What does it mean to say, the first shall be last
and the last shall be first?
One way to understand it is this.
Those who came in last serve to make God’s generosity very vivid.
In that sense, they are “first” in gratitude.
Meanwhile, those who were first in the vineyard,
are most at risk of missing this point.
They – and maybe we with them – are tempted to think
that we’ve “earned” whatever reward we have from God.
People say it all the time: So-and-so will surely go to heaven,
Because…why? He or she “lived a good life.”
That may prove to be true, but do not get confused
about the cause and effect.
Listen closely, because I’m going to tell you something lots of people,
including lots of Catholics, get wrong.
Listen: you and I do not go to heaven because we are good.
I repeat: we do not go to heaven because we are good.
If we go to heaven, it is because of God’s grace working in our lives.
To the extent we are good, it’s God’s grace that makes us so.
Grace always comes first.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2008) says,
“The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative,
and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration,
so that the merit of good works
is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God…”
To restate that: any good in us, any good deeds or actions,
they only happen because God gave us the help and power to do them.
It is God’s grace that first calls us to him,
it is God who sustains us day by day,
and finally, it is his grace that brings to salvation.
So, to say we “go to heaven because we’re good” is false. False.
That gets the cause-and-effect backwards.
Rather, the truth is, if we are in any way good,
it is because heaven – that is, God – is helping us and drawing us.
If we make it to heaven, no one will dare say, “I did this!”
Rather we will all say, “God, this is all you!”
So those workers in the vineyard complained
because they worked all day. They totally missed it!
They got to be in the Lord’s company the longest of any!
This also reminds us of how Christians should understand work.
Work can be hard and tedious,
and we all know what it’s like to look forward to quitting time.
Still, we remember that work has an essential dignity.
We naturally respect those who work hard,
while those who are lazy, not so much.
When you and I work at something honest and upright,
No matter how ordinary or minor it may seem,
God considers us his co-workers.
What’s more, you and I can join our ordinary tasks,
whether at work, at school, at home, to the saving work of Christ. Jesus wants us to do this.
This is the meaning of the Morning Offering.
My father taught me to pray it every day.
The version I learned goes like this:
“O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer thee my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls,
the reparation of sins, the repose of the dead
and the intentions of the Holy Father this month.”
When you and I make this daily offering, this is a priestly action. Notice what happens at Mass.
The priest takes ordinary bread and wine, the work of human hands.
Once offered to God, He transforms it into Jesus, the Lamb of God,
the perfect Sacrifice that redeems the world and saves souls.
You and I cannot begin to know how God
will transform the ordinary things of our day
when we offer them to him.
We may be tempted to pooh-pooh it, but be careful!
Who are you or I to talk down what God can and will do?
(At the ‘Dedication’ Mass…
Students, I’m pleased to have this day with you.
As you know, we’ll meet later at Maria Stein for a “Mini Retreat.”
I know you take your preparation for Confirmation seriously.
There may be times when it seems like just work, toiling away,
along with all that school and your parents give you to do.
But remember, it’s not just about a series of tasks.
It’s about the Lord drawing you close to him.)
I invite you again to notice what happened in this Gospel.
The landowner goes out looking for people, hour upon hour.
Jesus invites you to come work in his vineyard.
He works right along with you.
Many of us work on farms, or we have family who do, and we know:
when harvest time comes, it is all hands on deck,
just like in this Gospel.
If all we do is see the immediate task, and the long hours,
we are missing out. Jesus is inviting us to work by his side.
If we ask him, he can and will work through our hands and our labors,
to make great things happen for others.
That’s what we get to do.