Homily notes for Quinquagesima Sunday, February 22:
The occasional warm days, with the appearance of the year’s first daffodils alongside hedgerows, signal the slow transition to spring is picking up speed, and Pre-Lent is drawing to a close. The Quinquagesima gospel is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from Matthew 20. The householder, displaying the grace of Christ, pays all the laborers a full day’s wage, even those who arrived only at the eleventh hour. Of course this generosity sends those who worked all day into fits. They cry: Unfair! These last have wrought but one hour and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the burden and heat of the day.
Let’s take one angle on this parable that is particularly applicable to independent sacramental communities. Many of us may be counted by others, or may count ourselves, as those who have come late in the day. Our communities and ministries are very new. Even the faintest beginnings of what is now the independent movement are much, much younger than other sacramental denominations such as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Those of us who serve in a priestly role may have learned our craft under the mentorship of a sister or brother priest, instead of through eight years of formal seminary in an academic setting. We are the upstarts who just arrived at the farm, rushing in, late in the day. Our presence is no devaluation of those communities who have served in the way of Jesus for many centuries. Their good work deserves its just reward. However, Christ, in the person of the vineyard owner, tells us that our labors are valued and rewarded just as much as theirs. There is no “second best.” Our envy of the older churches, wanting to be like them, craving their approval, feeling that their path of clergy preparation is better or more “real” than ours, is no more helpful than any contempt or judgment directed from some members of those churches to us. Christ has blessed all of us. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
The intent for this Sunday is to grow in awareness and experience of the Holy Spirit as the fire of love. The connection to the first reading – from I Corinthians 13 – is clear enough. But how do we take this intent into our contemplation of the gospel? It is that fire of love which burns away all envy and resentment, as well as our reactions to being the target of such emotions from others. Jonah Paffhausen, the current primate of the Orthodox Church in America, reports that his spiritual father lived by three simple points: Do not resent. Do not react. Keep inner stillness. Even in the midst of great outer activity, the flame of the Spirit’s love burns bright and clear within us, enabling us to joyfully, openly extend Christ’s blessing to all.