Sunday, September 21, 2014

Between Pay & Passion


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Picture: cc brett jordan

Sisters and brothers, have you ever heard people talk about the difference between a job and a passion? A job, as you know, is something that we do in exchange for a salary. We may or may not like the work itself. In fact, we may even find it very burdensome. But we still do it, because we need the money. A passion, on the other hand, is something that we are enthusiastic about. We may or may not receive any money for it. In fact, we may even have to spend our own money to get it done. But we do it anyway, because it’s important to us. It gives our lives meaning. The work energises us. Makes us happy. Even if we don’t get paid for it.

What makes the difference between a job and a passion is our motivation. What we are seeking. In one case, it’s the money. In the other, it’s the activity itself. There are, of course, some lucky people whose jobs are their passion. They are paid to do what they like to do. So a teacher, for example, may receive a salary for her work. And she may need it to survive. But the money may not be her primary motivation. It’s not what gets her out of bed in the morning. She may teach not so much for the money, but more because she really wants to share her knowledge and experience with others. To help the young learn new things. To make a difference in their lives. And in society as a whole.

People like that are truly fortunate. But, for the rest of us, our jobs are often something we do only because we need to make a living. Which is fine. There’s even a dignity in that. And it’s important that we receive a just wage for it. And yet, monetary rewards can only go so far to motivate us. Sometimes the work may become so burdensome that the money just doesn’t seem worth all the effort. All the stress. What to do? Some of us may quit. Look for another job. Or, if that’s not possible, we may be forced to stay on. Going through the motions of our daily routine in a more or less mechanical fashion. Beginning each workday already eagerly looking forward to its end. What a contrast between this kind of work and the kind done by the passionate teacher!

And it’s not just at work that we find this difference between an oppressive job and an energising passion. We find it in the spiritual life as well. Actually, I think this difference is also what our Mass readings are inviting us to ponder today. Why do you think, sisters and brothers, that the workers who were hired first, in the gospel, protested so strongly when they saw the latecomers receiving the same pay as they did?

The reason is found in the words they use. You have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat. A heavy day’s work in all the heat. What do these words indicate to us, sisters and brothers, if not that those hired first saw their work as nothing more than a job? And a burdensome job at that. They found no joy in what they did. They had done it only for the pay. Which should be fine. Many of us do that. We need to. Except that this parable isn’t really about any ordinary employment situation. In telling it, Jesus is trying to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like. And it would appear that, in the kingdom of heaven, God expects people to work not just for pay. Not just to do a job. But to pursue a passion. To do what St. Paul is doing in the second reading.

Scripture scholars tell us that the letter to the Philippians was probably written from prison. Paul knew he might soon be executed. And yet, even in such dire straits, Paul has only one concern. Notice how, in five short verses, the word Christ appears no less than four times. And, quite amazingly, Paul can’t decide whether he wants to live or to die. Because, he says, Christ will be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death. Clearly, in everything that he does, both in life and in death, Paul seeks only one thing. To glorify Christ. What a contrast. What a great distance there is between Paul and the workers in the gospel!

Is this not unlike the distance mentioned in the first reading, which tells us that the heavens are as high above earth as God’s ways are above our ways? For, unlike us, God does things more for passion than for pay. Notice how, in the gospel, the landowner keeps going out to the market place to recruit more workers. And he insists on doing it himself. Instead of sending his foreman. He even goes out at the eleventh hour. Why? What difference could that last hour make to the profitability of his vineyard? Unless, of course, his concern is less with making more profits than with finding work for the unemployed. With caring for those who are standing idle in the market place. Isn’t this his passion? To seek out and to recruit all those who have yet to find a meaningful occupation. All those still lost and aimless. Lacking direction. So that it is not so much the salary that is the reward. The main attraction is the work itself. The joyful opportunity to labour in the Vineyard of Life.

