Why Do You Stand Idle?

(Homily for Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

Jesus told the parable of the vineyard workers to illustrate God’s generosity. But it shocks the human sense of fair play and justice – “equal pay for equal work.” The owner (God) places no stock in the hour we start working. What counts, at the end of the day, is whether we are in the vineyard or not. Cardinal Newman put it bluntly: the vineyard is the Catholic Church. When you die, God will not review your list of achievements, but will ask, Are you in or not? Thus a notorious sinner like Oscar Wilde was received into the Church on his deathbed while others, perhaps out of bitterness, abandon the vineyard just before sunset.

Having said that, I must point out it would be reckless, perhaps infinitely so, to put off getting into the vineyard. A young man whose marriage I celebrated three years ago dropped dead last week. The doctors said a blood vessel in his brain ruptured. He left behind a wife and two children – the second in utero. Fortunately he was at work in the vineyard when sunset arrived for him.

The parable contains an urgent question for those outside the vineyard: “Why do you stand here idle all day?” (Mt 20:6) It applies to many young people today. Let me illustrate.

When I entered the local seminary in 1964 there were thirty-five in my class. We were the same age, except for one who was six year older. He used to regale us with stories about his “life in the world.” We listened, but pretty soon started calling him “gramps.” Well, today twenty-four year old “gramps” would be one of the younger seminarians. It is not just that there are fewer college level seminaries, but that even those in theology are much older than in the past.

I welcome these older vocations – and no doubt their experience will be valuable for them in the priesthood. Still, one must ask why so many young people are slow responding to their vocation. I am not only talking about the priesthood, but the marriage vocation as well.*

The parable gives part of the answer, “Because no one has hired us.” One of the greatest things we can do is help a young person get to work. For myself it involved an invitation from my parish priest, but also a word from one of my high school classmates. She was not a Catholic, but I believe the Lord used her when she asked, “Phil, are you thinking about becoming a priest?”

Fr. Andrew Greeley said what young people need most is simply encouragement. Folks have made fun of interfering aunts who acted as matchmakers, “Don’t you think Susan would be a nice girl for you?” But maybe we have become too reticent today. I am not talking about hammering young adults for their lack of commitment, but praying that the Lord will send the right person to guide them – and being open to the scary thought that the right person might be you!

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “warn those who are idle, encourage the timid.” (I Thes 5:14) What greater service can we do for someone than encourage them to embrace their vocation, to get to work in the vineyard?


*There is a third central vocation - the dedicated single person. In my years as a priest, I have known many men and women who have exercised it nobly.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 7 (Summing Up)
2011: The Sole Question
2008: They Thought They Would Receive More
2005: Day Laborers
2002: Why Do You Stand Idle?
1999: Are You In or Not?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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