Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Vocation Retreat Homily
Chapel of the Assumption
Tabor Retreat House
Lake Charles, Louisiana
September 18, 2011
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Jesus told his disciples this parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.” Matthew 20:1
“There is work to do.” This sentence keeps coming to mind as I read this Gospel. The landowner needs workers in his vineyard. He goes out at different times during the day for hired hands to work. He does not have enough laborers. That he is persistent in finding them indicates that “there is work to do.”
The landowner also decides to do something that employers ordinarily would not do. He decides to pay the same daily wage to everyone, regardless of how long or how hard they worked. Anyone who has managed personnel knows that this would be disastrous in our modern world. One can only imagine the protests, strikes, and law suits that would result if an employer did this today. However, the landowner does it. Might I propose why? I think he is so pleased that the work was done, so grateful that he found enough employees to accomplish the task, that he is willing to decrease his profit by paying an outrageously generous wage. He asks, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” (Matthew 20:15). In the end, the work got done.
God owes us no explanation. This is difficult lesson to learn. Along with a number of other important lessons, I think it is one of the chief lessons of today’s Gospel. There is a task to be accomplished. There is work to do.
Reflecting on the Gospel, I am struck by how the Lord wants concentration on the vineyard of work. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Jesus said that because He knew there was work to be done. The worker in the vineyard is to take up his cross daily and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If he doesn’t, then the worker is unworthy (Matthew 10:38). No one can put his hand to plow and look back. If he does, then he is not “fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Jesus says all of this and more. He says it because there is work to be done. There is a Gospel to be preached. There is a Kingdom to be proclaimed. The worker is not to count the cost, and he certainly is not to waste time comparing his wage to that of his co-worker.
How contrary is this to what we hear today in our self-absorbed world? People ask, “What is in it for me?” They puzzle because they find their work unfulfilling. They are consumed with jealousy because the “wicked appear to prosper.” This is the way the world thinks, and perhaps we should not expect anything better from the world. However, in the Kingdom of God it must be different. We cannot bring to the Kingdom of God the thinking of the world.
The Kingdom of God calls for another type of attitude. St. Paul mentions it in the second reading of today’s Mass. “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain” (Philippians 1:21). St. Paul wants to see his flesh die, yet he must remain in the flesh to be of service to the Philippians (Philippians 1:25). The solution? Jesus must take over more and more of his life so that he can be of greater and more lasting service. There is work to do.
In the Kingdom of God we do not have time to be concerned about when our co-worker was hired. The landowner says, “I am not cheating you” (Matthew 20:13). We should not be occupied with thoughts of fairness. Justice, yes. Fairness, no. Here in the Kingdom of God, it is a question of generosity, plunging oneself into the work to be done, not counting the cost, seeing what has to be done and doing it. He says, “Take what is yours and go” (Matthew 20:14).
I knew a bishop once whose favorite verse in Scripture was Luke 17:10. “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” (Luke 17:10). He said he would often repeat that verse to himself when he came to the end of a particularly exhausting day. When troubles had mounted and he was not sure that he had addressed them properly but he had tried and worked in the vineyard tirelessly, he presented whatever he had done to God and said, “I am a useless servant. I did only what was expected of me.”
This is the attitude worthy of the Kingdom of God. This is what it means to die to self and to live for Christ.
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Vocation Retreat
Bishop Glen John Provost