I’m not at all sure what a Fair Pay Commission would make of what we have just heard (in the Gospel). I suspect that they would at least understand the grumbling of those who have copped one denarius after a full days work when the latecomers, who did only a little bit of the work, received the same pay. It certainly doesn’t obey the logic of human affairs, which means that Jesus in telling us the story, is summoning us to enter and inhabit a completely different logic which turns the logic of human affairs on its head.
The prophet Isaiah has God say “the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways; my thoughts above your thoughts.” How true that is when we listen to the voice of Jesus who says even more dramatically “ the last shall be first and the first will be last. There will come the great overturning of the seemingly non-negotiable status quo and that process of overturning has already begun.” So the question is why does the worker who comes right at the end get the same pay, according to this new logic, as the one who has done a full days work?
What the Lord says is that the waiting is work. They have been standing in the square waiting to be hired and it wasn’t their fault that they weren’t. They didn’t go home and cry in their beer, they simply weren’t hired. Seen with the eye of Christ their waiting is their work and they are paid for waiting in the heat of the day in the square. The Lord speaks to us this morning of the place, indeed the crucial importance of waiting in the Christian life.
In one sense, as we look to the return of Christ, the Christian life is nothing other than an experience of creative and powerful waiting. Sometimes we call that experience of waiting ‘hope’. It certainly involves patience, the patience of which Pope Francis has spoken surprisingly frequently for a man who seems to be in a hurry in “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium). He says that at times we are hamstrung in our mission because we lack patience. We want things to happen now and with immediate results, or we lack patience because we want to control things and we’re afraid of losing that control when in fact we have to lose control and surrender it to the one who is in fact in control, whatever the illusion of us being in control of our own affairs. The patience of St Paul who says “I would much rather be gone and be with Christ”. He means he would like to die. Yet then he says “ for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake”, so Paul has to wait. He has to learn a kind of patience for the sake of the mission.
The supreme exemplar of that waiting, that patience, is of course the crucified and long suffering Christ. Yet in all of this the waiting is active not passive. It is not empty waiting. It’s full of a power and action. It is positive in that sense.
Here today we celebrate 50 years of powerful action by an agency of the church, although even the word ‘agency’ sounds far too bureaucratic to get at the heart of the mystery, but an agency of the church, the body of Christ, an agency of our outreach that bears the name ‘Caritas’. This is the Latin word which is translated best as ‘self-sacrificing love’. And therein is the mystery that blazes at the core of the whole church. Without ‘caritas’ the church is not the body of Christ, it is simply a corpse and all it can do is putrefy.
Yet if there is the mystery of self-sacrificing love, in other words the mystery of the Lord’s cross at the heart of the church, then of course we are ablaze with the life that is bigger than death, the life of Easter. Caritas then is a proclamation at Easter but done in the most human and down to earth way, reaching out into areas of human need, some of them unspeakable, some of them closer to home, some of them further away. Yet through 50 years, in the most concrete, down to earth and human way, Caritas has witnessed to the power of that love and its triumph in the moment of Easter. In that sense Caritas for 50 years has served the Kingdom of God, establishing the reign of God on earth. For that we give thanks to God because it’s all God’s work.
Once again if it’s just our work, our poor human affairs with their clapped out logic, then we would not be here celebrating 50 years. Yet we remember this is the work of God because Deus Caritas Est; God is caritas; God is self-sacrificing love. This is the God who waits for us and is infinitely patient. That is part of his caritas. So we then, who on this Easter day, this Sunday, say ‘yes’ that we will wait, and as we wait we won’t just sit back and do nothing but we will act as those who wait.
We will act as those who show forth the infinite generosity of God, who says ‘why be envious because I am generous?”Why be resentful because I follow the logic not of entitlement but of infinite generosity?” So we pray that Caritas, in the years which lie ahead, and that the whole church, will be drawn into the mystery of that infinite generosity in a way that will make us the love of God incarnate. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
September 21, 2014