Last Hired, First in Line?
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2023
I was employed in the airline industry for over a decade before entering the seminary, and like many industries, job seniority--your hire date--is very important! After I had been interviewed and had taken a very difficult exam, I waited anxiously to hear if the company would hire me. The competition was fierce. Later, they did call, and offered me one of three start dates that were spaced two weeks apart (we were sent in 3 groups to Dallas for six weeks of difficult computer language training). I chose the second of the three start dates, not realizing that everyone in that first group got first choice in shift selections for the next ten years! Almost everything there was affected because I chose the later date. Jesus’ hiring practices would be outrageous for any employee whose rank is determined by when hired, and that’s the point of this story. On a human level, Jesus’ hiring practices are outrageous!
Again, when the Monks at Mount Angel queue up for Mass, they do so according to what the Monks call “statio,” which is short for “station”. The day of your first vows after novitiate will determine your seniority, your place in line, sometimes at table and many other ramifications--until death! It doesn’t matter how old you are or how important you were at the time of vows--just the date you began your new life as a Monk.
Priests are often called to the bed of the dying, some of whom have been away from the sacraments all their lives, who make a good confession and immediately join the ranks of the saved (sometimes after living lives that were hardly edifying). I have done a number of deathbed baptisms, for example. Should we be jealous because these people are saved at the last minute, while others of us have been working in God’s vineyard all our lives?
Jesus makes it very clear that our ranking in heaven will be very different than it is here. At first glance, it seems the height of injustice for God to pay a man who sat at the canteen all day waiting to get hired, a man who worked only an hour, the same as one who slaved all day in 100 degree weather! But the point is simply this: none of us deserves eternal life; none of us can “earn” it. The “pay” we receive at the end of life is so out of proportion to anything we can ever do for God that it isn’t even worth comparing the two.
Fortunately for us, God calls us at every stage of life: childhood, young adulthood, the prime of life, our senior years, even on our deathbed. In fact, he calls us every day! God is so generous and loves us so much, he can’t wait to forgive us. What then is the reward for those who have worked for Christ all their lives? They will have more to share with him in heaven forever. Every moment is important for our eternity and our spiritual wealth in the next life. The “pay” for following Christ is eternal life, but our “rank” in heaven is determined by our relationship with him and others over the course of our lives.