Wednesday August 21, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 34:1-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:1-16)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about these people who were hired at the beginning of the day doing exactly what most of us would probably do. When we see the people who worked one hour - when we had worked about twelve - we would assume that we would be making more money than they would. And if they got the same amount that we did for working one hour, we would be upset. We would say things like, "Why did I say 'yes' at the beginning of the day? Why didn't I just stand around all day and do nothing? I could have said 'yes' at the end of the day. I could have gotten the same amount and really not worked hard at all." We would go through all these rationalizations in our minds.
Yet we realize what the Lord is trying to tell us: that the kingdom of Heaven is equal for each and all that matters is that people get there. The pay is going to be the same, that is, a face to face vision of God. It does not matter if we have a deathbed conversion or whether we were called from the time we were children. In fact, what we realize is that not only has God done no injustice in calling us long before the final hour of our life, but rather, it is a great privilege and a gift that He has called us to that. And even if we think about it in the context of the story in the Gospel, while it might be a tempting thing to say, "You know, I should have just stood around and done nothing all day," just think about ourselves and realize that to have nothing to do all day is a pretty boring thing. To stand around all day and do nothing is really a violation of our own dignity. Work is part of the dignity that God has given to us. And he is calling us to work for His kingdom, to go out into His vineyard and to labor.
But we also see the other side of that: that if those who are called to His vineyard from an earlier time in their life become complacent, become selfish, refuse to really do the work of the Lord, they are not going to be in good shape on the Day of Judgment. Those are the ones we hear about in the first reading as the prophet Ezekiel has to go and speak to the shepherds of Israel, to the priests and to the kings, and tell them that they have not shepherded the people. They have milked them for all they are worth. They have taken their fleece. They have killed the fatlings. They have just taken care of themselves; they did not take care of the people. If we, who are called to the kingdom of God, do not do the work of God, then we are going to be the ones to hear the words of God spoken through the prophet Ezekiel against the shepherds of Israel.
In a particular way, this is going to be for the shepherds of the Church: the bishops and the priests who have fleeced the people, who have taken all their milk - all their money. They have taken everything that they are worth and they have not preached the truth to them and they have not shepherded them, but rather, they have taken care of themselves. But it is not just for the priests and the bishops; it is for any of us. Parents are called to shepherd their children. Each one of us is called to a shepherding task with the people around us: to be good examples to the people, to lead them to the Lord, to be able to show them by word and by example what it is to be a follower of Christ. And if we are not doing it, then we realize that even though we have been hired and we have agreed upon the daily wage, we are not doing the work. When it comes to be paid, we will not receive the same daily wage as the people who only worked one hour in the vineyard because we will find ourselves without any pay because we did not do the work.
We need to realize it is a matter of justice that the vineyard Owner has to pay His workers. It is also a matter of justice that the workers have to do the work for their just wage. And for each one of us, we realize it is not a matter of just doing some kind of useless labor and toil so we can get the pay at the end of the day. This is about Jesus Christ. It is about the Gospel. It is about the salvation of souls. And for that, we realize there is a great burden on our shoulders. The work that God has given to us is the greatest privilege in the world, but it also comes with the greatest burden because if we refuse to do the work to which He has called us, we will be without our pay, we will be cut off from Heaven, we will choose the wrong way.
That is the burden that lies upon each one of us. We need to do the work of the Lord. We recognize that He has given to us the privilege of working in His vineyard, which is the greatest privilege in the world. But if we abuse that privilege, we will cut ourselves off from all of the rewards. If we want to be able to receive the pay - which is to be able to go to Heaven - we need to do the work which the vineyard Owner has called us to. Our heavenly Father has called each one of us by name to do the work of His Son. Now we have to do what we are called to do. Not to take care of ourselves, not to just look out for what we want, but rather, to look out for what the Lord is asking of us, to do the work that we have been called to do and to do it as a matter of justice and as a matter of charity so that not only we will be able to receive the usual daily wage, which is Heaven, but that others will be able to do so as well.
The reward which we will receive is, in fact, going to be even greater because if we have done the work of the Lord the way we are supposed to, we will gain a higher position in Heaven. It is not merely a matter of saying, "All of us get to look at God face to face," but if we grow in holiness there will be a greater share in the truth, a greater share in the life. It is not just that everyone gets the same - the one who loves more gets more. And that is what Our Lord is asking of each of us. He is giving us the opportunity to start early so we can learn how to love and we can love more. Now the choice is ours. He has made His choice. He has called each one of us to Himself. We need not only to say, yes, that it is a privilege and it is what we want, but now we need to do it.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.