“I never wanted to live as a Catholic, but I always wanted to die as one.”
John Wayne is the quintessential 5:00 laborer. You could call him Duke of the Deathbed. He lived his life exactly as he wanted: played football at USC, became an actor, got rich, had three wives, and won an Academy Award. And when the time came for his death in 1979, the Archbishop of Panama came to his hospital room and baptized him a Catholic. Through his Baptism all his sin was wiped away, and he rode off into the sunset, a pilgrim who reached his destination.
Wow. It seems unfair really that someone who referred to himself as a “Cardiac Catholic” gets off Scott-free while the rest of us have been trying our whole lives to labor in the field for Christ. And honestly, when you hear of someone like John Wayne who did whatever he wanted throughout his life getting into Heaven, you can start to wonder what’s the point? Why am I putting all this hard work into living a holy life?
I think we can all sympathize with the 6:00 workers in today’s Gospel who received the same wage as those who had worked only an hour. At the end of the day, sore from harvesting, sunburned from the hot son overhead, they line up to receive the wages they worked hard for. And then here come these additional workers all throughout the day who have been standing around idly waiting, some of them only working one full hour before the day is through—and they get the usual daily wage! The 6:00 workers are excited; if someone who only worked an hour got the daily wage, then imagine what a full day employee might get! But no, they’re shocked and angered to discover that they receive the usual daily wage as well! How could the landowner be so unfair?!
We all know that these parables Jesus tells us have a deeper meaning behind them. We know that the landowner is Jesus himself and that the field is the world we live in. The length of the day is really our time on earth, and if we respond to his invitation to work (which is really to love him), the wage we receive is entry into heaven forever with him. So really we should be thankful that the Lord goes out throughout the day to get more people to work in the field, because when they respond that’s more and more people entering into eternal happiness with Him. Even if there are people like John Wayne who show up at the last minute, we should be thankful they showed up and received what we’ve been working for our whole lives.
But still the question remains: why are we working so hard when all these other people get in under the wire? What’s the point of it all?
Each person who responds to God’s love and renounces the sin in their life receives their wage at the end of their lives, the gift of eternal salvation. But we have to remember that there’s more to heaven than just getting in. The more we live our lives as true laborers of the Lord, the greater capacity we will have in receiving Him in this world and in the next. Look at Mary, the Queen of Heaven, for example: she receives far more of heaven than John Wayne does because her capacity is greater; during her time on earth she did works which allowed her to merit even more graces in the Kingdom. The same goes for us as well. Instead of just waiting around waiting to be hired, the more we help to build up the Kingdom, the more capacity we will have to receive the love of the Trinity forever. Shouldn’t we want to receive as much love as possible instead of just the usual daily wage?
We also need to remember how much the Lord desires to have the whole world receive his love and salvation. Since we have been blessed to know Jesus at this point in our lives, we need to be “The Searchers” and work to seek the Lord and help all we know to seek him in their lives as well. This is why St. Paul says it is better for him to stay on earth now, because he wants to spread the Good News to all nations. Think of how many John Waynes there are out there who weren’t blessed to receive the graces of Baptism or Reconciliation on their deathbeds. We, the 6:00 workers, need to show “True Grit” and work hard to share the Gospel with as many people as possible. Let’s continue to pray for one another as we seek to receive our lasting joy forever in Heaven.
Here’s a quote from the movie The Alamo, where John Wayne plays Davy Crocket. While he was years off from his conversion, these lines speak to today’s Gospel:
It was like I was empty. Well, I'm not empty anymore. That's what's important…. Now I may sound like a Bible beater…but that don't change the truth none. There's right and there's wrong. You got to do one or the other. You do the one and you're living. You do the other and you may be walking around, but you're dead as a beaver hat.