Day Laborers

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

A story is told about a woman in an airport. She had a “red-eye” flight and it was around midnight. She was tired, but also hungry so she bought a box of cookies. She sat down and opened her hand bag, searching for a book to read. A man sat down next to her and the next thing she knew, he opened the box of cookies and was eating one of them! This upset the woman but she did not want to create a scene. Besides, she thought, “Well, he is only eating one.” But then he took another one. Rather than have a row, the woman simply took one herself. Then he took one and she took another one. This continued until there was only one cookie left. The man picked up the final cookie and said to the woman, “Would you like to split it with me?” She was so furious that she grabbed it out of his hand, took her bag and stormed away. When she got on the plane, she was still fuming. Before she sat down, she reached into her bag to find her book. What she pulled out was the box of cookies which she had bought!

The man she was angry with turned out to be the generous one. We see something like that in today’s parable. We can get mad at God and think that he is treating us unfairly, especially when we compare ourselves to other people. But all this shows that we have the wrong premise. In relation to God, everything is a gift. It all belongs to him. When we stand before God, we cannot demand any rights. For the workers in today’s Gospel it seemed unfair that the ones who worked only an hour got the same pay as the ones who worked the entire day. But God is not unfair. He is simply generous.

We can learn something from the workers who entered the vineyard late in the day. Day laborers existed not only in the time of Jesus; we have them today. We can learn something by considering their point of view. A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit with day laborers here in Seattle. The visit gave me a different perspective on today’s Gospel. I saw the guys early in the morning. There was still a good crowd of them, all eager to get hired for ten dollars an hour. In order to get picked they had to look strong and alert – and of course have no alcohol on their breath or any evidence of drugs.

Those who did not get picked were quite disappointed. They had to make a choice: Would they continue to wait or seek more pleasant surroundings? The day was getting hot and it would be more comfortable, say, in a library - not to mention a tavern or stretched out on a sofa in front of a TV. The more desperate would stay until around noon.

To me the remarkable thing in today’s Gospel is that some of the day laborers waited until five in the afternoon. (Jerusalem is about the same latitude as San Diego so, even in the summer, 5:00 p.m. is getting close to sunset.) I don’t know about you, but in some ways I would find that wait more difficult that eleven hours of work.

Often young people will ask me how they can discover their calling in life. They wish that God would slip an envelope under the door: Joseph, I want you to become a priest or Richard, your vocation is to get married and form a family - Oh, and I have just the right girl for you. An immediate, clear message would be wonderful, and it does sometimes happen, but usually a young person has to follow the example of the day laborers in today’s Gospel: Patient waiting.

Here are some aspects of patient waiting which apply to young people - and also to the rest of us. Don’t slouch in front of a TV. Prepare yourself so that you can respond when the call comes – get rid of drugs, pornography, alcohol or other addictions. Do some solid reading, listen to some worthwhile cassettes, cultivate healthy friendships, think about what older people (including parents) say to you. Even if you have to wait a little longer than others, you will not lose the full day’s wages.

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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?

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