Gospel according to Saint Matthew 20,1-16:
Jesus told his disciples this parable, «The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the workers a salary of a silver coin for the day, and sent them to his vineyard.
»He went out again at about nine in the morning, and seeing others idle in the square, he said to them: ‘You, too, go to my vineyard and I will pay you what is just’. So they went. The owner went out at midday and again at three in the afternoon, and he did the same. Finally he went out at the last working hour —it was the eleventh— and he saw others standing there. So he said to them: ‘Why do you stay idle the whole day?’. They answered: ‘Because no one has hired us’. The master said: ‘Go and work in my vineyard’.
»When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager: ‘Call the workers and pay them their wage, beginning with the last and ending with the first’. Those who had come to work at the eleventh hour turned up and were given a denarius each (a silver coin). When it was the turn of the first, they thought they would receive more. But they, too, received a denarius each. So, on receiving it, they began to grumble against the landowner. They said: ‘These last hardly worked an hour, yet you have treated them the same as us who have endured the day’s burden and heat’. The owner said to one of them: ‘Friend, I have not been unjust to you. Did we not agree on a denarius a day? So take what is yours and go. I want to give to the last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do as I please with my money? Why are you envious when I am kind?’. So will it be: the last will be first, the first will be last».
A great service
Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, September 24, 2023 | XXV Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 55: 6-9; Fil 1: 20-24. 27; Mt 20:1-16a
I remember on one occasion commenting on how the movie Babette’s Feast (1987) illustrated the meaning of the kingdom of heaven as a very special Banquet. Now, in the face of the Gospel that speaks to us of the laborers called at different times to work, I would like to propose again its content as an example of service.
The reason is that today Christ is not simply making an apology for work, however valuable we may consider it. Perhaps, He seeks to make us understand what for Himself gave full meaning to His coming into the world: to Serve.
SUMMARY: In a small fishing village on the coast of Norway there was a group of devout Lutherans led by a pastor and his two daughters, Martine and Philippa. The small community gathered for worship, singing hymns. They lived their faith in an austere way, wearing black and eating only boiled cod and porridge, with an affectionate camaraderie.
Both girls were the beauties of the village and soon attracted the attention of handsome young men. Martine received compliments from a young cavalry officer, while Philippa’s beautiful voice attracted a French singer who wanted to take her to Paris and train her voice for the stage. Both were delighted with the attentions and loved their respective suitors, but decided that their place was with their father and brothers, so they refused all offers of marriage.
Fifteen years passed and many changes took place in the small village community. The pastor had died and, although the two sisters had loyally continued their work, things were no longer the same. They were now middle-aged bachelors whose splendor had faded, the congregation still met, but sang with less vigor, friendships were still strong, but misunderstandings had soured relationships. The group had dwindled in numbers and their way of life was misunderstood and even mocked by other peoples.
It was then, one dark and rainy night, that the sisters heard a knock at the door. Opening it, they discovered that a woman had collapsed there. They picked her up and carried her inside. She spoke not a word of Norwegian, but she carried in her hand a crumpled note from the opera singer on which was written “Babette can cook.” Babette begged the sisters to let her stay with them and, reluctantly, they agreed. For the next twelve years, Babette worked for the sisters, doing housework and preparing their meals just the way they liked them, with cold cod and porridge. Over time, the sisters became very fond of their French guest. So when she suddenly received a letter, Babette was very surprised, for they had never inquired into her past. Reading it slowly, Babette began to smile and, looking at the sisters, calmly announced that something wonderful had happened. Every year, a friend had renewed Babette’s number in a French lottery and now her ticket had won. She was extremely rich. The sisters were very happy for Babette, but their hearts also sank because now she would leave them.
This good fortune had arrived just as the sisters were planning a celebration to commemorate the centenary of their father’s birth. A month before the big day and the appointed time for Babette’s departure, Babette appeared before the sisters and said: I have never asked you for anything; before I leave I would like to prepare a French meal for your celebration. The sisters were unaware of what this might entail, but they could not refuse such a kind request and reluctantly agreed.
During the following weeks, the town was filled with rumors about the boxes of provisions that began to arrive from France. The sisters became alarmed and spoke of their fears to the other siblings who were to attend the celebrations. No one wanted to offend Babette, but they all agreed that they would not like her food and decided, out of kindness, not to make any comments during the evening.
The day of the dinner finally arrived and the brothers were joined by an unexpected guest: the same cavalryman who had courted Martine so long ago, now a general in the royal palace. Babette had decorated the room with candles and sumptuous garlands. The siblings, as they had agreed, took their seats in silence and Babette began to serve them plate after plate of the most delicious food and the most wonderful wine. As each course arrived, the general was amazed at what was placed before him. And he was even more amazed at the silence of the brothers. Slowly and surely, the dinner began to work its magic on them all.
