The extraordinary generosity and compassion of God

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It’s getting dark and nervously she paces in her modest home. Worried, she sweeps the dirt floor from one side to the next. It is late and she begins to pray, “O God, where is my Joseph? Where is he, Lord? It is getting late and I know he didn’t find work today. I went to the market place and I saw him still standing there late in the afternoon. Is he too ashamed to come home again empty handed?” Her prayer is broken by a tug on her dress. It’s her five-year old daughter Elizabeth. “Mama, where is Daddy? Is he bringing us something to eat? I’m hungry.” And with that the door bursts open and he says, “Hello, Elizabeth! Hello, Rebecca! Prepare the table; we have a feast! Look! I have bread, cheese, figs, and honey.” “Joseph, where did you get all of this? I know you didn’t work. I went by the market place and I saw you standing there late in the day.” He said, “The most amazing thing happened to me today. I was standing in the market place waiting for someone to hire me. The day was getting late and many had given up. Just a few of us were standing there. I just couldn’t come home empty handed again. I couldn’t stand another night hearing her say ‘Daddy, I’m hungry.’ Around the eleventh hour the most unusual thing happened. A fellow came up and he yelled to us and asked us why we weren’t working. We said, ‘No one has hired us.’ He said, ‘I’ll hire you! Come on and work!’ It was late in the day but a few pennies was better than nothing at all, so I went and worked in the vineyard. There were people there who had been working a long time. You could tell they were tired, hot and dusty. We worked for only an hour. Then the landowner gathered us together to pay us, and would you believe he paid us first, the ones who had only worked an hour, not those who had worked three hours or six hours or nine hours or twelve hours, and would you believe he gave us wages for an entire day? I was so happy! I ran to the market place and bought all of this food. When I was in the market place, I heard some of the workers who had worked longer than I had, grumbling. They were down right mad. I didn’t say anything, I just came home. I couldn’t wait to spread this feast before your eyes. Let us gather around the table and thank God for the favor He has bestowed upon us.”

There is real heartbreak in unemployment and hunger, just as much today as it was in the time of Jesus. In Jesus’ time hired laborers had to wait each day in the marketplace until someone hired them for a day’s job. No work that day usually meant no food on the family table. The master, undoubtedly, hired some workers in the late afternoon so they wouldn’t go home payless and hungry. Jesus used the parable of the laborers in the vineyard to show his disciples and us the extraordinary generosity and compassion of God in opening the doors of his kingdom to all who will enter, both those who have labored a lifetime for him and those who come at the last hour. Life itself, the abundant life, eternal life, is all a gift. It doesn’t matter what time you logged in or punched your time clock, eternal life is a gift for all. If we insist on fair treatment, we can become angry and frustrated. But when we embrace the wisdom of our God, we will seek the welfare of others. As we ponder today’s Gospel, let us remember that the time we put into our lives doesn’t matter, but the heart that we put into the time God has given us, does.

Sylvia Bates