Well, it may not feel like it yet, but summer is officially over, and the season of fall is upon us.  The fields are being harvested, the days are a bit shorter, and soon enough, the highs will fall out of the 90s.  Those of you who are farmers are busy laboring in the fields. An extra pair of hands, or maybe an extra harvester would make the work go by quicker.  And with rain in the forecast next week, time is of the essence.  The extra help would be appreciated sooner rather than later.  And so, it’s fitting that today we have this parable about the workers in the vineyard.  The landowner needs help with the harvest.  Some workers come early to help with the harvest, and others come late.  Allow me to tell you the story of one of these latecomers who labored in the vineyard of the Lord.

Hope in God’s mercy

St. Augustine, one of the great Church Fathers and a Doctor of the Church, became a Christian late in his adult life.  He had lived a life seeking pleasures and chasing after the latest philosophical movements of his day, but he found all of these things wanting.  He had a burning desire for something transcendent, something to satisfy the deepest longings of his heart.  However, he found the life of pleasure to be ultimately unsatisfying, and he found Manicheism to be a denial of the goodness of the physical world.  What Augustine wanted was some organizing principle to his life—something that made it all fit together and make sense.  His father was a pagan, and his mother, Monica, was a Christian, and she prayed day after day, year after year for Augustine to come around to the Christian faith.  Finally, after a series of realizations, he wrote this beautiful passage about finding God:

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”[1]

Augustine was smitten by this new love he had found for the Triune God.  His spiritual eyes had been opened, and his awakening brought him face to face with the supreme goodness of God.  There, in the face of such goodness, Augustine begins to agonize over the evils that he still finds within his heart.  For, the carnal desires he cultivated as a young man would not seem to just go away.  He dreads the temptations and trials that keep on coming.  And so, Augustine must find a new source of hope to save him from despair. Augustine finds that hope in God’s infinite mercy.

Our Gospel reading today is a tale of God’s generous mercy.  The workers who come last to work in the vineyard get the same pay as those who have been working all day.  Seen thru human eyes, this of course does not seem fair.  We expect everyone to be paid according to the hours worked.  And this would be correct under the cardinal virtue of justice.

But this landowner goes beyond mere human justice.  He is just and fair with those who work all day, but he is generous and merciful towards those who come to work late in the day.  This, too, is just, but in a more perfect way.  Because mercy is the perfection of justice.  Mercy recognizes the poverty of the last workers.  Mercy sees that these workers cannot possibly catch up to those who have been working all day.

Is this not a metaphor for us sinners?  We have no way of paying God back for the harm caused by our sins.  We have no way to earn enough favor to buy our way into Heaven.  We rely, rather, on the mercy of God, who will not be outdone in generosity.

The prophet Isaiah says to us today,

“Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”[2]

We have access to God’s Heavenly Courts only because God recognizes our inability to repay him in justice.  And so, God extends to us the final perfection of his justice, that is his generous mercy—the same mercy that St. Augustine found.

Make the invitation

Now, the Gospel reading today has a second dimension I want to illuminate: it is also a lesson to those of us who have been disciples our whole lives long.  I find it interesting that the landowner specifically says to pay the latecomers first.  It seems to me that he could have avoided the whole awkward situation if only he had paid the first workers first, and the last workers last.  The first workers would have received their pay, gone home, and been none the wiser about the last workers.  But this is a parable, and a parable has to teach a lesson.  And so the first workers are paid last in order to convey the lesson.

It is a lesson not to be bitter and backbiting towards those who come to Jesus late in life.  I bet none of us would condemn St. Augustine for the sins of his youth, but are we quick to judge those who are latecomers to the faith?  Do we treat converts as “baby Catholics?”  Do we fail to integrate newcomers into our families and tight-knit cliques?  Anyone who has had the experience of moving to a new place will remember how it felt to walk into a church for the first time, yearning to belong, yet fearing rejection or simply being ignored.

This is something that we must do better if we are to accomplish our mission as the Church.  When we see a newcomer (and yes, we do have newcomers!), we should make the effort to get to know him/her.  We should at the very least say, “Welcome” and make a personal connection.  We should invite the newcomer to the bazaar, or the pancake breakfast, or CCD, Bible study, or the Frisbee game.

We see this invitation extended by the landowner in the parable.  Five times in one day he goes out and invites new laborers into his vineyard!  He doesn’t wait for the idle ones to approach him; rather, he goes out and makes the invitation.  If God has done so with us, should we not also go out and invite others into the Lord’s vineyard?

When was the last time you asked someone, “Have you ever considered becoming Catholic?”  or “Hey, we miss you.  Why not come to Church with me this weekend?  We can sit together. Maybe go out for dinner/brunch afterwards.”  It’s the simple art of the invitation.

The reality is that everyone is longing for God.  Some try to dull the longing with pleasures, or entertainment, or sports, or alcohol.  Each of these things is not bad in moderation.  But so many in our community try to numb the pain of separation from God.  Many of these same people are just waiting for a sign, and that sign just might be your inviting them.

So, this week, I challenge you to go out to the places you always go, and invite someone.  Chances are, they are your family members, your classmates, your coworkers.  And recognize that you are inviting them into a relationship with this “beauty, ever ancient, ever new.”  You’re inviting them into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s not as hard as it sounds.  You already have the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you received in your baptism and confirmation.  You have the strength of the Holy Eucharist within you.  You have the character of Christ imprinted on your soul, and God works thru you.  You’re his son; you’re his daughter.  You bear his image and likeness within you.  And so, when you invite someone into a human relationship with yourself, you invite them to see God within you.  That’s your challenge this week: make an invitation.

God invites us all to his table today.  We come, bearing the fruits of our harvest, knowing our unworthiness to receive the unsurpassable grace of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, yet receiving him nevertheless because of God’s great mercy.  May we be open to the invitation that God extends to each of us, the invitation to share life with him.

[1] Augustine.  Confessions (Lib. 10, 26. 37-29, 40: CSEL 33, 255-256)

[2] Isaiah 55:7