Minding one’s own business


“My friend, I am not cheating you. 
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 
Take what is yours and go. 
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? 
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? 
Are you envious because I am generous?”

The following is Fr. Dennis’ homily from Sunday Mass on September 20th.

The Gospel was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

What makes this Sunday’s parable work is that God, in the person of the landowner, precipitates a crisis. Nothing much would have happened if the landowner had followed the usual course, paying the full-day laborers first and then, in turn, the workers who came later. Having received the agreed upon wage, the first group would have left the vineyard content that they had been treated fairly. They got what was coming to them. But instead, the landowner reverses the expected order and pays the latecomers first, giving them the full daily wage. Not surprisingly, those hired in the morning cry foul that these others, who were spared the searing heat of the midday sun, not to say the weariness of a full day’s work, were given the same wages.

The response of the landowner to this grumbling is perfectly reasonable. Can’t you see that I am just? You received what had been agreed upon. Are you envious because I am generous? Can I not do with my money as I see fit? If you begrudge my generosity to others, know that my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways (Isaiah 55:8). God’s love is both gratuitous and unfathomable. This seems the principal takeaway from the Scripture readings of the day.

But there’s no getting around the reaction of the day laborers, who are beside themselves at the favor given to the latecomers. The parable shines a light on this all too human tendency to compare ourselves to others, even deriving our sense of well-being according to how we stack up against our neighbor. This is an example of what St. Augustine calls “living outside of oneself,’ a manner of being inevitably fraught with anxiety and discontent. I’ve never run across this principle in the spiritual authors, at least in these words, but let me give it its due as a rule of thumb in the spiritual life: mind your own business.

Minding one’s own business and “living within oneself” is echoed in the admonition of the Sermon of the Mount to not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. In its context, this evocative image refers to almsgiving, but it has a reach that extends to the whole tenor and substance of the Christian life. To be at home with oneself, in the Christian sense of the word, is to know oneself to be a beloved child of God and to give free expression to that in loving service of one’s neighbor. It does away with the inordinate need to be liked, to seek credit, to judge our lives according to worldly standards of success. It is marked by the wonder of those third and fifth hour laborers who are grateful recipients of a love given beyond all human measure.

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16) whether we were brought on board at the beginning of the day or at the eleventh hour. To know this is the key to a life free of resentment and ready to be shared with those in need.