Codex Aureus Epternacensis f76f (Detail), 11th century; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on Trinity XV (20 September)

Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.

In this parable we hear of God’s persistence in seeking to draw people into his kingdom. He describes a householder with a vineyard hiring workers, the young men of the area would have gathered ready to find somebody to give them work — and a good number of them find this householder, representing God. They agree some pay, and go off to his vineyard to fulfil their side of the contract.

We might think that that’s it. Some workers have been found, now it’s just a matter of gathering the grapes; that the scene of the action moves from the market place to the vineyard.

But Christ tells us that the householder keeps going back to the market place. He’s looking for more and more workers. He hasn’t looked at the size of the vineyard and decided how many are needed, he simply goes looking for as many as he can find. He doesn’t go out once to gather some workers either, he repeats the process and each time he manages to find some more. He even goes out at the eleventh hour: in the time-keeping system of the day, this means an hour before work stops for the night. In human terms it wouldn’t really seem worth starting work at that point. But God doesn’t look at things from a human perspective — he sees an entire plan for drawing people closer to himself, and is happy when that happens at the last possible moment as well as happens long before.

But just as those workers were sent into the vineyard, it is important for us to realise that we are sent to work too. By becoming part of the kingdom of God, part of the Church, we are workers sent to the vineyard — in due course, at the end of the work-day, we will receive our denarius as a reward and then we can have rest. But for the moment we are called to work. God’s kingdom is something which is built up by the work of those within it — we work together with God, we work in his strength, following his lead and guidance, working as much as we can to bring his plans to completion. The call to become a Christian is the call to a life of service to God; and through serving him to service those around us as well.

We have heard that call, we have been gathered into the Church, and therefore we have been sent into the vineyard — that should make us ask ourselves what work God is expecting of us here. There are many ways of working for God in the Church, and we are not all called to all of these ways — many of these ways of working are less visible, we might even think that they aren’t really work. For many people, that working consists of a quiet life of faithfulness to God and the Church, a life filled with prayer for those around, especially those in need. For others a life of quiet witness to the love of God by the way in which they raise their children and love their husbands or wives — again a quiet fidelity to God and his kingdom. For others, it can be looking for ways to help those in need. Lives like these are genuine work to build the kingdom of God, as long as they spring from the love of God. It is that unity with God which marks work for the kingdom of God. Living and working with a love for God in our hearts will mean that at the end of the day, when judgment is passed on the world, we will be able to receive our reward from God, and enjoy eternal happiness with him. The burdens of our work cannot be denied — when those workers said that the bore the burden of the day, they were telling the truth — but when this work is done out of love for God and in his strength, then those burdens can feel light.

But as well as being sent to work in the vineyard, there is another aspect which we cannot ignore from this story. When we hear of the householder going out repeatedly to find new workers for the vineyard, we recognise that this shows God’s desire to call everybody into his kingdom. But all of us are called to take part in that work too.

All Christians are called to join God in the work of evangelisation — of spreading the good news of God and the relationship to which we have been called. This isn’t simply a job for the professionals, all of those baptised have this responsibility. We can enjoy the wonderful benefits of being in a relationship with God, and we should want everybody else to share in that relationship with him too. How can we claim to love those around us if we don’t want them to share in that relationship with God?

This doesn’t necessarily mean knocking on doors or grabbing random passers-by to talk to them. But a life lived in union with God, a life growing in holiness through God’s work in our lives, a life of service for others — this can spark in others a question of what makes these Christians different, that is the most important moment in evangelisation. That is a calling for all of us — living in union with God, and quietly showing his love to those around us, so that they may be drawn towards him.

We have a God who wants to call everybody into his kingdom — a kingdom of delights beyond anything which we can imagine — and as he calls us into that kingdom, he asks us to work with him to keep building it up, to keep calling ever more people into it. Let us respond with glad hearts — growing closer to God through our work for him and for those around us, and constantly seeking to call more people to know and love him.

The editorial title to this article comes from the hymn “Come labour on” by Jane L Borthwick.