20 September 2020

There are no latecomers
in God’s vineyard and
no place for discrimination

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard’ (Matthew 20: 1) … at work in a vineyard in Platanias near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 20 September 2020

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XV)

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

The Cathedral Eucharist

The Readings: Jonah 3: 10 to 4: 11; Psalm 145: 1-8; Philippians 1: 21-30; Matthew 20: 1-16.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right’ (Matthew 20: 4) … vines in the vineyard at Aghia Irini Monastery, south of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Like many people, we did the patriotic thing this year, and spent our holidays in Ireland on a ‘staycation’ … a ‘road trip’ that brought us through most of the counties of Munster and south Leinster.

But, of course, I am missing my regular visits to Greece … not just for the blue skies and blue seas, but also the vineyards and the olive groves, and especially our friends there.

Manoli is a god friend in Crete. When our children were small, he was like an uncle to them. And, early one summer, he was excited when he rang us and realised we were returning to his village in Crete.

Gushing with enthusiasm and delight, he told us how we must come and see what he had done with the ‘graveyard’ in his village, Piskopianó.

‘The graveyard?’

Now, I am interested in visiting churches and churchyards, and graveyards and gravestones provide rich material for social, local and family history.

But a graveyard is not the first place you think your friends want you to visit on a holiday in the Mediterranean.

I asked again: ‘The graveyard?’

‘Yes, you’re going to be delighted to see how the vines are growing with new life. You remember how I trimmed back the vines and the branches and how I built new trellises. Now there is a rich crop in the grapeyard this year.’

The grapeyard! Of course. Now it makes sense.

I had shown an interest in his vineyard and his grapes … and a healthy interest in wine.

Now a new lesson awaited me on how to grow grapes, how to trim the vines, and how vines, like people, only make sense in clusters.

We are all workers in the vineyard, and Christ even refers to himself as the true vine. But unless we have worked in a vineyard, some of the illustrations in this morning’s Gospel reading (Matthew 20: 1-16) may not fully resonate with us. And this helps to understand how some of the people who are depicted in this morning’s parable, and many of the people who first heard it, may have missed some of the subtle points Jesus was making as he told it.

This morning’s Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, despite being well-known, is found only in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

As the story unfolds, the landowner (οἰκοδεσπότης, oikodespotés), the head of the household or the owner of the land, is revealed to be not merely the owner of the vineyard, but as the Lord (ὁ κύριος, ho kyrios).

The labourers (εργάτες, ergates) are called at five different times in the day: early in the morning, at nine o’clock, at noon, at three and at five.

There are different tasks in the grapeyard, in the vineyard. Those who come early in the morning, at sunrise, can suffer from literal burnout later in the day as the heat of the sun becomes intense.

A variety of skills is needed: those who look after the soil; those who look after other plants such as the olive trees or lemon trees that help to protect the vines; those who watch the roses for the first signs of any disease that might hit the vines; those who prune the vines; those who pick the grapes and sort them out; those who tidy up in the vineyard at the end of the day – each and everyone plays a role in producing that bottle of wine as it makes its way to shelves and to our tables.

To some of the workers – and to us, at our first reading – the landowner appears to be unfair in the way he rewards those who work on his behalf. But did you notice how this passage begins ‘… the kingdom of heaven is like …’ and that the wages stand for God’s grace?

God chooses to give the same to all: the landowner pays ‘whatever is right’ – there is no social discrimination or class distinction in the Kingdom of Heaven.

We have been living in Askeaton, in Co Limerick, for over three years. For almost four years, we have been here. Although we have never been called ‘blow-ins,’ we are late arrivals. But people understand we have arrived here late in the day, and we understand the parishioners have been there longer than we know.

Good partnerships mean mutual understanding, and can produce good fruit, not just in the vineyard, but in every aspect of life.

As people are more mobile these days, moving from city to countryside, and from provincial towns to the city, the term ‘blow-in’ may be beginning to die a slow death in many smaller towns and communities.

But I wonder whether the attitude it encapsulates is still prevalent in other areas of Irish life.

Are newcomers to the Church as equally welcome as long-standing members of the Church, whose parents were regular parishioners?

How difficult is it for new churchgoers to find an invitation onto church committees, to read lessons, to be counted in, and to be seen to be counted in?

Sorcha Pollak’s regular column in The Irish Times, ‘New to the Parish,’ shows how new arrivals are regularly treated rudely, from the moment they show their passports at the airport, to taking up jobs, constantly being asked, ‘But where are you really from?’

Over the past two weeks, Ryan Tubridy, on his morning show and on the Late Late Show has heard shocking stories of racist abuse suffered by women in Ireland: Emer O’Neill from Bray, Co Wicklow; Denise Chaila , the Zambian-born, Limerick rapper, singer, poet, and one of the stand-out stars of the Irish music scene in 2020; Hazel Chu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants and the first person from an ethnic background to become Lord Mayor of Dublin.

How early do you have to have arrived in the vineyard before your labour is valued fully?

God is generous to all. This is God’s free choice. As the Lord of the vineyard asks in this morning’s Gospel reading, ‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Jesus begins this morning’s parable saying, ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like …’

The kingdom of God is like a place where all are welcome, where no-one is treated rudely because they are new arrivals or treated favourably because they have been here since the early days.

In the Kingdom of God, there is no discrimination, no racism, in the kingdom of God, there are no late arrivals or blow-ins.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went … to hire labourers for his vineyard’ (Matthew 20: 1) ... a small vineyard in Platanias, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 20: 1-16 (NRSVA):

1 [Jesus said,] ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

‘Each of them received the usual daily wage’ (Matthew 20: 10) … a monument to workers’ struggles and the 1913 lockout in Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year A)

The Collect of the Day:

who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
Grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel;
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
we have received these tokens of your promise.
May we who have been nourished with holy things
live as faithful heirs of your promised kingdom.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘He sent them into his vineyard’ (Matthew 20: 2) … grapes in a vineyard in Tsesmes near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard’ (Matthew 20: 1) … at work in a vineyard in Rivesealtes, near Perpignan in southern France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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