The Gospels for the last few weeks have brought back to mind the stories of the first disciples: how they were called from among ordinary people; what they were called to do; and what Jesus told them they could expect by preaching the "Good News of Salvation." As in all passages of the Scriptures, this ongoing re-telling of the episodes of Christ's life is part of our Tradition, part of our history as Christians and part of our history as a community of believers.
But it is also part of our call to discipleship. Like the first followers of Jesus, we too are called to His mission. Over the last few weeks, we have heard about our own role in bringing that mission to others: to proclaim to the whole world that Our Father loves us all, that He forgives us, and that He is waiting to embrace us with open arms, if only we let Him. The urgency of the message is just as clear now as it was when Christ first proclaimed it. Fulfilling our role as disciples must begin with giving permission to God to work through us. Our roles might not be clear at this time but with consistent faith - and trust in Him - we know that it will become clearer.
Jesus was, for all practical purposes, a man with a dream - and the secret to success in the Christian life is sharing Christ's dream for his people. We are His people - called to bring His healing touch to all we meet, as only we can. It may not be easy. Perhaps it was never meant to be easy.
The parable in today's Gospel has much to teach us about God and about ourselves. The heroes of the parable are not the laborers but rather the vineyard owner. He is a stand-in image for God, and the good news of the Gospel is that we have been blessed by the extreme generosity of the Spirit of God.
The parable rudely upsets our picture of God and our idea of what's fair and what's not. It tells us that our human standards are useless in measuring God or attempting to understand Him.
Jesus told the parable of the vineyard workers to illustrate God's generosity. He gives us the opportunity to understand that God's nature is to be overwhelmingly generous, extreme beyond the rational rules of exchange. But it shocks the human sense of fair play and justice - "equal pay for equal work..." The parable has but one purpose, to teach us about the nature of God's love. All other lessons are not as important to the story as that one.
Discipleship is an interplay of gift and response. It is not simply a focus on social justice but on the unexpected generosity of God, who gifts whom he will and when he will. Discipleship is never earned, only given. And all that is asked of the one called is a response, however and whenever the call comes.
The Gospel is absolutely clear in reminding us that our discipleship should be marked by a generosity which overflows into compassion and justice, gentleness, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is Jesus who breaks down the barriers that separate us, who abolishes the law with its commands and precepts, and who brings together those who are near and those who are far off, to give all of us full access to the Father in the one Spirit.
Obviously, this is not a simple challenge. It really is a lot easier to throw our weight around and to be very rigid in demanding obedience and giving others only what they deserve and so often we do just that in the name of Jesus. So often, our representation of Jesus to our brothers and sisters - and to the world in general - is one of an uncompromising lack of concern for persons, and a willingness to put the "status quo" in the highest regard.
But the Lord tells us that we need to take on the mind of God, who does not think as man thinks and whose ways are not man's ways. We need to think "out-of-the-box" in terms of our relationships with each other. We need new models for growth, new methods to bring the Good News to others. We can no longer rely on fate, or tradition, or the threat of eternal damnation. We must touch the most fundamental needs of people's humanity, and help them to see how uniquely the gift of Jesus and His Gospel fulfill those needs. Together we must find new ways to assure that the people of the earth will always experience the extraordinary generosity of our common God.
We carry on his ministry in the world of today. We do what Christ did: we preach the Good News of the Kingdom; we heal the sick; we forgive the sinner; we spend time alone with God in prayer, we serve in his vineyard. We are his hands and his feet and everything we do, we do in his name. The parable of the vineyard is the Lord's call to all those who have received Him in word and sacrament to share generously with all men and women what they themselves have received.
We all share equally in the task, whether called early or late in the day, to build up the kingdom of God in this world.