When I was in high school, I worked at Shoney’s as a waiter. And if you’ve ever waited tables, you’ll know — you have to work really hard for tips. You have to scratch and claw your way for every single dollar you make. I remember vividly, at the end of a long shift, as I tallied up all the crumpled one and five dollar bills I had shoved down into my apron, I’d be filled with anxious excitement: How much did I make? Did I earn enough to make all that hard work worth it?

There’s something very healthy and very good about putting in solid work and earning a buck. Work ethic is something that is hard-earned. It’s something that you have to cultivate. It doesn’t just happen, and it’s important not to presume that everything is just going to be handed to you in life.

And yet, when it comes to our life with the Lord. When it comes to our faith in Jesus Christ we see a very different logic at work.

We just heard Jesus say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who goes out into the city five times over the course of the entire day, finding people to hire and send into his vineyard. The workers put in VERY different amounts of work — some much more, and some much less — and yet when it comes time to give them their payment, they all receive the exact same wage. And something in us revolts at that.

Now, when I was working at Shoney’s — if one of my fellow servers didn’t work a single table all night long, and then at the very end of the evening, got a table that left them a big fat tip — the equivalent of what I had worked all night long for — I would have been mad! It would have seemed totally unfair!

But the grace of God works differently. We have to learn to set aside that fierce “earn our own way” mentality. It just doesn’t work like that. As we heard in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”

So what’s going on in this parable?

Well, if we take the “vineyard” to mean a life lived with the Lord and for God, and if the “wages” given at the end of the day means our eternal reward, then it becomes very clear: This parable really isn’t about the workers or the hard work they did…at all.

It’s all about the landowner and his generosity. It’s all about His grace.

Nobody earns their way into Heaven. Nobody can work themselves into a relationship with the Lord. Nobody is self-sufficient.

It’s all a complete gift.

Our faith is a gift. The fact that we have been “hired” by the Lord to go and work in His vineyard is not something that we came up with. Think about it this way: It’s not like the workers in the parable sent the landowner their resumés to apply for their jobs…

No, they were standing around with nothing to do, and it was the Landowner who came and found them. He took the trouble to go out over and over and over, searching for workers. He found them — They did not find this job. He says to each one of them: “You too! Go into my vineyard.”

That’s all of us. God found you, and He found me… standing around — whether it was when we were very young or very old or somewhere in between — And He said to each one of us: “You! I choose you. Go into my vineyard. You! Work with me. You! I want you on my team. Let me show you what you were made for, what this precious gift of life is for.”

I know I can speak for myself: If the Lord had not come in search for me, and picked me out, and personally called me by His grace: I would not be a priest right now. I would not have chosen this life… But I’m grateful He found me! And I’m grateful He found you.

Remember Jesus’ beautiful words in the Gospel of John: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

We have each been chosen by a good and merciful God.. We have each been hand-selected, and it’s no accident that we are here right now.

God found us.

We’re united in this beautiful truth. We have been baptized into this truth! The Living God has given us this noble responsibility to go work in His vineyard — to strive for the coming of the Kingdom: To pray and worship the Lord together. To live the freedom of the Gospel with our families and our communities, together. To serve the poor radically, together. To bring healing and justice into this fallen world, together. To become more and more like Jesus every day, together.

So you’re not alone!

You’re not a waiter or a waitress clawing for tips individually. You are not an isolated laborer sweating it out for your eternal paycheck. It’s not up to you to find a way to make God love you. He already does, and He already means to give you EVERYTHING, if you’re willing to receive that from Him. If any of us go to Heaven, it won’t be because of anything we did, but because of what Christ did for us.

And THAT is why the end of this parable should be disturbing — the “first” were offended — they “grumbled” when the “last” got paid equally, when they were given GRACE.

Think of it this way: If this life is all about God, if this is all about His Kingdom and His generosity — if life is Christ and death is gain, as St. Paul said in our second reading — then really, we ought to rejoice when others receive God’s super-abundant, overflowing generosity.

Let’s be clear: We are not in competition with one another. We are working together in this vineyard for the same exact goal. 

Look around: The people sitting in the pews around you all have the same purpose: to know and love God. Their good is your good.

There’s no point in making unhelpful comparisons and judgments: “Ah, I have been working longer and harder than all these other people… I am about to get more! I deserve more!”

Actually no — We’re on the same team. We should want the same exact thing, the same wage, for every soul, every person.

And what is it we should want for one another?

Salvation. An intimate relationship with the Lord. Freedom from sin. Repentance. Perfect Joy. Life in God forever.

I’ll finish with this reflection:

At every Mass, we each receive the same exact Host — the same exact Eucharist, the same exact Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.

We each receive the same “wage,” if you will, from the Lord — this gift and grace of Holy Communion.

Some of us have been coming to church all our lives, some have just started recently. Some of us have never wandered away or denied our faith, and some of us have undergone major conversions.

And yet if you have prepared yourself to receive Holy Communion — if you have examined your soul, confessed your sins, and come with open hands and open heart to this altar, the Lord gives each one of us the same exact thing: He gives us Himself.

That should be enough. We don’t need any more. 

That gift, that grace is enough.