Weekly HomilyArchives

Monday, September 12, 2011

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The last will be first, and the first will be last.’” (Matthew 20:16)

Peyton Center

September 18, 2011
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 20:1-16 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

A gathering legend amongst the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame is the decades-old heated argument between two elderly priest-theologians. As told to me, these gentlemen were seated at table for the evening meal when some point of theology hit a raw nerve. As their voices became louder, community members at other tables quieted to listen in. Just before one of the red-faced parties left the dining room in a huff, the roomful heard his shrill voice proclaim, “Well, if Jesus said that, he was wrong!”

Could Jesus be wrong? I don’t think so. But we may be tempted to ask the question when we hear today’s gospel parable. Indeed, as with so many other parables, the lesson offered upsets us on one level, comforts us on another. Today’s gospel ends with Jesus saying to his disciples, “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16) Yes, when Jesus speaks, everyday wisdom is turned upside down and inside out as he continually teaches that heavenly wisdom is very different from worldly wisdom.

Consider the passing of time. The landowner in the gospel hires laborers at 6 AM, 9 AM, 12 noon, 3 PM and 5 PM. And then at day’s end he pays them all the same wage! Not the same hourly wage, but the same sum total! “Unfair!” we may shout. But isn’t there also comfort in knowing that God’s love is free from such human constraints? Isn’t it comforting to know that God’s love is beyond measure? Let a true story of a woman who knew not the limits of time or love teach us something of heaven’s wisdom.

“The first day of school, our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being. She said, 'Hi, handsome. My name is Rose. I'm eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?'

“I laughed and responded enthusiastically, 'Of course you may!' and she gave me a giant squeeze. ‘Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?' I asked. She jokingly replied, 'I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids.' 'No, seriously,' I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age. 'I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one!' she told me.

“After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months, we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this 'time machine' as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

“Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon, and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up, and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

“At the end of the semester, we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I'll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three-by-five note cards onto the floor. Frustrated and a little embarrassed, she leaned into the microphone and simply said, 'I'm sorry I'm so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent, and this whiskey is killing me! I'll never get my speech back in order, so let me just tell you what I know.'

“As we laughed, she cleared her throat and began, ' We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it! There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything, I will turn eighty-eight. Anybody can grow older. That doesn't take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets. We elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.'

“She concluded her speech by courageously singing 'The Rose.' She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.

“At the year's end, Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those months ago. One week after graduation, Rose died peacefully in her sleep. Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.” (Original source unknown)

It's never too late to be all you can possibly be,” taught Rose. It’s never too late, adds Jesus, because time is meaningless to God whose love for us is beyond measure.

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