The Gospel story of the workers in the vineyard recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 20:1-16), reminds me of the inspirational words spoken by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger upon his election as Pope in April 2005. Addressing the crowds in St. Peter’s Square Pope Benedict said, “The Cardinals have elected me -- a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord”. We should take the first words spoken by the Pope as an invitation to all of us to be simple, modest, humble workers in God’s vineyard.
But what exactly does it mean to be humble and simple? Most of us associate humility with a weakness of some sort. However, to be humble means to be selfless, sincere, and kind to others. It also means knowing our limitations and our own poverty. When we turn to the scriptures we realise that it is, in fact, the humble one who is the strongest in the eyes of God. In Mary’s Magnificat, she glorifies God for having exalted her among the generations of believers – she who was his lowly servant (See Luke 1:46ff). Similarly, St Peter asks us to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5;6). It is only when we are humble that we can truly call ourselves Christians. In order to do so, we need to rid ourselves of pride – of self-admiration and narcissism and think first of the needs of others. When we do this, we take up our cross and follow Jesus. For that God will exalt us. In being humble and obedient we follow in the footsteps of Christ, who was so ‘humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death - even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He valued you and me above himself. He died so that we might live.
“Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2: 9-11).
Therefore as Christians, all we do is done with humble spirit proper to the children of God. According to St Augustine:
“If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are meaningless.”
Only, when we answer to being humble, we can answer to our true vocation. It is only when we strip ourselves of our ego and pride that we can see what our real calling in life is which is to be humble workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Each one of us has this calling and need to consider it and respond to it. We should all think as to what our purpose is on this earth. With the Lord we discover our true vocation, whether it be to marriage, single life, religious life or priesthood.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard shows us that some of us may discover their calling early in life, while others need more time to find the real purpose to their lives. The parable also tells us that God does not mind as long as we heed the call, and in return for our work with honesty and humbleness, he offers us the greatest reward of eternal life: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). This is why humility is so important. Being humble and following our true calling is working in God’s vineyard, no matter what the nature of our vocation may be. One is not possible without the other. That is why everything should start with humility. Nonetheless, we should not be like the workers who are jealous of those who came last and yet receive the same pay, rather we should be grateful that we were called to the vineyard earlier in the day, and have the privilege of working for the Lord for longer.
When asked to name the four Cardinal Virtues, St. Bernard of Clairvaux replied “humility, humility, humility, and humility”. This is because “cardinal” means “fundamental” and therefore humility should be for us a fundamental virtue. It is humility that opens doors and hearts. It is humility that opens the door to God’s vineyard. Humility is the key to eternal life.