20 January 2008 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece
I wonder how often we review the fulfilment and satisfaction we receive on account of the work we do? How much job satisfaction is there? One old-fashioned school of thought, would encourage a sense of thanksgiving just for having a job – regardless of what it is. And there is certainly something Christian in doing well even the most mundane and menial tasks we inevitably face. George Herbert’s well known hymn begins: Teach me, my God and King, in all things thee to see; and what I do in anything to do it as for thee!…A servant with this clause makes drudgery divine; who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, makes that and the action fine.
But these days we live in a part of the world where there are myriad opportunities and choices, and we are supposed to review and question our job satisfaction. I wonder. For lots of people the point of work seems simply just to get enough money to pay the bills, look after the family and go down the pub at weekends. For others, the bar might be set higher – the better car, the larger house…working hard for lots of money (whether or not this brings satisfaction), which is then spent on a luxury life-style and far away exotic holidays. The satisfaction comes from the results of work rather than in and from the work itself.
I am interested in some of the details in today’s parable. The labourers work a long twelve hour day – presumably all the available hours of daylight. They agree a wage, and I imagine would have a degree of pride and satisfaction in having done an honest day’s work, despite any resentment about the ‘jonny come latelies’. I remember with some pleasure my own simple sense of achievement from manual labour during holiday jobs. Working in a nursery picking and sorting daffodil bulbs. Working as a cleaner at Haslar hospital in Gosport and seeing the results of my labour. Not manual work but still fun – driving Verecchia ice-cream vans around the streets and parking up at their pitch on Portsdown Hill in the afternoons. Hopefully selling more ice cream than I was consuming.
When it comes to job satisfaction, of course there needs to be a balance between making drudgery divine, and the genuine requirement to be stimulated and challenged…actually to examine our own role in earning our living…not just waking up when it comes to spending it. I suppose it is an awareness of the journey as well as the destination.
In the parable, God can be compared to the owner of the vineyard, but this only takes us so far, because unlike the householder, God needs neither labourers, nor to plant and look after a vineyard. We can read the vineyard as representing Israel…and here again God had no need to plant and tend Israel, in order to extend the offer of salvation to all peoples. So unlike the householder, God does not hire labourers because he needs their help to tend his vineyard. It is more that out of love he desires all people to enter his vineyard and thus to receive the reward of eternal life. All are invited to share in his work of salvation.
One of the dangers in our lives as Christians is that we forget that our invitation to labour in God's vineyard is itself a gift and a privilege. We are doing him no favours – rather it is the reverse. Which is why we need constantly to review our Christian job satisfaction, and remember that our journey with, and our labours for the Way, the Truth and the Life are as important as the prize of salvation…more than that…they go together.
Reviewing both our Christian lives and labours, and also our paid jobs…our employment, in terms of job satisfaction is a useful exercise. And especially at this time of year. Because today provides a sort of liturgical ‘hinge’. For the past two months, from the beginning of the Church’s year, we were looking forward to the incarnation…and then looking back to its significance – pondering and experiencing the meaning of the Word made flesh, and the revelation of divine glory in the world. Advent Christmas and Epiphanytide. God coming into the world.
Today marks the change as we look forward to Jesus’ ministry…and to Lent, Holy Week and Easter.
God leaving the world and preparing a place for us. Septuagesima…what an intriguing name…marks a sort of pre Lent time of preparation in order to reap the most benefit from the Church’s holy season.
Between Epiphany and Lent, there are these three Sundays…each with ancient Latin names: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. The seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth days (more or less) before Easter. The logic of these three weeks is to prepare us for the renewing journey, and labour, and gift of Lent. So it is that St. Paul reminds us, in this week's epistle, that we are running a race and are to be like athletes in training, disciplined and temperate in all things…striving for a crown that is incorruptible. The Gospel compares us to workers in a vineyard. It is not important whether we begin early in the morning…or at midday…or at the very late eleventh hour…we all labour for the one reward, which God's generous grace provides. But the reward and satisfaction is surely found in the labour as much as in the ultimate crown and prize?