life in Christ!” It is not earned or achieved by his/our effort. “Whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” -- Pope Francis.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard rankles us as unfair. We side with the workers who toil throughout the day. Even though they have agreed to the daily wage, at the end of the day when late laborers receive the daily wage too, they expect more. The landowner calls them to task: “Are you envious because I am generous?” The parable is not about the economy of fairness and earthy transactions but the economy of God’s grace and the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is telling the parable to his apostles who have been with him from the beginning and are now jockeying for position of honor and privilege. Jesus is telling the parable to religious leaders who are upset that Jesus associates with sinners. Entry into the Kingdom of Heaven reverses expectations: “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Jesus is inaugurating the vision of Isaiah: “Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”
Embracing Jesus/magnifying the Lord is not done for profit or gain. Consider the volunteers, at their own cost and sacrifice, who are risking their lives to help others after destructive hurricanes and earthquakes. Can we imagine first responders objecting to late arrivals (second, third and fourth responders) who come to help? It is not a matter of monetary reward. As St. Paul urges: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”