September 19, 2017

Reflection for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

By Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

 (Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-39; Matthew 16:13-10, Year A)

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard often evokes a negative reaction in listeners, who feel that there is really something unfair in the landowner’s method of paying his workers. But God doesn’t think the way we think, Isaiah reminds us.

I maintain, furthermore, that this parable underscores the very ministry and message of Our Savior.

Jesus was addressing two different issues. The more obvious one is that we can’t place a price, as it were, on service for the Kingdom. The other is this: different persons respond in their own way, and in their own time, to the Good News. Even though there is always a certain urgency to conversion, it can’t be rushed.

As we can see in many of St. Paul’s letters, becoming a Christian implies a fundamental change of lifestyle. That was dramatically true in his own life, and even as an Apostle in the midst of his service to the Lord, he had to take the needs of others into account, as we see in today’s second reading.

St. Augustine’s path to a full Christian way of life took over ten years. St. Teresa of Avila describes herself as having been a fairly mediocre nun for a long time before committing herself to a serious life of prayer.

Focusing as we do on the conclusion of the parable, we tend not to notice how often the landowner goes out to hire more workers. Reversing the appeal of Isaiah to “seek the Lord while he may be found,” it is the Lord who goes out to seek those who need what he has to offer, while they may be found.

Resentment toward ’latecomer Christians’ implies that those who followed Jesus earlier have lost something, because they have carried the “burden” of the Christian life longer. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The latecomers are the ‘losers’, because they have missed so much along the way. All the saints who were ’late’ converts expressed regrets similar to St. Augustine’s famous phrase, “Late have I loved thee, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new.”

The love of God expressed through Christ’s Incarnation desires that we seek His will, ideally now, but latecomers will always be welcome.

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