It happened to me a few times in Tanzania that I got stranded when my car broke down miles away from anywhere. Fortunately I always had someone with me who could go for help while I waited with the car.
Waiting in the hot sun for hours on end is very challenging – the intense heat, the thirst, the tiredness, the not knowing when help would come. And I remember on one occasion getting back to the Mission house where there was watermelon on the table. I went for it with all the might of my thirst, devoured it and the relief it brought is something I will never forget. It was sheer grace upon the dryness of my parched throat! And when I think about the effect of God’s grace in my life, I think of watermelon, the effect of watermelon on my thirst.
So when I read today’s gospel about the men waiting to be hired (Matthew 20:1-16), my sympathy automatically goes to the men who waited or worked in the heat all day long. But especially I feel for the ones who waited – not knowing if they would get work at all and then not knowing how they would be able to feed their wife and children because they haven’t got the money to buy food. It’s the kind of pressure that many in our society face every day.
The not knowing, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the fear! And maybe even the shame of not being able! We all know these feelings at some time or other in life, at some level of life.
It may not have to do with providing on a material level – it can be spiritual, emotional, mental or moral uncertainty. It can be anxiety over your child’s education, health and future. It may be the not knowing of the sick who wait for a hospital appointment, the feeling of being left out, of not being chosen that the young sometimes experience among their peers; the sense of being forgotten that comes to older people; the uselessness experienced by the homeless.
Jesus is telling us that God feels for us in such situations. He feels the distress. He understands the heat of the day, in whatever way it comes upon us. He is always close to us in our struggles and it is through our distress that we are driven to understand our need of Him, to know that we cannot get through any of this life on our own. Our experiences of uncertainty, anxiety and fear in some ways drive us to seek God more earnestly, to thirst for Him and allow him to quench that thirst, to bring relief to our anxieties and our fears.
And so we seek the Lord now in whatever it is we are experiencing, when we think there is no way through a situation – to understand that He always has a way, that His ways are different to our, different and infinitely better. He offers us the soothing grace of Jesus, a grace that relieves, refreshes and restores. It is what is offered when we gather together to pray at Mass or wherever two or three gather in His name. It is offered in the solitude of personal prayer! And it is never a once-off experience – we need to return to it every day.
No matter how dry or meaningless our lives appear to be, there is always hope in Jesus as Pope Francis reminds us:
“Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs, or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (https://eamonnmonson.blogspot.co.uk/)