The Amazing Grace of the Divine Employer
From our earliest years, we Americans have been brought up to value justice. Play fair, is part of our earliest training in life. That’s why when we hear today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Laborers in the Field, we immediately think, “That’s just not right. The guys who worked all day have a good argument. They should have been paid more.”
But the parable isn’t really about who should get paid what. The parable is about God. He is the Good Employer, the Divine Employer. This parable is not about the workers, it is about God who offers His grace to people at various times in their lives.
The story of John Newton certainly illustrates this. John Newton was born in London, in 1725. His father was the captain of a merchant ship that sailed the Mediterranean. When John was just 11, he went to sea with his father. After six voyages, his father retired. John decided to seek another life. But as a teenager he was impressed by the British Navy and forced to serve on a warship, the HMS Harwich. John hated it. He particularly hated the demeaning way he and everyone on board was treated. He deserted, but was captured. For that he was flogged, demoted, and treated even worse. His only way off that brutal ship ended up being traded to the worst possible ship. John requested to be exchanged to a ship that was a slave trader, working the waters off of Sierra Leona, Africa. He was brutally abused there also, but his luck changed when he was rescued by a captain of another ship who had known John’s father. John had merchant in his blood. He saw the money being made off of slaves. Eventually, John became the captain of his own slave ship.
And so he prospered. John had little to no religious convictions. He didn’t care whether God approved or did not approve of his business. Then on one homeward trip, everything changed. Newton found religion. Or religion found him. He was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm. He was convinced that all would lost. Just as he thought the ship would sink, he surprised himself by calling out, “Lord, have mercy on us.” The storm started to abate.
John reflected on this and was convinced that God had spoken to him through the storm. He changed his life and gave himself to God. He was soon out of the slave business. After marrying he immersed himself in the study of theology and was ordained an Anglican priest and named as pastor of Olney, in England. There he met a poet named William Cowper. The two collaborated on writing new Church hymns, known as the Olney hymnal.
You know his work very well, at least his most famous hymn. John Newton wrote Amazing Grace:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Now, is there anyone that feels that God had been unfair? After all, God saved the life of a slaver. How many hundreds, perhaps thousands, died on Newton’s ship? How many thousands more wished they had died. All so Newton could make a profit. But God brought conversion to a person who had ignored Him for years. Would any of us dare tell God that he was unjust? No, because we’ve all received Grace from God. We are not going to begrudge John Newton his opportunity to grow in God’s love.
That’s what the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is really about. God’s grace comes to different people at different times and in different ways.
And that includes everyone here. Perhaps some of us may feel that we have not been the person we could and should be. Maybe we are correct. But we haven’t missed our opportunity for salvation. God’s grace is amazing. There is still time for him to radically change our lives.
Look at some of the amazing ways that God has changed people we know. So often we have all encountered a person who has done serious damage to his or her life and family through alcohol or other chemical dependency. Then we marvel how God’s Grace not only led that person to recovery, but made him or her a source of strength for others looking to recover. That is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer.
John Paul II was very much aware of the working of God’s Mercy. He addressed women who had suffered through an abortion and empowered them with the determination to work for life and protect other women from going through what they went through. This is the amazing Grace of the Divine Employer.
The Gospel encourages us not to give up on ourselves. God never gives up on us. We can always start new, whether we have just been lukewarm Christians or whether we have been at war with God. Not only does God refuse to hold us to our pasts, He forgives us through confession and transforms us to become vehicles of conversion for others. The Divine Employer does not want us wasting any more time. Even if we are pretty well advanced in age, and the day is drawing to a close, He still has work for us to do.
He needs us, and He wants us, no matter what our pasts have been.