Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Monks pray. They chant psalms and canticles to give God glory. [Spanish]
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Nurses in hospitals see to their patients’ medications. Make notes. Change shifts.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Worksite managers drink coffee out of big tumblers and plan, supervise, order equipment and materials. Chew the fat with customers, architects, engineers. Talk football.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Rehab patients and nursing-home residents contend with their aches, their pains, and their loneliness. They await their meals, their p.t. and o.t., their baths or showers, and their meds. They tune into their tv shows. They hope someone will sign-up for a social-distanced visit. Maybe they read their Bibles and pray.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Students arise, eat cereal or pop-tarts, maybe stress-out about the homework they haven’t done. They get on the computer and try to learn something remotely. They get called-on via Zoom. They get bored. They turn off the camera and fall asleep.
Dawn. Nine a.m. Noon. Three p.m. Five p.m. Depressed people suffer, suffer–with every tick-tock minute poking the scalp like sixty little needles, one second after another. Landscape workers sweat in the sun, dirt grinding into the skin of their fingers. At Waffle House, they sling the hash; at Mickey D’s they drop the fries. Truck drivers look through the windshield down the highway and plan their next bathroom/coffee stop. The unemployed wait in agony for e-mails to come.
How could we get through life without the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms? This year with a pandemic has broken our rhythms–which makes us appreciate all the more whatever rhythms we can manage to have. The bishop broke my rhythm pretty badly. Thank you, Lord, for sending me work to do.
The rhythm that makes the passage of time endurable always involves some kind of work. Work makes time a friend, an ally, a partner. On the other hand: when you’re idle, time becomes a mud patch, an enemy, a dark confusing cloud of frustrated non-possibilities.
At Holy Mass tomorrow, we will read the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. What exactly does this parable teach? The main lesson is: the owner of the vineyard is generous. “I am generous,” he said.
We earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brows. We get to sleep the sound sleep of the just by working hard, from dawn to dusk. But did we earn these brows, upon which we sweat? Did we earn these hands we use? Do we receive 24 hours every day because we pre-paid for their delivery?
No. A huge gift came first. We have what it takes to build up a rhythm of life because God gave us us. The idea that I deserve even to exist: that idea is the gravest enemy my spiritual life can have. If I start kidding myself that I somehow gave myself the morning sun; if I start tallying all the benefits and perks that my illustrious efforts deserve, then I run a grave risk. I will find myself standing there with just one little denarius in my hand at the end of the day. When I frown, the Lord will ask me, “Are you envious because I am generous? I have paid you fairly.”
The vineyard owner in the parable was rich, rich in a higher order of magnitude than the laborers he hired. The owner did not deal in loose change. The standard wage for a day’s labor was a denarius. The owner didn’t have any smaller coins. All the workers got the same pay, whether they started at dawn or at 5pm.
The owner did not think twice about it, because a denarius was loose change to him. He needed able-bodied workers in his vineyard, for however many hours he could have them, as many workers as he could find. He had a lot of ripe grapes to pull from the vines.
Some people live in run-down double-wides, and some live in mansions with wall-to-wall carpet and tropical fish tanks. Who really deserves either one? And, in the end, what difference does it make? I could fight all my life to win the esteem of men, to consume daily gourmet meals, to rack-up professional accomplishments and little performance-review trophies. I will still die as naked as I was born.
God gives me today. For free. We will all die wretched and miserable deaths unless we spend the rest of our lives trying to grasp this one simple fact. God gives. God gives the dawn. And 9am. And noon. And 3pm. And the evening.
He gives it all, to everyone, every day, freely.