by Orlando Hernandez
Right now, a dear friend of mine is dying in an ICU bed at Queens General Hospital. I am reminded of verse 23 in my beloved Psalm 104:
“ People go out to their work,
to their labor till evening falls.”
In this Wednesday’s Gospel we re-visit our Lord’s parable of the workers at the vineyard of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 20: 1-16). Their workday can represent the short, precious span of a human life. The landowner ( our God! ) starts hiring workers at dawn. He hires more workers throughout the day, even up to five o’clock in the afternoon. At he end of the day He chooses to pay them all the same salary even though some of them had been working for many more hours than others. This seems very unfair to those workers, maybe even to us. Our Lord tells us:
“My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (v.v. 13-16)
This parable reminds me that the Kingdom of Heaven starts right here on Earth, and it is greatly about commitment and work. We must work through word and example, to spread the news of God’s infinite love to all the people we meet. It is not easy work, especially when we must start the work on our very own selves. I pray that we will do the best we can, and yet we must recognize the littleness of our accomplishments, how in the end we are just “unprofitable servants”, whether we started at dawn or at five o’clock!
It’s OK, because this Kingdom of God is most of all about the generosity of this Landowner, who loves us with an unfathomable love, and wants to give us the payment of eternal life with Him. When we are given EVERYTHING, what does it matter if someone else “deserved it” less than we did? We don’t lose anything. This is not a “zero-sum game”. This is an “everybody wins” type of blessing from our magnificent God. I am reminded of the story from Therese de Lisieux’s “ Story of a Soul “ , where she writes about the arrogant , unrepentant murderer who was about to be guillotined in Paris. She had prayed so much for his salvation and at the very last moment the condemned man knelt, grabbed a crucifix, and begged for God’s forgiveness. With her heart full of joy the “Little Flower” truly believed that this man had been saved. But what sort of “Kingdom work” did that man do during those last few seconds of life? Only God knows. For one thing he worked on himself, and his example of humility and fear of God before so many people must have touched more than one hard, stony heart in that crowd. Such is the mercy of God.
I personally can relate to those laborers in the parable who did not start working until 5 p.m.. After 43 sinful, selfish, unbelieving years, the Lord came and took me as a servant of His love. Thank You Merciful Father!
Now, I must recognize that I took some “time off” when I stopped writing for this blog for the last two weeks! My wife and I were left in charge of our two very beautiful and active granddaughters. Should my excuse be that I did not even have a free second to dedicate to this writing, and if I did I was too exhausted to do anything? Naaah, no excuses. I should be “docked” . Instead, the Lord lavished upon me one bonus after another, because these girls brought such light and joy into my life.
Yes, the ultimate salary is eternal in scope, but in the meantime, our Lord gives us a multitude of “advance payments” every single day: the beauty of His creation, the love of people around us, like my friend Edith Pruzan, the strength to go on despite all challenges and losses, and most of all the gift of faith, prayer, His very presence in our lives. Wow! To go from vineyard laborer to zillionaire! Thank You Beloved! Keep Edith in Your loving arms. Amen.