25th Sunday Year A
September 21, 2014


Being late is a daily occurrence in the country where I was born, grew up in, and still chose to live in. Our culture was never a stickler for details like being on time, to start with. Time and space, like everything else, is considered relative, not absolute values, in our culture. We are a postmodern people living out certain values of a pre-modern setting. Those invited to parties are told to come at 8:00 PM, for example, but guests are really too early if they get to their place at 9:00 PM. Waterways, called “esteros” once upon a time, dotted the urban landscape decades or aeons ago, but are now nowhere to be found all over the bustling metropolis, covered over by so-called “developers” who did more than just develop the city. They enveloped everything, including those esteros with sellable “prime properties” for the unwary real estate buyers.

Time seems not to be the best ally of the ASEAN integration policy planners especially now that the ten countries that make it up are poised to launch an integrated ASEAN by 2015. We are late. As usual. And not one of the 10 countries seems to be ready for it. As yet. As expected … least of all, the Philippines, which is a laggard in just about all the major areas of concern, including the capacity to curb corruption, despite all the furious sloganeering being bandied about in the last 4 and ½ years!

Being late is not, and has never been a virtue. It may be reflecting a cultural value for us, but it will never become a virtue.

But today’s Gospel passage seems to be delivering an altogether different story. The Johnny-come-Latelies seemed to have been given an edge over those who started working promptly at 8:00 AM! The whole parable flies in the face of common sense and common practice in this rat-race world. You need show up on time, despite the MRT long lines (if it does not get derailed or overshoots the tracks!) despite the hopeless tangle of cars and trucks all over the metropolis, inching their way towards their destination during the wrongly named “rush hour!” (It all seems like that every day, at any given time, is rush hour in the Philippines!), and you need to take off from your desk on time (not the way they do it in government offices, where 3:00 PM is merienda time, and 3:45 is prep time for people to take off, job finished or not finished).

The Lord does not seem to be fair in this aspect. Those laborers who started doing the work early had a point. Those who complained that they got exactly the same as those who got in late had more than just a point. Has the Lord become relative, too, like the Filipinos, who think of time and space as relative, not absolute, values? Has the Lord gone the way of the PDAF and DAP conceptualists and planners who suddenly decided the “just” and “proper” way to do is to skirt around moral principles and reduce rightness and wrongness to the issue of “good intentions” – no matter the means, no matter the consequences, no matter the objective rightness or wrongness of the deed itself?

But the Lord, in His wisdom, does have a powerful point too. And the point is not the relativity or stretchability of something that is eminently countable, quantifiable, and measurable. The point has to do with something whose measure is precisely to operationalize it, to actualize it and to fulfill it without measure. It has to do with love, and the measure of love is to love without measure!

God knows how many times I have been late for things. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t “shine” (sort of!) until I was well into my early adulthood. I have experienced being late in submitting requirements in school, and being late for appointments for the simple reason that, being a homebody, I could not calculate properly how much time to give for travel from point A to point B. But being late is not synonymous with being lousy, at least not all the time.

Being late could also mean not having the means, not only to come on time, but to come up with what the world of convention imposes as requirements. Being late could also mean not being up to par with conditions that one could never reasonably be expected to have. Being late could also mean not having the wherewithal to hoist oneself up a high horse, to boot oneself, to propel oneself and take care of oneself alone by one’s lonesome self … when one is totally helpless and yet required to play the game in a non-level playing field.

In God’s definition today, being late could also mean being loved more and favored more, for as our great Ramon Magsaysay put it decades ago, “those who have less in life should have more in law.” Being late, but being loved nonetheless is what this Sunday’s gospel story is all about. And that love is not earned like you earn SM Advantage points! No one has an innate claim to that love like one deserves points for charging purchases against your credit card.

Those who came in late afternoon had no other task to work on. Neither did they deserve to be given a job to do and a commensurate salary like the others who began toiling early. But when it comes to God, no one of us has a right to impose our man-made values and conditions on Him.

Today, we allow God to be God. Today, too, we allow Him to treat us with love abounding, and allow Him to approach this same love without subjecting Him to our pusillanimous and narrow-minded conditions. For in the final analysis, all of us, apart from having been late so many times for any petty human activity, really do not deserve to be treated prodigally by a compassionate God, whose mercy is His justice, and whose justice is also His overwhelming love, particularly for those who do not seem to deserve it.

Late, yes … but loved nonetheless! This is great news for each and every one of us!