The Wages for Our Service
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2020
Once I lived in a community where one could see farm laborers standing around waiting to be hired. In many ways this scene was like this Sunday’s gospel of the parable of the landowner who hired people to work in his garden at various times of the day (Matthew 20:1–16). Some of these laborers worked for the master from the beginning of their lives, others from the middle of their lives and still others at the end of their lives. This gospel can strike us as both hopeful and disquieting at the same time. For example, a person wishing to come to Christ on their deathbed is still welcomed by him and is received with open arms as long as they repent. At the same time, nothing is lost and everything gained for having spent one’s whole life in service to God.
The laborers who have worked all day in the sun are surprised that those hired last received the same wages that they did! We can all relate to this – it sounds like a legitimate labor dispute. What union would put up with this kind of behavior? It doesn’t seem fair. How can we look at this parable and understand what Christ is saying to us?
What is the wage Christ is offering? What do we receive for serving and believing in him? The answer, of course, is eternal life. It is not the natural state of a human being to have eternal life. Our bodies are made of dust and they are, in the end, going to wear out. To live forever in eternal youth in happiness and glory is far beyond anything anyone on earth can achieve by their own efforts. In fact, no amount of work on earth for God can begin to earn such a great reward. It is God’s gratuitous gift to those who believe in him and it is beyond our wildest dreams. Therefore, we are not really working for that wage – it is given to us freely. There must be another reason that we’re working in the vineyard and to receive this wage of eternal life, which is given freely to those who believe in him.
Why work in the Vineyard at all? Why do we serve the Lord? What is the reward for serving him all our lives as opposed to coming in at the last minute or even in the middle of life? The answer is that we serve him because we love him. The more we are with Christ, the more we know him; the more we are related to each other, the more we have shared. There is no price too great for having shared more and more with Christ. A person who spent their whole life serving God will have a much deeper insight and relationship with God in eternal life than one who came in at the end. It does not lessen the great gift that God gives all of us who come to him; it’s just that when we spend more time with someone we have things in common that will never end.
So there is another dynamic at work besides the “wages” we receive for serving God. I’m not serving God for “wages” but because I love him and I want to have the deepest relationship possible with him in the eternal life that is to come. The more I have shared with him by suffering with him and by serving my neighbor, the more I will love him in eternity and this is what our service is all about.