Note: At the end of this homily there is a request of the parishioners of St. Patrick’s to participate in the Out of the Cold and Friends of Dismas cooking programs. We far exceeded our needs and I want to thank the “Labourers” of St. Patrick’s for their kindness and generosity.
Of Parables and Paradox
“Jesus told his disciples this parable.”
Jesus is the greatest itinerant preacher of all time.
Jesus was not the first to use parables but it would be hard to argue that any preacher ever used them with such a long lasting impact on his followers.
A parable is a short story that begins with a scene that is familiar and relatable to the audience. Jesus’ parables are often simple but they are far from simplistic. They have a catch and he always challenges the status quo.
Jesus was also a preacher whose lessons often ended with or involved a paradox. A paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
Sr. Barbara Reid has written a series of books called Parables for Preachers. It is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to gain some insight into the lessons contained in each of these stories.
Barbara asserts that “The parables of Jesus are an invitation to see the realm of God as God sees it and to act as Jesus acted.”
So let’s buckle up and explore what Jesus was trying to teach us with his tale of the “Labourers in the vineyard. “
Jesus and the disciples have been wandering around Galilee and are traveling towards Jerusalem. Jesus has been teaching them about discipleship.
The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard and the final line- that the first shall be last and the last shall be first seems on the surface to make NO sense. What relevance could it possibly have for us modern day folk that live in a world that professes that it is the early bird that gets the worm- he who hesitates is lost- to the victor goes the spoils….
There are two distinct parts to the parable- the hiring and the payout.
By the very fact that you have found your way here to church today means that you should consider yourself hired.
That is both good news and potentially distressing news.
If you have been hired by Jesus it means that somewhere along the way you have been fortunate enough to encounter Christ. All of our stories are different but in some sense you have put your hand up and accepted a position in the vineyard.
The potentially distressing news- there is a lot of work that needs to get done. Consider this: if you prove to be a really great worker you will get some of the worst jobs and your payment will be to find yourself at the end of the line when the rewards are handed out.
How does that make any sense in our modern day success oriented world?
The first shall be last and the last shall be first- a paradox if there ever was one.
As I reflected on this confusing story I could not help but think of my friend Gordie.
He wouldn’t mind me telling you that he is approaching old age as defined by the Canada pension plan folks and that for almost 40 of those years he has been behind bars.
A difficult childhood translated into a life of crime and violence. Gordie is a guy who has stories and he finds himself as a man in the last phase of his life and he is filled with regret, shame and remorse.
This month however finds him celebrating 7 years of freedom. This is the longest stretch out of jail for his adult life.
Many of you here at St. Patrick’s have had a hand in this amazing accomplishment.
I first met Gordie at the Keele Correctional Centre. Over the years we have had the opportunity to share many meals prepared by the parishioners of St. Patrick’s over the dinner table at the Keele Centre.
A small number of folks from the church have gotten to know Gordie quite well and have spent additional time with him- not trying to fix him but simply offering to him the truly priceless gift of friendship.
Several years ago another ex-con friend of mine was having a really difficult time. He was homeless and sinking into a deep depression. It was a bitter cold night and we were at the Dismas Fellowship dinner- yes eating a casserole- and Gordie was sitting with this fellow and without hesitation he asked him to come and spend a few days with him- to get out of the cold.
How does this relate to the parable?
Each of you has been handpicked by the Lord to be one of his labourers. You bring a unique set of talents to the vineyards.
Some of you have been working in the vineyard for a long time; some of you have just arrived.
Today you might have come here to church tired and are looking for some quiet time in prayer and looking forward to being the fed at our table with the Eucharist.
And then there is this reading! To make matters more stressful the announcements contained yet another request for help- the Out of the Cold and Dismas Cooking programs.
Some of you may have looked towards the heavens and prayed- Lord you have got to be kidding me. Don’t you know that times are tough and I am exhausted!
Jesus knows all of this.
However, you got here, into his vineyard, he knows that you have the capability to do the work of a disciple.
Your work preparing a casserole won’t change the world; but there is a possibility that your gift of time and a small bit of your treasure responding to today’s request will help to make a difference in someone’s life.
Your work may well touch someone who has been discarded as useless by our society.
That person may one day then become a labourer in the vineyard of the Lord, thanks in part to you choosing to use your gifts even though you have been labouring since dawn.
You- the labourers of St. Patrick’s have helped Gordie and I have seen with my own eyes how Gordie has repaid the gift by helping others.
Take a moment and come to the large hall after mass and sign up to provide some food to a complete stranger. Make it a family project.
This is a real opportunity to earn a place further back in the line for heaven- which as Jesus says is a good thing.
It is a paradox to be sure.