Time as God sees fit

By Patricia Kasten | September 18, 2014

How many of us punch time clocks? When I first started working, I always had to deal with time clocks. I couldn’t punch in early — nor punch out late, if I could help it. The law was such that, if I worked more than eight minutes past the hour, I had to be paid an extra quarter hour. (Same with punching in early — only in reverse.) The bosses didn’t like to pay that extra time if they could help it.

That meant lots of employees hanging around the time clock near the top of the hour. (Yes, some would do everything they could to punch out nine minutes late — or early.)

Coming to church can sometimes seem like punching a time clock. We’ve all done it: “If I come in during the first prayer, am I too late?” “If I leave after Communion, it still counts, right?”

At churches with bells, I have sat in the pew listening for the chimes that signal: “It’s five minutes before Mass starts.”

Maybe that’s why there are few clocks in churches. (If there are, they’re only where the priest can see them. After all, he doesn’t want to run too long and have people running into each other as cars come in for the next Mass.)

The laborers in today’s Gospel can remind us of time clocks. Those who worked all day wanted bonuses — they had been “on the clock” longer than the others, right? And they even had to wait around longer to get paid. So where was their extra pay?

How would you have felt? I can identify with the longer-working laborers. “If only I had known I’d get paid for a full day, I could have slept in.”

However, as Isaiah reminds us, God doesn’t think like us. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” And as Jesus says, speaking for God through the voice of the landholder: “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” (Or my grace or my mercy or eternal life?)

God doesn’t keep a time clock on us. Instead, God looks at other things about us when he decides who comes first and who is last. We don’t really know what those things are. Oh, we have a good idea: treating people with love; going about the special work (our vocations) God has set for us; setting aside time for prayer and worship. But, in the end, God will dispense his riches as God sees fit.

And, really, wouldn’t you rather have God decide than something like a man-made time clock?

Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of two books: “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers” and “Making Sense of Saints.”

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