Do we see the Church as Some-One, the Risen Christ truly present in His mystical Body, into whom we have been Baptized and now live? Do we, like those early believers, understand that to belong to Christ is to belong to His Body and seek to bring the whole world into the New World of the Church? If not, we need to ask the lord to open our eyes to see the truth and our hearts to receive it. Then, we can respond to His invitation to go into the Vineyard as His laborers in this new missionary age.
One of the kingdom parables of Jesus which begins with these words: “Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matt. 20)
This parable is sometimes used as a framework for discussing just principles for labor relations. Certainly it has applications. However, its meaning is missionary and vocational. Working in the Vineyard is symbolic of our Baptismal call to live our lives in the Lord by fully participating in the Church – which is His Body. It is by living in the Church that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in the continuing redemptive mission of the Lord. The Church is a seed, sign and beginning of the kingdom, making the kingdom present in a world waiting to be born anew.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church expounds on the image of the vineyard in these words: “The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.” (CCC # 755)
Expressing this identification between the Risen Christ and His Church the Catechism explains: “To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.”(CCC#845)
In December of 1988, on the Feast of the Holy Family, Saint John Paul II issued an apostolic exhortation to the”Lay Members of Christ’s faithful” to call all the faithful into a renewed understanding of the Christian vocation. It was released after a Synod of Bishops which had gathered to consider the lay vocation. The late Pope used this parable of the workers in the Vineyard as the framework within which to address the nature of a lay vocation in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. He began with these words:
“The lay members of Christ’s Faithful people (Christifideles Laici), whose “Vocation and Mission in the Church and in the World Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council” was the topic of the 1987 Synod of Bishops, are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: “For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Mt 20:1-2).
“The gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord’s vast vineyard and the multitude of persons, both women and men, who are called and sent forth by him to labor in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.
You Go Into My Vineyard Too
“And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too'” (Mt 20:3-4). From that distant day the call of the Lord Jesus “You go into my vineyard too” never fails to resound in the course of history: it is addressed to every person who comes into this world. In our times, the Church after Vatican II in a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost has come to a more lively awareness of her missionary nature and has listened again to the voice of her Lord who sends her forth into the world as “the universal sacrament of salvation”.
“You go too. The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world. In preaching to the people Saint Gregory the Great recalls this fact and comments on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard: “Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord’s laborers. Each person should take into account what he does – and consider if he is laboring in the vineyard of the Lord”.
“The Council, in particular, with its rich doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral patrimony, has written as never before on the nature, dignity, spirituality, mission and responsibility of the lay faithful. And the Council Fathers, re-echoing the call of Christ, have summoned all the lay faithful, both women and men, to labor in the vineyard: “The Council, then, makes an earnest plea in the Lord’s name that all lay people give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment.
“Young people should feel that this call is directed to them in particular, and they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously. The Lord himself renews his invitation to all the lay faithful to come closer to him every day, and with the recognition that what is his is also their own (Phil 2:5) they ought to associate themselves with him in his saving mission. Once again, he sends them into every town and place where he himself is to come (cf. Lk 10:1)”.
“You go into my vineyard too. During the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome, 1-30 October 1987, these words were re-echoed in spirit once again. Following the path marked out by the Council and remaining open to the light of the experience of persons and communities from the whole Church, the Fathers, enriched by preceding Synods, treated in a specific and extensive manner the topic of the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world.
“The basic meaning of this Synod and the most precious fruit desired as a result of it, is the lay faithful’s hearkening to the call of Christ the Lord to work in his vineyard, to take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church in this great moment in history, made especially dramatic by occurring on the threshold of the Third Millennium.
“A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.
“We continue in our reading of the gospel parable: “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’. They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us’. He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too'”( Mt 20:6-7). “Since the work that awaits everyone in the vineyard of the Lord is so great there is no place for idleness. With even greater urgency the “householder” repeats his invitation: “You go into my vineyard too”.
“The voice of the Lord clearly resounds in the depths of each of Christ’s followers, who through faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation is made like Jesus Christ, is incorporated as a living member in the Church and has an active part in her mission of salvation.”
This parable is an essential reminder that everyone has a calling, a vocation. The word vocation derives from the root word meaning “voice”. The Lord speaks to each one of us today and says “You go Into My Vineyard too!”. He invites us to hear His call and respond, at every age and stage of our life. We can do this by living our lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.
This way of living “in Christ” requires what St Paul called a “renewal of the mind“. (Romans 12:2) One of the fruits of this renewal will be that we come to see our lives differently because we come to understand the Church in a new and renewed way.
The Church is a relational reality. The early Christians understood this mystery. “From the wound in Christ’s side has come forth the Church, and he has made her his bride.” (Origen, commentary on the Psalms) When we live our lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world we will truly come to understand this wonderful parable. “For the Church has been planted in the world as a paradise.”(Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies)
Do we? Do we see the Church as Some-One, the Risen Christ truly present in His mystical Body, into whom we have been Baptized and now live? Do we, like those early believers, understand that to belong to Christ is to belong to His Body and seek to bring the whole world into the “New World” of the Church? If not, we need to ask the lord to open our eyes to see the truth and our hearts to receive it. Then, we can respond to His invitation to go into the Vineyard as His laborers.