Each labourer is given one Denarii each. Some began at daybreak, around 6am. Others at 9am, others 12 midday and others at “the 11th hour” (the very last hour of the working day). Those who began at 6am are those who have been faithful to God all their life. Those who began at the 11th hour – or the last hour – are those who were faithful to God only after the last hour – or less – before their death. In other words, God grants salvation to those who repent even at the last ‘moment’ of their death, even if all their life before that they were the worst sinner of all time. We all can understand why the labourer who worked all day “in all the heat” was upset with the landowner who paid the same wage to those who worked for only one hour. The labourers who worked all day received all that they wanted to receive. Therefore, they were not treated unjustly in any way. However, the other labourers were treated generously. As the landowner said in today’s Gospel: “I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?”
At the so-called ‘last hour’ Jesus forgave one of the two criminals who was crucified with Him. The good criminal said to the bad criminal: “We have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our sins, but this man had done nothing wrong.”Then he said to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.”Jesus replied: “Truly I say to you, ‘today’ you will be with Me in paradise.”Hence, a criminal, a sinner, went straight to heaven simply because he repented ‘at the last hour.’ St Therese, the little flower, prayed for a notorious murderer – Pranzini. He was totally unrepentant. Only at the very last moment, before he was guillotined/beheaded, he asked God to forgive him. St Therese was led by God to believe that that act alone saved him. Hans Frank, a member of the Nazi party was appointed as overseer of Poland during the Nazi occupation. He would oversee the murder of 2 million people in the concentration camps of Poland as well as the incredible oppression meted out to the Polish people by the Nazi occupiers. After the war Hans Frank was tried and hanged by the Neurenburg courts. But just before Frank was hanged, he was Baptised in the Catholic Church.
Our faith tells us that that man’s sins were forgiven and presuming that he committed no mortal or venial sins after his baptism, he would have gone straight to heaven, even bypassing purgatory. That should shock us. It might even offend us. But that is the radical nature of the mercy of God. Not only did he not receive everlasting hell which he deserved but was rewarded with eternal happiness. We should not say that is unfair, but, rather, we should rejoice that God is so rich in mercy. As we read in today’s First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 55: “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked man abandon his way, the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him, to our God who is rich in forgiving; for my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.” So, don’t be like St Augustine who deeply regretted that he waited late in life to convert. He lamented to God: “Late have I loved You, O beauty so ancient and new: Late have I loved You.”God’s incomprehensible mercy challenges each one of us to be equally merciful towards others. As Jesus said, Luke 6:36: “Be merciful just as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” Lord, pour Your Grace on all people so that all may be open to Your Mercy.
Fr Doug Harris 2020