Many Catholics recognize Easter as one of the two times of the year when our pews are mysteriously overflowing. For Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday, this sudden reappearance of our absent fellow parishioners can be a little amusing. Some of us can even feel a little frustrated as we struggle to find a parking space and end up standing in the back. “Don’t these people know that EVERY Sunday is a day of obligation?! Why do they have to show up NOW?”
We can feel a bit like the workers in Jesus’ “Parable of the Vineyard Workers” in Matthew 20. In this parable, the owner of a vineyard goes to the market to hire workers for his vineyard. He hires some in the early morning and goes back every three hours to hire more. Each time he recruits these workers, he promises them all a denarius which is payment for a day’s work. At the end of the day, those who toiled in the sun for 12 hours receive the promised denarius, the same as those who only show up at the last hour. Those who worked much longer are upset and ask the Master why they don’t get more. The Master replies that they received the promised wage and have nothing to complain about.
How easy it is to sympathize with the early group of workers! Why must they toil all day if all the Master requires is one hour? And, if we’re honest, on Easter we may slightly resent those who only show up on one Sunday of the year when we’ve already been there 51 Sundays. To this attitude, our own Master, Jesus, reminds us that we are receiving the promised reward for our labors.
As we contemplate the “fairness” of this payment, it’s important to remember what the payment actually is. Here, another parable in Matthew is probably helpful. In the “Parable of the Banquet,” Jesus tells the story of a King who throws a wedding feast for his son. When the invited guests don’t show up, the King sends his servants out saying, “Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” Some of these were later tossed out but the wedding feast was still filled with those who had only moments before been out on the dusty highways and dirty city streets. They were brought in to drink and feast on the best food in the kingdom.
We Catholics are these dusty travelers, raised above our lot, and given the choicest foods. We oughtn’t have been invited but, here we are, at the wedding feast for the King’s son. Do we also labor in the vineyards? Sure. But, more importantly, we have been grafted onto the vine and can enjoy the most extravagant banquet ever offered.
This inheritance is more than we could ever spend. This well of grace we drink from will never run dry. So we shouldn’t be annoyed with our Catholic brothers and sisters who only make it to Mass on Easter and Christmas. We should instead grieve for them that they have been invited to this feast and yet tarry on the highways. Should all Catholics attend Mass every Sunday? Of course. But, when they don’t, they injure themselves. The rob themselves at their place at the table.
So, when usually-absent Catholics do make their way into the King’s Hall, we should rejoice that the benches are filled! We should share the reward gladly, knowing we have been paid more than we deserve. This payment was not according to our labor but according to the immeasurable wealth and grace of our King.
We must also do our best during these times to evangelize our fellow Catholics. The best way to do this is not to castigate them for not fulfilling their obligations but to show them how wonderful is the Wedding Feast of every Mass. We can share with them the joy to which we have all been called.