You have made them equal to yourself, but do they want to be equal to each other?
Peace be with you. This past Wednesday, I got to teach the 6th grade class for Faith Formation at St. Patrick’s in Britt. I say I “got to” but, in truth, it was really “had to” because there is currently no catechist for that grade. It makes me really sad that our two biggest parishes, Garner and Britt, still have one class without a permanent catechist. Buffalo Center, Lake Mills, and Forest City have all the catechists they need and Britt and Garner just can’t seem to get people to volunteer. So, I got to teach 6th grade after working all day in the office and celebrating two masses, one in the morning and one in the evening. I kept asking myself why one of these kids’ parents wasn’t willing to step forward and teach their kids as they promised to do so in baptism. I also kept thinking that I was going to do a terrible job. I often struggle to be able to relate to middle school kids. I used to joke that it would be best if kids would be locked in dog kennels from sixth grade through junior year of high school. Still, I tried to keep a smile on my face in the hopes that being positive would lead to positive results. And, to be honest, it did. The kids were great, full of excitement and questions. The class time flew by and we even had to leave a few questions unanswered. On my way out the door, I posted to Facebook, “I was just reminded that 6th graders have a ton of energy.” To which Christine Carrier, our Director of Faith Formation, replied “Just a friendly reminder of how much gratitude our catechists deserve.” Just like me, these people work all day long and still come to class prepared to teach. They’re the ones I should be thinking about, thanking, and praying for. I needed to be reminded that, just like me, they’re busy people who have given of their time to teach someone else’s kids. Thank you for all you do.
In the gospel, I imagine most of us have some sympathy for the workers that have been there all day. They got to the market early, were the best workers there, and have worked from the cool 50-60 degree morning through the 90 degree heat of the day. Yet, at the end of the day, they receive the same amount of money as people who were initially passed over by this landowner and several others and, so are probably not the strongest or brightest and they only came to work for an hour. It seems clear to me that this can’t be a workable business model. Imagine what will happen the next day if you treat your workers like this: everyone will show up between 4:30 and 4:45 expecting that the landowner will hire them for an hour and give them a full day’s pay. Still, what bothers me about the workers who worked all day is what they complain about. Even though it says they think they should get more money than the ones who came later, they say, “You have made them equal to us.” They’re concerned that, by everyone getting the same pay for not the same amount of work, that you have made unequal people equal to them.
Perhaps for an insight into what Jesus is talking about, we should look to the second reading. In it, St. Paul has just started writing a letter to the Christians in the town of Phillippi while he is imprisoned for being a Christian. In the prison environment, he finds himself reflecting on two possible outcomes of being imprisoned; one which is good for the people he is writing to and one which is good for himself. He could be beaten and set free, which would mean he could continue evangelizing and teaching the Philippians. Or, he could be falsely charged, convicted, and given a death sentence. Now, I feel like it’s important to point out that, when St. Paul says he feels death is gain, he’s not struggling with depression and suicide. I hope, if that is something you’re thinking about doing, you’re talking to a family member or a friend or giving me a call. That’s serious and important but It’s not what St. Paul is talking about. He is saying that death would be gain because, by condemning him falsely and killing him, he would share in the same persecution and death as Jesus did. In some ways, he would be equal to Christ by sharing in a death like Christ’s.
Part of our culture as Americans is believing that we need to be separate, different, unique, and better than those around us. We separate ourselves out by family, by parish, by school, by town, by college sports team, and by a million other identifiers. But, part of being a Christian is recognizing how we are alike, how we are connected as one body, and how we are all one in Christ. Sometimes, while talking with people in the cluster, I’ll ask that we do things differently so that we are united and I’ll get a response like “We don’t do that here” or “I know that’s the way they do it over there but that’s not the way we do it here.” It sometimes feels like people put pride in being different than the parish or town or school down the road. It’s like they’re turning to me and saying, “You have made them equal to us.” Can we put aside selfish desires and the egotistical need to constantly be different in order to be equal in the grace and love of Christ?