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In this Sunday’s Gospel (25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A), Jesus tells the story of laborers who receive surprising wages — every worker receives the day’s wage, whether they started in the morning, at noon or in the afternoon.
Keeping in mind Isaiah’s words in Sunday’s first reading (“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways”), it is worth knowing Jesus’ expectations and considerations, so we can labor for him accordingly.
1. Jesus doesn’t score our achievements like we do.
We are apt to think in terms of how effective we are. At home, we notice who is working more and who is working less at the chores we need to get done. At work, we look for who contributes more to the enterprise and we know those who do, deserve more back.
But for Christ, our acceptance of his grace is what matters, not our efforts — and that means it isn’t the task we have, but the love with which we do it, that counts.
“In general merit refers to the right to recompense for a good deed,” says the Compendium of the Catechism. “With regard to God, we of ourselves are not able to merit anything, having received everything freely from him. However, God gives us the possibility of acquiring merit through union with the love of Christ, who is the source of our merits before God.”
The workers who start in the afternoon might easily merit more than the morning crew.
2. Christ recruits us; we don’t send him our job application.
It can seem to us that, whether we converted or just chose to remain Catholic, we did the legwork, decided what to believe, settled on the Church despite some incompatibility, and then did the Church the favor of sticking to it despite unpleasantness.
But that is not at all the way it works, according to Christ. He went out, found us idle, and — through the circumstances of our life and the different channels he has — chose us to come and join him.
As he puts it in John 15:16, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”
We need to be grateful to God for giving us a chance to work for him.
3. He hires us to work; he doesn’t invite us to a prayer meeting.
Sometimes we think of our faith life as our prayer time. It is our time at church, our time reading the Bible. Or it is God’s time to heal us — in the confessional or in his illumination of our emotional life.
This and other parables correct that misunderstanding. Jesus isn’t inviting us just to chat with him, he isn’t inviting us to a one-way relationship; he has tasks he wants us to do for him in the world.
A call to the Christian life is a call to mission: An invitation to “fruitful labor,” as St. Paul puts it in today’s Second Reading.
If our Christian life doesn’t feel like work (joyful work, but definitely work), we’re not doing it right.
4. Jesus is a generous boss.
Though our faith life is more like work than a prayer meeting, Christ is more like a generous host than a boss.
He isn’t a clock-watcher, being careful to give us just what we deserve. If he did that, what would we deserve?
Christ’s generosity is real generosity. Regardless of when we started, he gives heaven for those who stay faithful to the end— an eternity of happiness. Not a bad payday.