Don’t wait till death, to find Heaven…make it happen, now, on earth
We live in a world where many people are starving, but have a great sense of community. Then, there are many people with plenty of food who are desperately lonely, afraid and lost. They (we?) desperately look for love, and don’t realise that the material lifestyle they “love,” blocks them from a lot of true joy and love that comes through family/ community/ friends.
William Barclay (1975) explains the context of our Gospel: The grape harvest ripened towards the end of September, and then immediately the rains came. If the harvest was not in before the rains started, the crop was ruined; so it was a frantic race against time. Any worker was welcome, even if he could give only one hour. The pay was perfectly normal; a denarius or a drachma was the normal daily wage. Men came to the market-place first thing in the morning, carrying their tools, and waited until someone hired them. The fact that some waited until 5pm is proof of how desperate they were. These hired labourers were the lowest class of workers, and life for them was always desperately precarious [uncertain]. Slaves and servants were regarded as being attached to the family: their fortunes would vary with the fortunes of the family, but they would never be in any imminent danger of starvation in normal times. For the day-labourers, to be unemployed for a day was disaster.
The parable immediately says to me that the land-owner (God) cares that the workers have enough to eat, not just the wages for one hour: God wants each one of us to have a FULL life.
The parable addresses two issues:
1. Jealousy by the Jewish people that the Gentiles were being welcomed into Heaven at the last minute. The Jewish people had suffered a lot by persevering as the Chosen People.
2. It’s never too late to live our lives in a way that pleases God: tolerant, grateful, forgiving, generous to the poor, caring for widows, respecting all people (not just our family/ tribe/ nation)
Referring to the people desperately looking for “love,” the parable suggests (and I think we know it’s true), that even “one hour” (a moment) of loving others through self-sacrifice of time/ money or helping out, seems to fill our lives with an inner joy when we see the gratitude and love on the other person’s face (= a form of mysticism).
When we enter “Heaven”, if I can use that expression, you don’t get a slice of Heaven, you get the whole cake! This is symbolised by the last workers getting paid a FULL days wage.
However, it’s important to note that we are not so much talking about the eternal Heaven – although we all pray for that! – the real goal of the Christian life is to create Heaven on Earth. Otherwise, why do we bother saying: Our Father … YOUR KINGDOM COME, your Will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven?
The bad news for us mere mortals living in Heaven on Earth, is that we have to work hard to maintain it. I’m praying the Heaven above will be low maintenance so we can have a break!
Meanwhile, Heaven on Earth is a constant work in progress, a bit like the house of a builder: the wives often complain their house is always “half-finished” as the husband is busy working on other people’s houses. Perhaps that’s a good analogy for today’s Gospel message.
Friends in Melbourne, Australia, have observed that the lockdown restrictions, have allowed mums and dads to spend more time with their children. This has increased moments of joy and love between parents and children, and whole families are sitting down to eat together!
They also said their 10yr old grandkids are learning to cook because parents are home to guide/ supervise them. These are important life skills to learn but, more importantly, I see Heaven on Earth getting some maintenance. Disasters are also moments of transformation.
People keep saying, we cannot go back to the old “normal” after COVID-19 is over. It’s true. This is a rare opportunity we have as a family/ community/ nation to identify what’s not so healthy in our culture and national life, then heal or transform it.
The idea of building Heaven on Earth might help us see the way forward: capitalism has benefits and negatives. Capitalism would not pay a full days wage for one hour of work. If the person is lazy, that’s fair enough. But if there are no jobs, then the system has to change.
Here in Kenya, calling a tradesman for a small job and only paying a small labour charge is unfair. Transport is the same for a full day or one hour. We pay a fair wage + transport.
In the eternal Heaven we’ll all be equal. However, so far, our Heaven on Earth has a lot of divisions: health/ housing/ food. Yes, some people are lazy, but many people work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and still struggle to feed the family and receive good medical care.
What will be your NEW normal after COVID-19? Will you pay a full day’s “wage?”
By Gerard Conlan, OMI