Back then the Jewish people began their 24-hour day the evening before at 6:00 pm in the evening. So, fiveo’clock pm the next day was the last hour of work and known as the eleventh hour.
Some of us may suddenly find ourselves alone and unclaimed at the eleventh hour of our lives. We are all eleventh-hour people, but we have a God in Jesus Christ who came out and pursued us, sought us, found us, sometimes early, sometimes late.
Recall the story of the gangster who called for a priest as he lay dying on the street in New York City. The priest declared him forgiven in Jesus’ Name, and there were some who protested, “How could this be fair to all those who had been good and devout Christians all their lives?”
Despite the complaints, there is no violation of justice because we are not made just by our power or laboring. The grace of the Holy Spirit justifies us, that is, cleanses us from our sins and communicates to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ,” and through baptism and confession after a mortal sin. The grading system here was indeed pass/fail.
Yet, now is the time to make a general confession of sins for your whole life if you have never done so in the Sacrament of Confession. None of us truly know how much time we have left. St. Augustine says, “Always putting off till the eleventh hour? The Householder has indeed promised thee a denarius, if thou come at the eleventh hour, but whether thou shalt live even to the seventh, no one has promised thee.”1
The original context of those hired at the eleventh hour is the inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant of Salvation, but it’s better to be hired as early as possible and labor well because it increases your place in heaven.
Some Protestants say, in the end, it doesn’t matter if we believed our whole lives or had a deathbed conversion. But there are «degrees of glory in heaven.» We are saved by the free grace of God, so we don’t believe our works get us to heaven, but we do understand our works have everything to do with our reward once we get there.2
It is rooted in the teachings of Jesus about the parable of the talents and St. Paul writes, «For as one star differs from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead» (1 Corinthians 15:41). However, someone who got hired at the 11th hour may get the same reward as a cradle Catholic because the new convert made up for lost time.
What if you are an Eleventh-Hour Worker because you «missed your vocation» which prevented you getting hired much earlier? Moral theologians Grisez and Shaw say they must stay in the commitments they have made because others depend on them being faithful to those commitments. Besides, they note, God can make good come from all aspects of our lives, even our mistakes.
Even if one had not been paying attention to God’s plan for their lives, and they, let’s say, even end up in prison: God still managed to guide them—by their own superficial desires and tastes, to do many things that is the same in most respects as the one they previously ignored. God makes all things — all without exception — work together for the good of those who love him (see Rom 8:28). A Portuguese bishop in the 16th century: “God draws straight with crooked lines.”3
We are invited to reorient our perspective about the detours in our lives not as unredeemable and not to be idle about obtaining some of the major promises you have discerned that God wants you to contend for.
1. Augustine, Sermon XXXVII
2. J. Warner Wallace, Are There Different Degrees Of Reward In Heaven? Cold-case Christianity, September 16, 2022
3. Germain Grisez, Russell Shaw, Personal Vocation: God Calls Everyone by Name, 2003