Saturday, January 31, 2015

Septuagesima

I Corinthians 9:24-27  *  Matt. 20:1-16

In the parable we read this day, we see the Christian way of life signified by laboring in a vineyard. Is that a problem for us? Might one object that salvation is by grace and not by anything we can earn? Indeed, it is. It is purely the grace of God, the gift instead of wages. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).” So the penny is not the gift of salvation, but represents the meeting of our need, the need for which we entered into the vineyard in the first place.
          To labor in the Lord’s vineyard, so to speak, is a privilege, a gift in and of itself. It is the most worthwhile life anyone can live. Living apart from serving the Lord and doing His will is a life wasted. It may be a rich life, or a poor one. But even if it is rich, as this world perceives of wealth, with all the outward manifestations of happiness, and with health, rich in any kind of success and acclaim, it is nothing compared to a life of knowing Christ and serving Him. It would be devoid of the greatest joys, joys that are spiritual and of eternal value. It would lack the foretaste of the Divine glory that we long to see in fullness.
          This is why I object so strongly to a popular “gospel” of worldly prosperity. When I see the sufferings of St. Paul, especially as described and listed in his Second Epistle to the Corinthian Christians, it is clear that the false apostles of “Faith and Prosperity” are completely out of touch with the true Apostles who built the house we live in. In that Epistle, St. Paul does not describe a life made meaningful by worldly prosperity, wealth or health.

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands (II Corinthians 11:24-33).”

He wrote this to contrast himself, and all the Apostles, quite rightly against those he described as Satan’s ministers, and as false apostles and deceitful workers. And a little while later he picks it up further.

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (II Corinthians 12:7-10).”

          So, the joy I am speaking of is not the transient and shallow happiness of this world. The joy of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard, so that even in times of sorrow and distress, or of persecution, or what have you, life takes on the greatest and richest meaning, is something that either you do understand or you cannot understand. You see it, or you are blind to it. There is no in between.
 No matter what life throws at you, when you live to serve Christ you know something that the world cannot know. You know the value of each day devoted to the Lord, for such a day is never wasted. That is because you are aware of eternal life in the world to come, and of the value that even the most simple things take on when viewed in that perspective. It is the perspective of faith.
          I think of three Christian children we read about not long ago, who when ordered by ISIS murderers to renounce Christian faith and convert to Islam, chose rather to die than to deny Jesus. Why would they do such a thing? The answer is simple: They were Christians.
          Christians can be unpredictable. Sometimes they do the oddest things. I know one family who, years ago, having already six children, adopted two babies (in fact babies of a different race) who had been born of mothers infected with the HIV virus, and who were born, both of the babies, addicted already to heroin. They raised them and loved them as part of their own family. Why would people do such a thing? The answer is, because they were Christians.
Oh, you have to watch those Christians. You never know what crazy thing they’ll do next, just because they love Jesus Christ, and therefore, they love people. They serve Jesus Christ, and therefore they serve people. And, what is laboring in the Lord’s vineyard if not to minister to people in need when every opportunity arises?
So, in this parable, why is one laborer disgruntled? He saw a difference between his effort and the effort of late comers, especially those who had worked only one hour. So it may be that a person has labored for the Lord over several years, maybe for decades. Maybe that labor involved building a parish like this one, with money and service and time given. Then along comes a new person, and everything in the parish belongs just as much to him as it does to the long time loyal and faithful servant. The amount given to that new one is equal to the amount given to the other. The experience of worship, the grace of the sacraments, the joy of faith, is all fully given to one as well as the other.
Now, truthfully, in my experience I have seen that the people who have been long faithful are often quite glad for the goodness of the Lord, for giving equally to the one who has come late. But I have seen, sadly, exceptions to that over the years.
The grievance of the disgruntled laborer in the parable, is not that he is receiving anything less than the full promise of God, the promise he has always counted on. It is that the late comer is treated with equal grace and goodness. The disgruntled laborer is handed what he worked for, but begrudges the same share to one who has not labored all day. However, what the owner of the vineyard gives to the late comer is not any business of the man who labored all day. The owner of the vineyard is full of goodness. He is gracious. He gives not according to what is fair, but pays a day’s wage because that is what each laborer truly needs in order to have enough to live on.
So is the grace and goodness of God, Who in His Son gives us what we need, even giving it to the one who arrived late after suffering wasted hours, and without hope and expectation of having his needs met. For he spent hours unemployed, which is to say, without hope of having his daily bread.
 What everyone needs is the grace of God, and all that goes with it. Everyone needs forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. The one who labors in hope through the day has had a better day than the one who has spent hours unemployed and in a state of anxiety. Even so, the Lord is gracious unto all who call upon Him.


2 comments:

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

Father Hart would you consider the Pope to be born again? Is Francis a christian?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Uh...yeah...I have no doubt he's been baptized.

Why would you ask such a thing?