Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
September 26, 2021
During the first year of my theology studies, preparing for ordained ministry, at the conclusion of a lecture, a fellow student turned to me and said: “That passage reminds me of you!”
The focus of the class happened to be the parable about the generous vineyard owner who went out at different times of day to hire more day laborers. Having moved those who had worked only a few hours to the front of the pay line, he gave them the same wage that was given to those who labored all day in the hot sun. I was stunned. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t ask what he meant by his remark.
Clearly, as a “late vocation,” I was coming into “the vineyard” of Church ministry during the second half of my life. Did he think I was undeserving of the same “pay”? Was he suggesting that I would be contributing less to the work of ministering to God’s people? Was he accusing me of being of less value?
I did not ask for clarification, nor did he offer any. Still, after 30 years, the remark has stayed with me. And, for all that time, I took it as criticism, even though a negative remark would have been out of character for this young man.
My reflection on this week’s Readings, together with the experiences that accumulated as a parish priest over these past decades, has left me with some profound insights.
Certainly, my life leading up to Ordination was not without value…or service to the Body of Christ. Not only were the various experiences and challenges that I encountered useful preparation for ministry, but, hopefully, there were at least SOME THINGS that I said, or did, that helped others encounter Christ…even though I wasn’t then working in the Church.
In fact, when a “graced moment” comes from an unexpected source, very often, it has a special impact. Think about it.
We expect “Church folk” to send us off with a “blessing.” But, on those occasions when the cashier at the grocery store…or the letter carrier…or the bank teller…ends the transaction by saying:
Have a blessed day.
Don’t you feel it? Don’t unexpected blessings ignite something especially rich and exciting within you? Isn’t there something “super-graced” about an unexpected blessing from an unexpected source?
Of course, this is not to suggest that ordination, credentials, training, ritual, community worship, and all the rest that makes us “Church” are not important; they definitely are. But so are you!
Through Baptism, all Christians are called to new life in The Holy Spirit. In fact, together, the three Sacraments of Initiation are a motherload of grace. To hoard that grace places one in the crosshairs of today’s Second Reading.
We can’t put a leash on the Holy Spirit and place it in the hands of professional ministers.
While it is true that The Holy Spirit dwells within the institutional Church, by nature, The Spirit defies all efforts to be contained or controlled. The Spirit roams freely throughout creation, choosing how and through whom to bestow “unexpected blessings” and “surprising graced moments.”
What I took as a criticism so many years ago might well have merely been the astute observation that, in the eyes of God, length of service isn’t the measure of value. Whenever or however we respond to the invitation of The Holy Spirit to bestow an “unexpected blessing” or make the effort to extend a “graced moment” to another, our work has great value and earns a great reward.
Consider today’s Readings as an invitation to you extended by The Holy Spirit. You have been invited to get to work. Surprising as it might be to you…or to those who will benefit from your good efforts…you have been given all you need to convey blessings and graced moments.
If you listen carefully, you will hear a loving voice whisper to your heart:
You too go into my vineyard…there is lots to be done and you are needed. You are important!