Sunday Homily, 24 September 2023 - Fr Paul Rowse, OP
I’ve seen how this parable could work in real life. I’m just back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was the best kind of pilgrimage: spiritually rewarding and physically demanding. The new tan I’m (not) sporting should bear witness to the hot, dry climate we were in. I prayed for you everywhere we went. A personal highlight was offering Mass on Calvary on the feast of the Holy Cross: you were there with me on that most sacred mountain.
As I say, I’ve seen how this parable works. We went to Jericho, which lays claim to being the oldest city in the world, perhaps first settled around 9,000 BC. To get there, we passed through a couple of Israeli check points into Palestine Area A, that is to say, an area controlled by the Palestinian government. There’s also Area C, an area of Palestine controlled by the Israeli Government, and Area B, controlled by both – all with varying degrees of success. In Jericho, there aren’t any local council services such as we might conceive of: litter litters the streets and vacant lots in equal measure.
There are men everywhere in Jericho, and of all ages. The women are nowhere to be seen: presumably they’re with the children at home. We saw a group of men sitting in the shade against a retaining wall, close to the top of the main drag through Jericho. They were all dressed in overalls and boots, ready for work. It was mid-morning: they were waiting. Maybe they’ll work; maybe they won’t. We never found out: our air-conditioned bus didn’t stop for us to find out.
The Lord is tapping into a very real experience of powerlessness based on economic vulnerability. The men can work but they might not. It entirely depends on who comes by. If someone comes for them, they’ll work and eat that day. If not, they won’t. With how much money the landowner distributes to his workers, we know that the toil isn’t the focus of the parable. We need to zero in on the landowner’s sight of the men. He saw them, at different times, and drew the conclusion: if I don’t help them, no one will; if I don’t help them, they won’t eat; they won’t live. And so, a denarius is pushed across the table for each one as a dignified way of giving alms.
This is why the complaint of the early workers is unjustified: the denarius for all is a dignified way of giving alms. The first to work are paid last so that all can see that it was almsgiving all along. God sees, and enables, and gives.
We can apply this parable ourselves in a number of ways, and I have two in particular for you. Firstly, we can think of this in respect of ourselves. God chose to see the plight of his human creation caught in sin spiralling towards death for all. He created us with an immortal soul to live forever, but without his intervention it shall not have eternal light. So, the Son of God comes near, enables us to receive from him if we agree to enter into his service. There’ll be no discord in heaven about our respective rewards: all that matters is that we get there.
Secondly, we can think of this parable in respect of others. Almsgiving is good, but there are good and better ways to go about it. Throwing money at people isn’t good for their dignity. This Sunday, the Parish’s asylum seeker support group is making their annual appeal. With the funds you contribute, we pay the rent of a refugee couple. It’s a very good way of giving alms: simple, practical, and dignified. Please consider donating if you can. We prefer the coin of the realm but if you have a denarius on you, we’ll have that too. And if not this way, find another. You must see those who need your help and honour their humanity with your compassion.
From all that we have received, we can give to those whom we see. The Lord help us to be unjust with our compassion, that goodness may everywhere and here prevail.