Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 21, 2014
There is one theme of today’s Gospel reading that is readily apparent: those who work in the Lord’s vineyard will all receive the same pay – that being eternal life. But it seems to me that there is a second, less obvious theme, which is what I want to discuss today.
The first thing to notice is that the owner of the vineyard goes out at the first part of the day to hire workers for his vineyard. Next, notice that he goes back at the third hour and sees others “standing idle in the market place” who he hires and sends into the vineyard. Then at the sixth and ninth hours the owner returns yet again and finds more workers who he hires and sends into his vineyard. Finally, at the eleventh hour, the last hour before the end of the day, the owner returns once again to the market place and finds others just standing around. He demands of them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” And they respond, “Because no one has hired us.”
It is at this point in the story that you can feel the tension, which has been building throughout the parable, reach its culmination. Here it seems the owner could have said with a sense of exasperation, “What do you mean by saying that no one has hired you?! I have come to the market place four other times looking for workers but you were too lazy to take any notice.”
But, even though these words were not spoken by the owner, they do seem to be implied by what he does say next, “You go in the vineyard too.” In order to understand what he is really saying we must understand the grammar of this sentence. First notice that the owner does not say ‘please’. And there is a reason for this: in the Greek the word used for ‘you go’ is an imperative. In effect, he is telling all those who are still standing around at the eleventh hour to get out there and do something! I would say it is not unlike when a parent has told their children to clean their rooms multiple times and then finally has to command them to do it. But even then, as we all know, children can be disobedient.
And what is the meaning of this secondary theme of the parable? How are we to understand it? First of all, it is obvious that the owner of the vineyard is God. And the workers in the vineyard are those who have received God’s call and responded to it by doing the work they have been hired to do. As for those in the market place, they represent the rest of mankind that has not yet responded to the call of God: that being those who have never heard the Gospel, or those who have heard it and rejected it. And the day in which the work is to be done represents our lives. By breaking the day up into the various hours our Lord is showing us that God is continually calling us to go out and do the work that He has for us to do. He is constantly pleading with us to not be idle. It is this sense of urgency that is reinforced by our Lord’s use of the imperative “You go into the vineyard too.” But, we must ask this question: why is there such a sense of urgency?
To answer this question we must look to what happened “when evening came” in the parable. The evening represents the end of this life that will come to each and every one of us. In regards to the end of this life, the Catechism tells us that “death lends urgency to our lives” and that “remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment.” It is this ‘bringing of our lives to fulfillment’ which is the reason that God is continually and tirelessly calling us into His vineyard to work. And this ‘work’ that He has given us to do is nothing less than preparing ourselves, and others through evangelization, for life everlasting. This work is accomplished through receiving the Sacraments, obeying the precepts and teachings of the Church, performing the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy, avoiding evil and doing good; in short, the work God has put before us is that of allowing ourselves to be transformed into the image of His Son. And this can only be accomplished if we heed God’s call, go out into the vineyard, and fulfill the purpose that He has for our lives.
But there is an alternative outcome which this parable does not address, but is addressed by many other parables. We are not told in this parable what happens to those who never responded to God’s call. What about those who just stood around the market place all day doing nothing? The owner of the vineyard will tell them, “Get out of my sight – you are not worthy of my generosity. All day I have called to you and you have not responded. But now, the day is over and there is no more work that can be done in order to receive what I was ready to give you. You have made your choice and it cannot be unmade.” If this sounds harsh then remember the parable of the sheep and the goats, or the parable of the wheat and the tares, or many other of our Lord’s parables. There will come a day for us when it is too late to accept what God is offering to us.
One of the main duties of the clergy is to share with God in this calling of people to go out into the vineyard and work. Therefore, I implore you to hear me: God has a unique calling for you, something that no one else can do in quite the same way. And that is why He is continually calling to us, shouting to us, and trying to break through the deafness of our indifference. This life does not last forever, but God does give each of us a lifetime to choose to follow Him. We cannot wait until the last hour is over because then it will be too late. Again hear the words of our Lord today, “You go into the vineyard.”