32nd Tuesday in Ordinary Time
The servant comes in after a hard day’s work in the field. No downtime. Prepare something for me to eat first. Then put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? The expected answer is – no way. If Jesus were an employer in New York State, the Department of Labor would probably throw him in jail for cruelty to employees.
And that is the key I guess – Jesus is not an employer. And the parable is not about a job but a vocation. You should get time off for a job but you never have time off with a vocation. It is your life and your mission. Pope Francis recently reminded priests that they do not have a job and are not fulfilling an employment contract. If they have this mindset they soon lose their sense of mission and run the risk of turning the ordained ministry into an occupation. Then it becomes – I will give this much and only this much time to the Church because of room and board and the rest is my time. I do not think this is just the problem in the priesthood. It is everywhere – mine trumps ours. The I supersedes the We. Everyone is so afraid of burn out and caught up in self-care that they end up rusting on the shelf.
In the Joy of the Gospel, the Pope had put his finger on the problem in the priesthood and in religious life and I would say in all vocations. He says ‘today we are seeing in many pastoral workers, including consecrated men and women, an inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation, which leads them to see their work as a mere appendage of their life, as if it were not their very identity. The Pope is pointing out that the work of the priest or consecrated person becomes a necessary evil, a gauntlet to run so that they can get to their ‘free’ time, to be free for Me.
The Pope rightly points out that when this happens, we cut out a whole area where God can act – namely the ministry and the sacrifice it entails – whether it be the ordained ministry or even the humdrum tasks that make up a monastic day. Then says the Pope, even though these people pray, yet prayer lacks traction. It lacks self-sacrifice. It goes nowhere because it is corrupted by a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervor.
Jesus is telling us that all is gift and all is grace. It is freely given, it must be freely received and freely given away. The gift never stops. If it did, we would be annihilated. So Jesus will say in the Gospel of John – My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working’. He naturally expects the same kind of response to this most fundamental gift. If we try to hoard it – like the manna in the desert it gets rotten in our cupboards. If we give freely then we too experience a Eucharistic abundance. He is asking us for a change of mind, a metanoia – from entitlement to gratitude.