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IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO BELIEVE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 25th Sunday of the Year, September 21, 2014
Isa. 55:6-9, Ps. 144, Phil. 1:20-24, 27, Matt. 20:1-16


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"These last have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have born the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (Matt. 20:12).


This is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who all received the same wage, one denarius per day, the normal daily wage, even though some of them were hired early in the morning, others at other hours, and the last ones at the eleventh hour. These last worked only one hour but received the same wage as those who were hired early in the morning and worked the whole day. The first hired had agreed to work all day for a denarius, the normal daily wage. To the others the owner only said, "Whatever is right I will give you" (Matt. 20:4). At the end of the day the steward paid the last ones first, giving them a denarius each. Seeing this, when it was time to pay the first ones, they thought that they would receive more, since they worked longer. But they received the same wage as the last hired, a denarius. So they complained that this was not fair, for they had worked longer.


Such is the kingdom of God, Jesus says. He promises us that if we believe in him, we will receive eternal life, even if we only believe for one hour and then die, while others have been believers their whole life long. Some have believed and worked in the Lord's vineyard from their youth. Others, like the thief who was crucified with Jesus, only converted at the eleventh hour of their life, yet they also received eternal life. Dying with Jesus on the cross, this criminal said to him, "‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise'" (Luke 23:42-43 NKJV).


Eternal life is a gift of God that he gives to all who believe in Christ, even if they only begin to believe at the last moment of their life. They will nonetheless receive eternal life just as the laborers who worked only one hour received a full day's pay equal to that received by those who worked the whole day.


This should encourage you. You may be thinking: I have lived evilly, and I am now old; even if I should convert, what kind of a reward can I hope to receive? Surely God will not allow me into heaven. Surely he will not give me eternal life as he will give to those who were good their whole life long. So it is not worth the effort to change now. It's too late for me. I won't receive anything now. I've delayed too long. It's now too late for me to convert.


This parable should encourage those who think this way, those who despair in God, those who see themselves as lost, without hope, those who have lost hope of being able to receive eternal life. Christ tells such people today: What you think, is not true. Even now at the eleventh hour, there is still time. You can convert right now and be saved. You only have to confess your sins, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23), and believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.


The jailer in Philippi asked Paul and Silas, "‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household'" (Acts 16:30-31 NKJV). What is needed to be saved from our sins is faith in Jesus Christ. This jailer believed and was saved from his sins and made righteous, justified by the death of Christ on the cross that made reparation for his sins that satisfied divine justice for him when he believed.


What we must do to benefit from this salvation is receive it with faith. Faith is our act of receiving this gift of forgiveness, justification, and salvation from our sins. To receive it we only need to believe. I cannot forgive my own sins. Only God can forgive sins. I cannot make myself righteous. God alone can give me this; and I, for my part, can only receive it by believing in Christ as my Savior. I can, of course, then grow further in righteousness and holiness by my own good works, but the initial forgiveness, salvation, and justification come only from God; and only through faith can I receive this.


This is why those who only began to believe at the eleventh hour of their life will receive eternal life just as those who have worked since early morning, from their youth on. "This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life" (John 6:47). "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).


I can begin to believe at any hour. It is never too late. Only by believing am I justified, forgiven, and saved from my sins. This is what enables me to receive eternal life. Then, once justified, I will begin to do good works that show that I have true faith and that help me to grow still more in righteousness and holiness; and on the last day I will be rewarded according to my works (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 16:27).


The degree of my reward depends on my works. Those who do more receive a higher reward in heaven. The man who used his master's pound and gained ten more by trading with it will have authority over ten cities, while the man who used his master's one pound and gained five more with it will be put over five cities (Luke 19:16-19).


All will be given the same gift, in the sense that all will receive eternal life no matter when one begins to believe or how long he works. Eternal life is the gift freely given by God to all who believe. But in heaven, those who worked more on earth will receive more. Some will be over ten cities, while others are only over five (Luke 19:16-19).


It is never too late to believe in order to receive eternal life.

 

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