……from your Pastor’s Desk

Just Imagine

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

But if I told a story, even the simplest story, the pandemonium ceased. It morphed into rapt attention. You could hear a pin drop. Until the story ended, that is, and then anarchy resumed.

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

There must be a special part of the brain devoted to stories.

It was only years later that I applied 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? Because it is a story, the story of Jesus. We are struck by the narrative about him, much more than we are by the sometimes complicated theology in Paul’s letters. Within the gospels, which are themselves stories, we find the parables Jesus told.

Stories.

So take a good look at the parable in Sunday’s Gospel and let the story lead you. See if it works. Imagine the landowner hiring laborers for his vineyard as 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.

The day gets hotter. And hotter. High noon has come and the owner walks back to town to go shopping 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 the work day is about over. The owner is still in town for whatever reason, and what should he see but strong men lolling about in doorways, wet with sweat from the heat and from their dejection. To their surprise, he hires them too.

Day ends and “just wages” are handed out. It is the exact same amount for every worker, no matter how many or how few hours anyone had worked. Look at the faces. 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. The late ones smiling sheepishly.

What does the story mean? You will find the answer if you sense the scene rather than just use brain power. Let your imagination see the kindness in the owner’s face. Call to mind the gloom of the ones hired so late. See their amazement now.

Obviously these wages are not a strict remuneration for hours worked. They are 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.

John Foley, SJ

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