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Cecil B. DeMille directed the epic film, Ben Hur. He told the lead actor, Charlton Heston, that he was planning to have a chariot race in the film, “I want you to be in that race. I do not want you to have a stand-in.” Heston said, “If you want me to ride, I will need training.” “Take all the time you need.” After his training, Heston said, “I’m ready, but I am not sure I can win.” DeMille responded, “You just stay in the race. I will make sure you win.”
I like that story because it reminds me so much of God and His message to us: “If you are a student who is struggling, just keep studying. I will make sure you win. If you are a stressed parent, keep parenting. I will make sure you win. If you are looking for a job, just keep looking. I will make sure you win.” The workers in the gospel, who spent the day waiting for work, had a day that didn’t happen the way they had hoped. They wanted to work all day. How much do you think you get for working in the fields picking grapes for one hour: twelve or fifteen bucks? You can’t pay the rent, put food on the table, put gas in the car, and send the kids college on one hour of work. The master, however, gave them a whole day’s pay. Why? God rewards availability. They were ready to work, they were prepared to work, and they were available all day. If it were I, I would have stayed in the unemployment line maybe until noon. After that I would have thought, “What good is a few hours; I may as well go fly fishing.” But the unemployed in the gospel stayed to the last hour, even though one hour of work was not enough to eat. We are used to being in a world that only pays for productivity. How many apples did you put in the barrel? How many pears did you sell today? Show me what you have done and I will give back. Our Lord rewards availability.
I was on-call for the Longwood hospitals one Saturday. I got one call. I went to the hospital and introduced myself to the family, and they said, “Oh, our parish priest was just here, we do not need you. Sorry to put you out.” I said, “That is all right,” and I went home and didn’t get another call all day. The vocation hotline didn’t ring all day. I had an appointment that canceled. As I looked back over the day, I did not do anything that made me feel proud or accomplished. I pictured myself meeting one of the local parish priests telling me what he did that Saturday. “I had a funeral in the morning, two weddings in the afternoon, Saturday evening Mass and I heard confessions for an hour. What did you do?” “I, aaah, was available. Now you may say, “Okay fine; you had an easy day you got to relax for the day.” Fine, but try to relax with a beeper to five hospitals and five emergency rooms, fifteen intensive care units, and about fifty floors of sick patients. I can’t go to the beach and read a book. I was available all day. The good news is that God rewards availability. That is why the gospel of the last hour worker is so hopeful to me and others like me.
Allow me just to let my imagination go a little wild here. Suppose that I was killed in the line of duty as a priest. A hundred years from now the church may recognize my sacrifice and call me St. Peter of Boston. Perhaps there may be a plaque in the back of the church with my picture on it. There may even be an optional memorial to celebrate my memory. But right now, as it stands, I’m a nobody. Anyone could ask me “What great thing did you do?” and they are right. When I compare myself to the great saints of the church, I am nothing. But God is generous and can lift me up to be their equal just as the last hour workers were made equal to the heroes that worked all day. Here is the faith lesson: God is generous, but not to everyone. In the parable, the master was not generous to the workers that worked all day: He was fair, and just. He was generous to the ones who never quit, who stayed in the unemployment line until the last hour. He is generous to those who wait, who persevere, and never quit. If you are struggling in your job, your home, or a relationship, listen to God: “Just stay in the race, I will make sure you win.”Back to All Homilies