Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
Bishop Untener's Homily
When this Gospel comes up every three years, it always makes me think of my sister, Alice. She was the fifth of the nine children in the Untener family (I was the seventh). This is the Gospel I chose for her funeral. When I told my family that this was the Gospel passage I was going to use, they thought I had lost my mind. It's a passage people generally don't like. They're usually on the side of the fellows who worked all day in the heat, and then got paid the same as the others who worked only an hour.
Well, it all depends on whose shoes you're in.
Now the reason I chose it for Alice's funeral is because she had a whole string of bad breaks in her life. Alice was a lively person, who laughed and sang a lot and was an asset to any party. She dropped out of college because, as she said, it wasn't her thing. She loved to cook and she loved housekeeping, and she wanted to get married and have children. So, she went out and got a job.
Then, when she was 19 years old, she was attacked one summer day when she had decided to walk to work. Although it didn't show right away, she was never the same again. After a while she started to have seizures of some strange sort, and it made it difficult for her to keep a job. But she managed.
She went to night school to learn how to become one of those court reporters who sit there during a trial and transcribe onto this special machine every word spoken during a trial.
And then, when she was in her early 30's, she was diagnosed with lupus. It gradually began to affect the ligaments in her body, and her fingers started to get gnarled, which made it difficult for her to work as a court reporter.
And then, she couldn't work anymore, and couldn't drive a car. She spent a most of her time at home. And then she died.
Because of Alice, I saw this Gospel in an entirely different light. Which is harder? To work hard all day? Or to want a job and not get one? I think it comes out about even, which, as you recall, is how the owner of the vineyard paid his workers.
Which is harder? To get married and deal with all the challenges and struggles of married life and raising children? Or to want to get married and get left on the sidelines? I guess it comes out about even, which is how the owner of the vineyard paid his workers.
Which is harder? To earn your wages by the sweat of your brow? Or to want to work, but end up on welfare? I think it comes out about even, which is how the owner of the vineyard paid his workers.
You could think of a whole string of questions like that. For example, is it harder to struggle through a difficult marriage...or end up divorced? I don't know. Is it harder to be talented, gifted with a good mind, and have to live up to high expectations... or to have limited abilities and never rise to a level where you have heavy responsibilities? I don't know. Is it harder to have an emotional disorder and feel like a blot on society... or to have a healthy psychosocial make-up and deal with all the challenging demands of normal life? We could add a lot more of those "which is harder" questions.
We should be grateful to Jesus for this parable. He has revealed to us that we have a gracious God, who understands... who reads hearts and not just time cards or popularity polls. We are grateful to have a God who measures effort, not just accomplishments. We are grateful that we have a God who looks at who we are and not simply what we produce.
We're celebrating today the installation of a new pastor, and that sets us thinking about what a pastor is meant to be, and what a parish is meant to be. A parish is nothing less than the Body of Christ, because the Risen Christ pours his Spirit upon us. A parish is a place where all God's children are welcome, a community that recognizes that everything is ultimately a gift from God and we don't really earn anything. A parish is a community that comes together and supports one another in our effort to live a good life. A parish is a community that makes present and visible right here in this time and place the gracious, inclusive, forgiving, understanding love of God... for everyone. A parish is a community that is a sign of hope to people who don't have much hope... a community that is kind to people who often aren't dealt with very kindly. A parish is a community that reaches out to the rich and the poor, and everyone in between. A parish is a group of people who realize that they have been on the receiving end of God's love, and who trying to be on the giving end of that same love.
A parish is a strange and wonderful community that takes to heart the words God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." A parish is a community that tries to express to one another and to the world God's thoughts and God's ways, even if God's thoughts and God's ways seem strange to the world.
We can look back over the years and tell stories of how this parish has tried to do that. And we can look ahead to ways we want to do that in the years to come.
May we all take to heart this parable of the workers in the vineyard, and celebrate God's gracious love for us, and extend that same love to the world around us. It's what a parish is meant to be... and what a parish is meant to do.
Originally given on September 26, 2002