Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Septuagesima Sunday—8 February AD 2009
On Inequity

“These last have worked but one hour, and Thou hast made them equal to us that have borne the burden of the day and its heat.”[1]

    This morning's Gospel is one of few which, when we hear them, we are tempted to side with the “villain” of the story.  Any of us that have gone out and worked—particularly hard, physical work—tend to side with the men who worked all day, and to agree that they should be paid more than those that came along only during the last hour or two.  The story seems to violate our notion of justice.  We are tempted, again, to say that the householders generosity is a bit misdirected—if anything, a bonus might have been given to the longer term workers.

    But, like most of the Gospel parables, our Lord is telling the story to make a point of more enduring importance; to dramatize ideas of a more long term concern.  In fact there are several lessons which we can learn from the parable at hand.

    First of all, the words which end the parable are a clue to its meaning: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Particularly when we put the parable in the perspective of the rest of Saint Matthew's Gospel, we see that our Lord is talking about the relationship of Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).  Even though the Jews were God’s chosen people;  Even though they had spent centuries serving God;  Even though they had made the forty year journey through the desert to the promised land;  Jesus knew that, ultimately, many would reject Him in the end, and would even crucify Him.  Many of them had, so to speak, “borne the heat of the day,” but would receive no reward.

    Saint Paul is a little cryptic at the end of the Epistle—he is describing the Exodus, the forty year journey of the Jews out of Egypt.  God furnished them with the necessities of life and protected them from their enemies—but if you read the story in the Old Testament, you will find that Paul made an understatement:  “With most of them God was not well pleased.”[2]  He gave them every benefit, but they did not respond with obedience and fidelity to Him.

    Our Lord is also telling us that there are inequities in this life.  Some of us are short, and some of us are tall.  Some of us are richer, some of us are poorer.  Some are beautiful, some are down right ugly.  And our Lord is telling us that this situation isn't going to change.  And we are probably wasting our prayers, if we are asking God to make us taller, smarter, richer, or more pretty.

    But He is also telling us that those who are more favorably endowed are not necessarily His chosen people.  Indeed, it often seems to work the other way around -- Those who have things easy in this life seem to be the ones who give comparatively little in return to God.  Often, what we perceive as a material gift is really just a handicap in disguise.  Just ask a tall person about the lower-back pain they have from living among smaller people!

    Overly attractive appearance can lead to unchastity and incontinence.  Great intellect—the intellectuals are forever inventing new heresies, and are often unable to live in the world of practical reality.  (Communism is dead most everywhere except in the universities, the media, and the upper circles of government.)  Great wealth often breeds a lack of charity, and contempt for the poor, perhaps even an insatiable form of greed.  And all of these material endowments present the danger of looking down at others, as though we were somehow better than they—the danger of losing all of our humility.

    And, our Lord is telling us that we may be surprised when we get to heaven and see who else is there—and who isn't.  We, who are religious, may well find that those people who had such a hard time with prayer;  that those people who seemed to fidget all the time during Mass; that those people who had such a hard time keeping the Commandments;  that those people who had difficulty in life, yet persevered anyway;  that many of these people not only made it there to heaven—but that they received even greater rewards than those who had things easy in life.

    Our Lord wants us to understand that, after all, there is justice.  And that the justice and the generosity of God are closely united;  like the two sides of the same coin.

    This scheme of Divine Justice and Mercy is one of the main reasons why we have this period of Septuagesima and then Lent.  We need to be sure that we are using our earthly gifts wisely—using them for our salvation—not allowing them to draw us down to perdition.

    We need to be sure that we don't give up the race that St. Paul spoke to us about this morning, when we are only half finished—That we are not like the chosen people, who spent centuries in God's service, only to quit their work, so to speak, “just before payday.”

    We need to be sure that we bring ourselves “under subjection, lest having preached to others, we ourselves should be lost.”  Today we begin to prepare for Lent.  We will have more to say about Lent in the next week or two, but for today, let it suffice to say that it should be a period of serious prayer in preparation for the Feast of our Lord’s resurrection.  We always associate Lent with fasting and abstinence.  It is important to recognize that this fasting is not intended to help us lose the weight we need to lose, or to break the habit of smoking, or whatever.  Those things may be side benefits, but the real purpose is to do what Saint Paul urges today, bring ourselves “under subjection”—learning to give up innocent pleasures so that we make ourselves able to avoid the less innocent pleasures that may tempt us in the future.

    These are awesome words that our Lord speaks to us today:  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Together with the good Saint Paul we ought to take advantage of this coming Lent to “win the prize” and insure that we are counted among the “few that are chosen.”



[1]   Gospel:  Matthew xx.

[2]   Cf.  Exodus xvi; xxxv;  Numbers xx.


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