We do not Compare Ourselves with Others because in the Kingdom the Last Shall be First

Homily for Wednesday Week 20

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Some felt called to the vineyard of the Lord early and entered college seminary. Some felt called during college and are here to complete their degrees during seminary. Some felt called after college and will do the two year Pre-Theology program. Some had successful careers and lots of life experience and then felt called and are now in seminary. Like the laborers in the vineyard in today’s parable (Matt 20:1-16), people here have felt the call of the Lord at different times in life to enter seminary. But in the parable, some of the laborers in the vineyard fell into the temptation to compare themselves with other laborers in the vineyard who received the same one denarius for their day’s wage. They began to grumble and complain. Of course seminary is not the place to compare ourselves with others. We have all come to seminary to receive the same one denarius, which is the Lord. Seminary is not for comparing ourselves with our neighbor. Our heavenly Father has the same gift to give each one here, intimacy with the Jesus.

The problem with the laborers in the vineyard, and when we compare ourselves, is stated by the owner of the vineyard when he says, “Are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15) That problem is even clearer in the Greek text which literally reads, “Is your eye evil because I am kind.” It is an evil eye, a messed up worldview, a way of looking at the world only from the worldly point of view, that leads to problems. God views things differently. That is why Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the last will be first and the first last (Matt 20:16).

I was reminded of the last in the world being first in the kingdom when I was on pilgrimage in Bavaria with a small group during the summer (2016). Among the many places we visited was Traunstein. On June 29th 1951, three priests, whose families were living in Traunstein, were ordained in the cathedral in Freising. One First Mass was in Traunstein on the following Sunday and the next two First Masses on the Sunday after. It was Rupert Berger who celebrated his First Mass in Traunstein on the first Sunday in 1951 after the ordination. His father had resisted the Nazi movement and was sent to Dachau where he was tortured and after the war he returned to Traunstein and was elected mayor. It was fitting that his son would be the first to celebrate his First Mass. On July 8th 1951, the next Sunday, the remaining two priests, the brothers Georg and Joseph Ratzinger, celebrated their First Masses. The 7am Mass had congregational singing but the 9am Mass was a Solemn High Mass. Joseph Ratzinger, humble as always, suggested that his brother Georg take the 9am Solemn High Mass and also by then Georg was known for his musical talent. The priest supposed to preach at Joseph Ratzinger’s 7am Mass sent word that he was recovering after surgery so the local Pastor preached instead. That Pastor chose very challenging music for Joseph Ratzinger’s First Mass which the congregation and most of the choir found too difficult to sing. The Pastor, who never minced his words, began his sermon by urging the people to sing because only a few sparrows in the choir were twittering but that was not singing. (Further information in My Brother, the Pope by Georg Ratzinger, p165-166) Of the three priests who celebrated their First Masses in Traunstein in 1951, the music that would have been judged weakest by the thinking of the world, was during the Mass celebrated by the one who would become Pope Benedict XVI. The last shall be first as the Gospel today reminds us.

Like the laborers in the vineyard in today’s parable, people here have felt the call of the Lord at different times in life to enter seminary. The parable reminds us not to compare ourselves with others because God looks at us differently. We have come to seminary not to compare but to receive the denarius, the Lord Jesus, and in the kingdom of God what appears last is first.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.