Reluctant at first to even taste the delicacies set before them, the brothers began to look eagerly at what Babette would bring out next. And as they began to delight in the taste, smell and sight of Babette’s offerings, they reminisced about the happy days when their father lived, misunderstandings began to heal in the light of the generous truth, wounds began to heal and friendships to be forged anew. They began to smile and remember all that they loved and cherished. Until the wee hours of the morning, the brothers began to sing all their hymns of faith and could be seen dancing around the fountain in the center of town.
Philippa and Martine returned to the house to find Babette in the kitchen, surrounded by unwashed dishes, greasy pots, shells, bones and empty bottles. She looked as exhausted as the first day she had arrived. The sisters realized that, according to their vow, no one had spoken to Babette. Martine, rather embarrassed, said: It was a very nice dinner, Babette, we will remember this evening when you return to Paris. Then, Babette reveals that she was a chef at a luxurious restaurant in Paris. She will not go back there because she has spent on the feast every last franc she had earned.
Babette was full of joy, she didn’t need any more money, nor did she need to return to Paris. Her generosity had changed the lives of the guests. Could what she had done simply be called a good job?
Surely not. And so it is for the workers in today’s parable. To be able to serve, to cook cold cod or a fancy menu, to dig under the sun for one hour or ten hours is the same privilege, because we are sure that the effort will have an effect on our neighbor. A denarius; we all receive that reward which is the same for anyone who decides, in truth, to serve, to put himself at the disposal of others. It is enough to live on. There is no other way in this world to experience that our life really has meaning.
A few days ago, in Chile, I was talking to a young computer science student, nice and athletic looking. He told me that he liked sports, particularly basketball. I asked him if he had ever had the opportunity to help as a volunteer, outside the country or educating neighborhood kids with sports. His answer was: I have never been given that opportunity. His words came down on me like a sledgehammer; it made me think. I called a brother who was nearby and they immediately arranged a cooperation plan.
I wonder how many young people like him have never been invited by us to serve.
It reminds me that none of the protagonists in the parable were lazy or refused work. On the contrary, the owner of the vineyard laments that “no one had yet hired them.”
Do you and I believe in the urgency that Jesus conveys to his disciples? Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and do not stop to greet anyone on the road (Lk 10,4).
Can we compare our passion in seeking them to that of the owner of the vine? He went out five times to meet the potential workers, worried and in a hurry, after preparing the tools and food for them at dawn. Do I do this with the people I meet or perhaps I think that… they have nothing to contribute? That answer is really as comfortable as it is irresponsible. Personally, I would like to reflect on this matter, in light of what the First Reading tells us: My thoughts are not your thoughts, your ways are not my ways, says the Lord.
The value of service is now recognized in many areas and disciplines of the human sciences. There is no need to insist on the value and positive effects of volunteering in those who practice it. Also, for decades now, people have begun to talk about Service-Learning, which has more positive consequences than the solution of community problems. Educators have understood that these techniques allow those who study to know and value the consequences on others of what they are learning, seeing it as a true potential to serve, to go beyond their own curiosity or personal use. Being aware of the impact of our service on others helps to mature in several ways.
In this regard, Paul’s words in the Second Reading are revealing: I find myself in this dilemma: on the one hand, I wish to go away to be with Christ, which is by far the best thing; but, on the other hand, I see that staying in this life is more necessary for you. In fact, true service, the struggle for the Gospel, is capable of giving meaning to life and death, and also of experiencing something that is an authentic privilege: to serve both God and neighbor. Jesus expressed this unequivocally:
He sat down and called the twelve and said to them: If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mk 9:35).
It does not matter that the person we serve does not make the immediate decision to become a servant. The success of the one who serves is that he leaves a deep, indelible mark in the heart of his neighbor, even if he is not understood, even if he is misunderstood, even if he is led to death. That is the victory and the joy of the apostle, who knows how his effort, however small or clumsy it may seem, never ceases to bear fruit. Surely, the first and most intimate of these is peace, that peace that sooner or later will allow him to hear the Holy Spirit.
Attachment to the world and lack of self-denial are the real limits of service. Indeed, an important observation is that the workers of the first hour were angry because of a treatment they considered unfair; the reason is that they considered the effort made as a merit that should be recognized. That is the logic of the world, driven by attachments and instincts. However, those who perform their tasks, aware that it is essentially a service to God and to those who want to come closer to Him, feel grateful.
This is so; we see how some young people who have fallen into drug use and are included in a program of help (not always easy) to people with disabilities, become grateful and feel happy and valued for the opportunity to help.
Christ gives us all the example we need to live something that sensitive people of all cultures have sensed and cherished:
I slept and dreamed that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I served and saw that service was joy (Rabindranath Tagore).
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,