February 24, 2018, 10:41 pm
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Fishing: God will provide

JESUS told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise.

Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage.

So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?

Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? ’Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

***

In this nation of around 7,100 islands, the fishing profession comes naturally; the great majority are ‘domestic fishers’ but a significant number have become ‘international fishers’. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in 2009 there were 1,477 legally deployed fishers in international waters; in 2015, this statistic jumped to 7,368.

Jaime (not his real name) is one of them. He started fishing in his hometown somewhere in Panay in the Visayas. Being the eldest of four siblings, he provides for his own family and for a brother who has a speech impairment and is currently working as casual boat helper.

The opportunity came and Jaime accepted a job on international waters. He left the Philippines on the first week of November 2016 with mixed feelings. In one hand, he was happy with the overseas employment; on the other hand, he was worried about his wife since he left her at the hospital with pregnancy problems. The doctors had assured the couple that all was under control but on November 27 she gave birth to a baby boy at the expense of her own life.

One can imagine how Jaime received the shocking news, since this happened just a few weeks after his deployment. He was given the opportunity to return to the Philippines but he chose to remain on board and work as he is the sole family bread-winner. An AOS-Manila staff member visited his family members and was touched by their determination to carry on and by their “God will provide” attitude.

Today’s First Reading begins by saying “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call him while he is near.” Jaime must have called on the Lord endless times for strength and guidance to face his harrowing situation and certainly he must have found solace and comfort in the Lord.

His uphill battle to achieve progress and comfort in life might have been given up by others had they been in his place; yet God’s wisdom brings solace and resolve to human weakness.

The life of a fisherman is confined between the sea and the sky. The Second Reading may well summarize his thoughts and desires: “Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The simpler the outlook in life, the simpler one’s bliss is. And yet Jaime is aware of the needs of the people for whom he toils. St. Paul provides for us a realistic approach to struggle in his letter: though he long desired to attain the reward of the righteous, he still must work for those he was to leave behind. A greater love is at work, and our Lord certainly knows how to appreciate and reward genuine sacrifice.

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord’s care and compassion toward those invited to work in his vineyard is exceptional. What matters is not the hiring time and the corresponding wages; what ultimately matters is accepting the Lord’s offer and challenges without grumbling and complaining. Jaime may be consoled by this divine generosity: even though the little opportunities in his life came rather late and even at great cost, the Lord has not abandoned him.

The current vineyard of Jaime is the ship and he has experienced being “hired by the Lord” regardless of the hour; the current struggle of his family has been one of “seeking the Lord while he may be found;” their (and our) common journey is “striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The consolation comes from the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”

***

– Fr. Paulo H. Prigol, CS
– (Sept. 24, 2017)
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