FR MICHAEL BIBLICAL IMAGERY
(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)
HOW WELL AND NOT HOW LONG
This parable may sound to us as if it describes a purely imaginary situation, but that is far from being the case. Apart from the method of payment, the parable calls for quality and not necessarily quantity. At times in life, it is not the numbers of hours that one spends at work that produce good results but the qualitative use of those hours.
It is customary that people who work longer hours should earn more than those who work shorter hours. But Jesus broke many customs and conventions in his time. And he was always right. Today’s gospel passage is a typical example of that.
It was not the fault of the labourers who came last into the vineyard that they came last. That was when they were hired, and given the opportunity to work for their living. They would have come earlier if someone had hired them early. But no one did until the eleventh hour. Even though they work for only one hour, the wages they needed to live on were no less than what the first comers needed. In other words, all the workers were remunerated on the basis of their equal need for sufficient livelihood, not on the basis of the hours they had put into the work. Those who came last might have worked just as hard or even harder and better than those who came first. Therefore, it is not the length of time spent on the job that really matters, but the effort that is put into it and the quality of the output.
All these things apply to our Christian life. Some people were born Christians. Their parents had been Christians before them, maybe even their grandparents. They were baptized in infancy, did their First Holy Communion as children, were Confirmed in their teens, married in the church. Other people embraced Christianity at school, in childhood or adolescence. Yet others became Christians in mature adulthood. Those who were born Christians cannot, for that reason alone, claim to be more Christian than the ones who became Christians as adults. It is not how long I became a Christian that really matters, but how well I have been a Christian. What kind of life have I been living as a Christian? If I say that I am a born Christian, but I am living a very unchristian life, I will receive no credit from the Lord on the day of reckoning. If you are a born Christian, but you have little love for your fellow men and women or none at all, you are a liar, a cheat, unforgiving; you can’t expect any credit either on the same day of reckoning.
Furthermore, what part have you been playing in the mission of the Church to make disciples of all nations? If you are a born Christian, but you are not committed: you just come to church, receive the sacraments, put money in the collection box, and go home; you don’t want to be bothered beyond that, again, you can’t expect a lot of credit, if any, from the Lord. You have received any number of talents from the Lord, but you have refused to put them to use for the benefit of his Church. You can expect to reap the reward of the servant who buried his talent in the ground, when he could have put it to use to fetch more talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
Again, nothing says that a born Christian will always be a worse Christian than someone who became a Christian as an adult, or that someone who became a Christian as an adult will always be an exemplary Christian. The ideal is that we all strive to be the best Christians that we can be, whether we have been Christians all our lives or we embraced Christianity in the twilight of our lives. The reward will be same: Eternal Life, Heaven. Remember, it is not how long…but how well.