Is. 55:6-9; Phil. 1:20-24, 27; Mt. 20:1-16
The people who gained greatness embarked on their career at various stages in their life. A late bloomer is a person whose talents or capabilities are not visible to others until later than usual. Many writers have published their first major work late in life. Mary Wesley might be a classic example. She wrote two children's books in her late fifties, and her writing career did not gain note until her first novel at 70. Harriet Doerr published her first novel at age 74. Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first novel in the in her sixties. In philosophy Mary Midgley had her first book when she was 56. Bill Traylor who started drawing at age 83. Another painter Alfred Wallis began painting in his 60s. These are a few examples of late bloomers.
In the history of salvation too we see the chosen people were called at different stages in their life. Samuel was called, when he was a young boy. David called in his youth. The sons of Zebedee were young when they received the invitation to join Jesus. Joan of Arc was young maiden when she was entrusted with a great mission. But, Abraham crossed his youth when he was called. Peter was an old man when he was chosen by Jesus. Saint Ambrose was called in his 40s.
The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of man. The ways of God are not the ways of man. As the heavens are higher than the earth, the ways of God are higher than the ways of man and the thoughts of God are higher than the thoughts of man. The way of God is beyond the understanding of the world; the ways of men are limited.
From today's reading of the Gospel of Matthew, we learned that God does not call everybody at the same time. Some are called early in life as the early labourers were called, having received their baptism as infants. Some were called as teenagers. Some were called during their married life and others, much later in life. And some are like the labourers who were called around five o'clock; their conversion took place at the last hour, like the thief on the cross.
The parable describes the kind of things that frequently happened at certain times in Palestine. The grape harvest ripened towards the end of September, and then closes on its heels the rains came. If the harvest was not ingathered before the rains broke, then it was ruined; and so to get the harvest in was a frantic race against time. Any worker was welcome, even if he could give only one hour to the work.
It was also a common site at the market places that labourers came with their tools, and waited till someone called them. The men who stood in the market place were waiting for work, and the fact that some of them stood on until the 11th hour are the proof of how desperately they wanted it.
The first lesson of this parable is: To have been called into God’s kingdom is a sheer act of mercy on God’s part. In Israel there were many great veteran warriors to fight with Goliath. But, God chose a young boy who was not even able to put on the armour to subdue Goliath. When God chose a simple maiden, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus, there were many young women of respectable genealogy, who were hoping to be called by God. When Jesus called the illiterate fisher man Peter, in Israel there were many learned men who wished to follow Jesus. All these show that God chooses who He wants, and when he wants. And this call is a sheer act of mercy on God’s part.
The Gospels say that when the house holder went out he saw them standing in the market place. Their only requirement to qualify to work in his field was that they were seen by the householder. He offered them a chance, and they made use of it. In our life too we are given many chances, but often we fail to recognize them. Three times the Lord called Samuel where he lay in bed, and three times he answered by saying "Here I am" and ran out to see Eli in the next room. He required the help of Eli to recognize the call of God. Once he knew that he was called by God, his response was “Here I am”. A total surrender. God calls in our dreams. He calls in the voice of those people who are trying to help us find our way. He calls through our spouses and our workmates. He calls when we read his word. He calls when we gaze upon the heavens. He calls out to us when we pray. Recognize the call of Good and submit to him with the response “Lord here I am.”
The second lesson of the parable is generosity of God. These men all did not do the same work, but they did receive the same pay.
Allen and Violet Large, a loving elderly couple from Nova Scotia, Canada, won $11.2 million in the lottery. But instead of living happily ever after in luxury, they decided to give their winnings away. Being content with their average, peaceful lifestyle, they decided that the money would bring them unnecessary stress. They helped their family with some of the money and then divided the rest of the money between churches, organizations fighting cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, cemeteries, hospitals, also their local fire department.
Their neighbours found difficult to understand them. They could never imagine such an act of generous giving. But the couple were disturbed and thought that, were they not free to use their own gifts as they wanted!
When the house holder paid the wages, at the end of the day, those who were called in the first hour grumbled at the generosity of the householder. “These last,’ they said, ‘have worked for one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden and the hot wind of the day.’ He answered one of them, “Can I not do what I like with my own money?”
The gift of God comes to us at the unexpected time, in an unexpected manner. Let us wait with an open heart. And, we will be able to recognize the voice of God. As Demosthenes taught, “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.” If we wait for great opportunities, we will certainly miss many opportunities that knock at our door. “It’s the man who waits for his ship to come in who’s always missing the boat,” says an Anonymous proverb.
Robert Browning reminds us that “"All service ranks the same with God: With God, whose puppets, best and worst, are we; there is no last or first". It is not the amount of service given, but the love in which it is given which matters.’ Those who carry out the will of God with love and humility will be acceptable before the Lord. So, Jesus says, “The first will be the last and the last will be the first.”