Reprise: “I Am That Man”

[By request, a rerun of a previous post. Plus a few Digressions.]

A few years ago, in RCIA at the age of 69 after a spiritually wasted life, I was finally getting serious about many things, including the Bible readings.

 But I was taken aback by one of the vineyard parables (Mat 20):  the one where the owner pays the same daily wage to late-arriving workers who only put in an hour’s work as he pays to the laborers who worked the full day.

As a former union representative, I rose to point out the unfairness of this.  It would violate wage and hour laws, not to mention any union contract.  The result would be a grievance, a federal charge, or a walkout.  The late worker would be singled out for derision (or worse) as the owner’s stooge.  My objections cut no ice. Salvation economics, I was told, were different from labor economics.  I dropped the subject, filing it under “Catholic Stuff I Don’t Get…Yet” Note: (There are still a lot of these. See the Digressions below.)

But later, at my first communion, the daily reading was that very same parable.  And after re-hashing the same issues in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me – I was that man! I was that laborer who showed up near the end of the day and happily, if a little guiltily, collected my full wages.  And, most amazingly, the other workers seemed happy about it. No grievances were filed.  No cradle catholic shunned me as an upstart.   They actually welcomed me!

Now whenever I see someone full of self-esteem and entitlement, the kind of guy who is convinced that he deserves all the good things life has given him, I have to remind myself that “I am that man.”  And when I am with one of the many good people who have been working in the Christian vineyards their entire lives, I feel my own unworthiness all the more.  But I know that this is the way God’s grace works.  My job is to accept the grace, and to pass it on.  And to keep at it until my workdays come to an end.

_______________________________

 DIGRESSION #1: One of the things I don’t get, or at least don’t like, is the New Testament’s low opinion of tax collectors.  I understand the history of the inherent corruption in that ancient imperial system, but surely there must be a better word for those corrupt officials. The Greek “telones” and the Latin “publicani” described contemptibly corrupt characters.  The modern-day American tax collectors I have known (and represented as union members) are upright, honest public servants. I don’t recall ever having to represent one accused of theft or embezzlement.  How must they feel when they read the gospel references to “tax collectors and other sinners”?  So Bible translators, get creative and come up with a better term.  “Corrupt officials”? “Crooked bureaucrats”? 

DIGRESSION #2: Speaking of Bible translators, why does the Catholic Church use such lame ones?  Consider Matthew 16:18. KJV: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [the Church]. New American Bible: “The gates of the netherworld…” Netherworld? The image conjured up suggests Holland, not Hell.

Or consider Psalm 23:6. KJV: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  NAB: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”  How many years? Two? Three? How long have I got until my lease expires and God throws me out?

DIGRESSION #3: Speaking of crooked public officials, one of my favorite lines from Casablanca is spoken by the dastardly police captain Renault, played by Claude Raines. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) proposes a twenty-thousand-franc bet that Victor Laszlo will escape to America. Renault responds “Make it ten thousand. I’m only a poor corrupt official.”

 

 

 

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