“The one that is jealous is not in love.” This quote from St. Augustine of Hippo centers us on the core of the Gospel teaching for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. God welcomes scoundrels and the wicked, which should include all of us. God’s desire that we become an active worker in the vineyard displays God’s love and compassion for us. This love is not generated by our deserving, but by God’s benevolence and unfailing love. That love, offered without end and to everyone, opens the opportunity for each of us to enter into the work of the vineyard. Some of us have been hard at work for God for many years. Some of us have barely veered from the road of good and blessings. Some of us have come late to the work and feel blessed that the opportunity is still available to us. Some still wait to take up the invitation. We are certainly a mixed bag of disciples.
If we focus only on the gift that we have been given by God to be His allies on this earth, our hearts are filled with gratitude and appreciation. But once we start comparing how much work I have done compared with what others have done, then we are in trouble. Why must we do this? Why can we not be content with receiving the blessing of God’s invitation and reveling in God’s love? Why does it always come down to them against us? Why?
Could it be that we are unsure and insecure with our standing with God? Could it be that we think we are earning something by our time in the vineyard? Could it be that we have judged ourselves as better than the other scoundrels and wicked ones who are in the vineyard? Could it be that we have forgotten how sinful and hateful and judgmental we can be of others? Could it be that we think we deserve something more from God because we have worked longer than the one who had a jailhouse conversion or got religion on his or her deathbed?
Jealousy of the good fortune of others is often coupled with arrogance. From our lofty perch we look down on others who seem to be “less saved” than ourselves. Who are we to do the work of God who is judge and ruler of the universe? The last who come into the work of the vineyard will be treated with the same gift of love and compassion as those among who have been at it for a long time. Why work so hard then?
I think it is supposed to be out of love, not out of what we get for loving God. I think we are supposed to work in the vineyard in the hopes that others can experience the same freedom and gift of love that we have already received and are living in. Maybe we have lost sight of that or have never gotten to that point. Maybe we still only work in the vineyard so that we don’t burn in hell. Maybe we do what we do so that we look good in other’s eyes. Maybe we think we have to try harder because of our past. Whatever hour, every scoundrel and wicked one is welcome and we should rejoice at the arrival of others in this shared work for God!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.