The Late Laborer

See Proper 20 (year A)
The Edge of the Enclosure

I began: “Peter was a low-down, goddamn, son-of-a-bitch.”
The congregation sucked all the air out the church. Then, a titter. Then a breath of relief. Then laughter.

I was telling the truth.

“Peter said, ‘You’ll get me into that church over my dead body!’ Well, we had a nice party in the narthex last night around your coffin, Peter! And we laughed a lot!” Thus began the funeral homily for Peter.

Peter was so mean he was lovable.

When I first met him, he was smashing a low brick wall in front of the cottage he shared with his wife Sheila. “Oh, he knocks it down and then he builds it up. It’s how he deals with his anger,” said Sheila.

Peter and Sheila had AIDS.

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Johann Christian Brand, 1769, detail

One of the several times we thought he was dying, Peter rallied enough to chase away the priest Sheila had summoned. But I often came to sit with him, although I knew enough not to pray with him.  Once, when I thought he was unconscious, Peter suddenly responded to a TV news report highlighting Joey Buttafuoco, the lover of ‘Long Island Lolita’ Amy Fisher. Grasping his oxygen mask and tearing it off his face Peter barked, “That guy’s full of shit!” then replaced the mask and went out cold.

Peter and Sheila fought often. But Sheila counted out his pills, never-mind that Peter often stole and abused them. He was a drug addict, after-all. He was angry with the world. Angry that he was dying. Angry with everyone. He was a genius at anger. And swearing.

But Peter got to see heaven. One day, the space beyond the television, beyond the wall and ceiling, opened into a billowing heaven. He saw dead relatives. He saw angels.  Peter described in detail to his family what he was seeing. In the next death crises, Peter allowed the priest he’d previously thrown out to hear his confession. And Peter died in peace, having seen heaven in the eleventh hour.

Some of us, who’ve worked in the vineyard of the Lord all our lives, have never seen heaven. Not once.

So Sheila and I chose the parable of the workers in the vineyard for Peter’s funeral.

… ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” -Matthew 20:12-16

This parable is now one of my favorite, hopeful, and most necessary of stories.

One Response to “The Late Laborer”

  1. Rev Eri Says:

    Thank you –
    This Sunday’s Gospel is a glimpse of heaven
    You have helped me lift the lense of insight in preparation …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: