Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Letter to the Older Sons and All Day Laborers in the Vineyard

Inspired by some of the various conversations on Facebook and other places, about the new Pope, the traditions of the Church, the earnest work of living a faithful life, and the hard slow walk to the foot of the cross.

Fellow Older Brothers and Workers who have Been Here since Morning Working...Unite!

Boy do we get the short end of the stick!  We are asked to work, we are promised a fair wage and off we go like the dutiful hard working responsible people we are.  We bear the heat.  We do the grunt ugly jobs of minutia that require day in and day out consistency.  We say our prayers. We are faithful to the Father.  We are honest in our dealings with the foreman of the vineyard.  Then these interlopers show up.  They stay half the day, they only start coming to mass at Easter.  They don’t know all the right responses. They’ve messed up more than 90% of their lives while we’ve been ruled by those ten rules all our lives.  How is it they merit Heaven?  How is it that these are our equals?  Will we honestly be greeted by a cavalcade of great sinners beaming with luminous light, graciously delighted with the joy of having been forgiven?  How is it possible, is Heaven peopled with people like the good thief? 

I don't know.  I only know God's ways...are not ours.  His are better.  

God’s mercy remains a great mystery.   It can be hard to fathom.  Jesus illustrates it to us in that when the end of time comes, we will not know whether we are goats or sheep, wheat or chaff, until He pronounces us as such.   We do not know all the times we are lost, nor do we recognize when we have been idle in the vineyard or when we have fed Him in disguise by our fledgling attempts at loving our neighbor as ourselves.   We only know we haven’t done the glossy sins that make for juicy novels thus far.

However, any sin will keep us from paradise. It is a hard truth for the soul (mine anyway) to grasp and keep, we cannot earn/win heaven, we can only accept God’s grace or not.  If we accept God’s grace and love Him, we must serve. Our lives must become reordered. We will race to the vineyard, eager to gain callouses in the labor He provides, we will only wish we could have come to work sooner.   That doesn’t however, satisfy the older brother in the story who sees the party starting without him or fill many of us for that matter.

Those already working in the field are vulnerable upon the coming of new workers.  

It is the serpent that whispers, "Why didn’t we get to go squander our Father’s inheritance? Seems like we should have gone and partied at least a little with a goat or fatted calf or something before settling in to this gig."  Jesus looks at us with great love and says, “Sell everything you have.”  while we go away sad, because we thought we’d done enough, that we were doing enough. 

For the one deeply in love, service all day is a gift willingly given, and the cost, the tally of time is not measured or weighed or found wasted, it is worth it. 

God always wants our hearts to seek His, to desire more love, limitless love, always love.    

But we are fallen, we older brothers.  We didn’t go doing any great sins or ignore the law, yet, our reward is the same as those who failed spectacularly. Looking through the world’s eyes, God’s justice seems innately unjust to the faithful servant, to those who were part of the 99% of the flock. We feel less special, even though everything the Father has, is ours.  

It is understandably human, we want our moment in the sun, to be recognized and patted for the good and faithful servants we think we are.   But when we fail to rejoice that anyone is being pulled in, we are trying to shut them out, to horde God’s generosity for ourselves and those "like us."  It is a grave spiritual threat to our souls, to entertain this sort of spiritual envy combined with a scrupulous desire for a worldly fairness.  It will push us away both from God and our brothers even if we continue to pay lip service to both by our day in day out duty. 

None of us want to believe we are all both the older brother or the Pharisee complaining about the splinter and ignoring the planks, but we all hold onto our sins as fiercely as those lost out in the world we can easily spot.  When we wrongly perceive the inheritance as already ours, already earned, ours to demand because we are in the field working, we engage in self-justification, grace earned rather than given. 

If we still struggle, we must look at the perfect illustration of why we must be eternally grateful for the gift of faith and service we have thus far been able to eke out in the course of our lives.  We have to look at Christ on the cross refusing the vinegar soaked sponge. Surely, Christ had given everything He had at that moment.  

Why refuse this little tiny, almost minute touch of comfort? Why deny Himself a drink of sour wine after carrying the cross, being scourged, being mocked, spit upon, crowned with thorns, nailed to a tree?  Why not drink from the slender reed the dribble of wine from the sponge? 

Precisely so those of us who are trying (however ineptly) to live out a life embracing the cross, would recognize that we too must deny ourselves the offer of pain relief via something that numbs the heart and body, namely bitterness.   If we drink the sourness of entitlement, that is our reward for a whole life’s work. We opt for the self righteous vinegar of the elect, rather than the better wine served to all at the end of the day.

It is not worth it.  

So if you think that you are in the vineyard, and it is the heat of the day and the bite of the world seems about to devour you, rejoice that you have been given this task, rejoice in the work and know, the wages you will receive, are worth every drop of sweat willingly given.  And when you see a new laborer appear at the 11th hour, be grateful that there are more willing hands to help in the harvest, God wants us all.   


maria mcclure said...

Thanks, Sherry... It would not hurt to remember that Paul was a "latecomer" to the Vineyard himself and yet he was a most effective and faithful servant.

Has it ever occurred to those who feel a greater sense of entitlement that there are a few of us who are somewhat lost and want to be stronger in our faith?

Which do you think would be more encouraging... and more Christ-like? Sighing heavily when we lose our place and flip desperately through the missal to keep up? Scowling angrily when our children squirm or talk during Mass? Or maybe returning a warm smile during the sign of peace or at the end of Mass - regardless of how much we have all inconvenienced the "pro's"?

I'm not suggesting that being insecure is an excuse, but if you are trying and you are smacked with derision or contempt along the way, intolerance is not going to bring anyone back into the fold.

Our reward - and our moment in the sun - is in heaven. Let us all have a little more patience with each other for if we step on our brothers and sisters on our way up we may just be slowing ourselves down.

Sherry Antonetti said...


priest's wife said...

and even us who think we are 'older' brothers'--- we really are not- we are ALL sinners- desperate for God's mercy

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