Isn’t this what Jesus is sent into the world to do? To offer all of us a meaningful occupation. The joyful task of experiencing for ourselves, and of sharing with others, the Good News of God’s love for us all. A love that’s willing even to lay down its own life so that others might live. The same love that we celebrate at this Eucharist. And yet, isn’t it also true that, all too often, we see this work, of living and spreading the Good News, as a burden? If we even think of it at all. Perhaps because, in our minds, doing this work means having to spend more time in church. Joining this or that ministry. But could we be wrong? Could it be that the vineyard of the Lord is not just here in church? But out there in the world? In our workplaces and in our schools. In our homes and on the streets. Could it be that doing this work requires only that we have a passion for sharing God’s love with others? At times in words, and always in deeds?

But that’s the trouble, isn’t it, sisters and brothers? What is needed is a joyful passion. But what we experience is often only an oppressive burden. We are conditioned to think of the spiritual life only in terms of obligations and merits. Instead of generosity and joy. Even if we do pray the Prayer of Generosity every Sunday. Like the workers in the gospel, we tend to keep a careful count of every second we spend on the things of God. Every little prayer we say. Every Mass we attend. Every good deed we perform. And we expect to be rewarded for it all.

But if all this is true, then how can we change? How can we move away from seeing our faith as an oppressive job to letting it become our one energising passion? How do we bridge that great distance between our own calculative ways and God’s generous love? As the first reading tells us, in everything we do, we need to seek the Lord while he is still to be found. To call to him while he is still near. And we find the motivation to keep doing this when we remember that, like that landowner in the gospel, God is always already passionately searching for us. For you and for me...

Sisters and brothers, in the ordinary situations of your life, how passionately are you searching for God today?

2 comments:

  1. O Lord,

    As Our Good Shepherd, You go and seek out the lost and lonely sheep, especially those who are stranded and are petrified - those who are caught in some kind of difficulties (because they ran away from You and are somewhat "stuck" - just like we often mess up our own lives and became helpless, lost and confused...)

    Lord, as You seek us out - as You had chosen us to be Yours, instil in us a love and passion as You lead us back to You.

    O Lord, as in You, we live and move and have our being - please lead us back into Your embrace whenever we go astray ... as "our hearts are restless until they rest in You".

    In all the distractions, glamour and splendour which this world offers - all is vanity - all is empty and hollow -

    as we go on searching for You, Lord, as we seek You and Your Light, teach us to be humble and docile, melt our pride and bend our hearts - as You continue to our true HOME in You. Amen.

    Sih Ying, 21 September 2014 2.40pm

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  2. Dear Fr.Chris,
    Thank you for your homilies. So many times they have helped me to better understand the meaning of the readings, especially when Jesus speaks to us in parables. Sometimes, like this Sunday's, I find them really puzzling: why, indeed, did all the workers receive the same pay? Shouldn't those who had toiled the whole day get more than the ones who had worked only a couple of hours?
    Now I understand: for God it does not matter what kind of work you do. It is the way how you go about your daily life that matters. It is up to you whether your job is just a means to earn money for a living , whether your life as a housewife, mother, father, student is just filled with chores or whether you experience it as meaningful.
    You can give it a meaning when you put your soul and your heart into whatever you do.
    St.Therese de Lisieux, e.g. suggests:" Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love"
    Or
    "Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing"
    And there are so many opportunities where we can do just this: greeting the cleaner ,the guest worker with a smile, having some kind words for our neighbour, security guard, encouraging our stressed out children, wife or husband.... The list could go on.
    It's our mindset that matters, our heart. There is no need for big gestures, but what we do, even the little things, we should do with consideration, dedication, love.
    It is easier said than done : to smile when we don't feel like it? To have some kind words when we are grumpy and disgruntled?
    We have to try day by day, but does God not do the same for us? He reaches out to us , every day, our whole life , He invites us to come and work for Him like the master of the vineyard in the parable...
    And we will get our reward, be it through the smile of a colleague, cleaner, or the sigh of relief of our child, wife or husband, a.s.o. because we find some words of encouragement instead of grumbling...reprimanding...
    We will feel happy and rewarded by making others feel good, and at the end of the day, at the end of our life God will smile on us...
    It won't be easy, changing our habit. It is hard work, day by day, but God will be there, giving us our fair and just reward...
    I shall try, every day, "finding God in all things"

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