Just Imagine – John Foley, SJ

Matthew 10:1-16, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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I taught religion in grade school for a short semester when I was about 22. By accident I discovered a great trick of teaching—and I needed one very much. You see, the class was in complete chaos each time I arrived at mid-day. Chaos.

If I started telling a story, even the simplest story, the pandemonium would cease and morph into rapt attention. You could hear a pin drop. Until the story ended, that is. Then anarchy resumed.

I never did find another way besides stories to reach these little cherubs, even though I memorized each name and picture in the long list, called different ones out for serious talks, etc.

There must be a special part of the brain devoted to story-hearing.

It was only years later that I understood this insight. Why does the gospel get such special attention at Mass? Why do we hold the book up and parade it to the pulpit? Could it be because it is a story? We are struck by the narrative about Jesus, much more than we are by the sometimes complicated theology in Paul’s letters. Jesus knew this. Within the gospels, which are stories, we find the parables he told. They are stories.

So take a good look at the parable in Sunday’s Gospel and let the story lead you. Imagine the landowner hiring laborers for his vineyard. He shakes their rough hands and invites them to work. You can see their satisfied smiles, since they know they will get the usual daily wage.

Day gets hotter. And hotter. High noon has come. Maybe the owner walks back to town to shop for this and that. He glances around. Men are leaning on buildings, loitering, really, bored but still hopeful. The owner crosses over to them and offers to hire them. They come to life and hurry off to his vineyard to earn just half a day’s wages. It is more than nothing.

Then work is almost over. The owner is still in town, for whatever reason, and sees strong men lolling about in doorways, wet with sweat from the heat and from their dejection. To their surprise, he hires them too! Watch as they shake off their lethargy and go to pull weeds for an hour or so. This is a long walk for an hour’s pay. But they go.

Day ends and “just wages” are handed out. But it is the exact same amount for every worker, no matter how many hours or how few minutes he had worked. Look at the faces. Hot anger in the ones who had slaved all day (“This is not fair! We demand our rights! We put in the time and these oafs did nothing”), while the sheepish late ones receive their full day’s wages.

Let your imagination see the kindness in the owner’s face. Call to mind the gloom of the ones hired so late, followed by their amazement.

Obviously their wages are not strict remuneration for hours worked. They more like a gift from a fond heart. How does this feel to you? Didn’t Jesus tell his parable to show how God’s caring heart works, how he gives a depth of love to each person in this world, especially to ones who suffer and are left behind?

If it is hard to see, ask for light.

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