Today's readings can be found: [HERE]
There’s a particular reward that's almost reserved for priests. Everyone has an opportunity of receiving this reward on very rare occasions, but priests are blessed with it fairly regularly, so long as they're faithful to their ministry. This reward is not wealth, or it shouldn’t be. Ironically, it's not heaven, per se. That’s the reward of the saint. All priests are called to be saints; but not all saints are called to be priests.
So, what is this reward particularly given to the priest? Here’s a hint: it’s the same reward offered to the laborers who were called at dawn. But they missed it, because their mindset was wrong.
Their logic goes something like this: I worked more than the other laborers; I arrived earlier and worked longer; therefore, I deserve more than the others. Never mind that I received exactly what I agreed to. And never mind that the landowner said that what he gave to the others is just.
Sadly, those laborers subscribed to a certain philosophy, which proclaims that my value isn't objective, but relative to others. My worth is measured by my superiority over others. Life is a competition; and if I am to win others must lose. That’s how they felt.
And so, when they receive their payment, they direct their fury to the landowner: “You made them equal to us”, as if to say: “Who do you think you are, establishing equality where there are fundamental differences? Who are you to reward everyone equally, when we worked more than anyone else? Are you blind? We worked all day—don’t you see that we deserve a greater reward?
That’s the logic of the world. But this is no ordinary vineyard, and no ordinary landowner. Under symbolic images, Jesus reveals the nature of his Kingdom, which does not function according to worldly economics. In the Kingdom of God, judgment is given simply according to love’s standards, and nothing else.
Comparing one’s self with others, self-interested calculations, sliding scales based on relative standards, and the worst of them all: that egotistical sense of entitlement, and the need to have “my way;"--that’s the cancer that devours the human heart, and lurks within each of us, regardless of background, culture, level of education, or social and economic status.
Jesus understands all of this all too well. He came to change that mind-set, because it absolutely and unequivocally is incompatible with his kingdom where love is the standard. God knows each one of us very intimately; he knows our innermost thoughts and circumstances.
That intimacy is symbolized by the landowner in our parable. Notice how he goes out personally to gather laborers for his vineyard. He had a foreman who could have done that, but he goes himself to call each laborer individually, face to face. It’s important for each laborer to hear the master’s voice, and to look into his eyes.
Who were those who were called at the end of the day; who worked for only an hour? They are those who are unable to work with the strength of a grown man. They are those who are unable to bear the day’s burden and the heat.
Think of the widow and the orphan. Think of someone elderly, who has lost the strength of his youth. Think of a single mother, who carries the weight of so much responsibility on her shoulders; and has little strength left for herself. Think of the disabled veteran who returns from war. Think of the child with Down’s syndrome whom many in society have rejected. Think of an "unwanted child," who simply desires to be born. Think of the one born blind, or deaf, of crippled in some way.
None of them have the strength of a man in his prime. None of them can compete at the same level. But none of that matters, anyway; not in the vineyard of the Lord. Their presence cannot be quantified into hours; their value is far beyond pearls; it is without measure.
In the vineyard of the Lord—in the Kingdom of God—they will not be left behind. The Lord has a place for them. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,” says the Lord, “and I will give you rest.”
When these laborers who arrived last, are called first, and receive the full day’s wage, the laborers called at dawn were also given a reward reserved for them. But they missed it. Their mindset was wrong; and so, they failed to claim their reward. And then they rebel out of a distorted sense of justice.
Their reward was this: since they were last to receive their wages, they were given the beautiful gift of being able to witness the joy, gratitude, wonder, and love that surely filled the faces of those laborers who were called at the last hour. Like one who rejoices at the return of a lost lamb, those who came with the dawn were called to share in the master’s joy.
That’s a reward priests enjoy particularly in the sacrament of Confession. He witnesses the very moment when the soul is reconciled with God. And he is there to welcome the sinner back home in Christ’s Church. He rejoices that the one who was lost has been found; he rejoices at the one who was dead but lives again.
Those first laborers missed that reward, because they were only focused on their own profit. There was no sense of community within their hearts: between laborer and landowner, and between the laborers themselves. And so, they are cast out. They must take what is theirs and leave. They must leave the vineyard, no longer in communion with the landowner nor the other laborers. They must leave the Kingdom of God.
There is no compatibility between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. Why do some arrive earlier and some later in the day? Why do some labor at this and others at that? Why do some appear to be more important than others? Above all, why do all nevertheless enjoy the same bliss? All these questions, that unsettle calculating human logic, must become submerged in the ocean of mercy given to us all.