Isaiah 55:6-9 Philippians 1:20-24.27 Matthew 20:1-16
We as individuals are accustomed to get reward for what we do and how we perform. A student works hard to get good grades. A worker produces good results in order to get a recognition or promotion. There is always a reward attached to what we do and how we perform. But we have the Gospel today which tells exactly opposite of what we understand as virtue. We try to digest the idea that everyone gets the same reward regardless of merit. The people who have worked long and hard and the ones who turn up at the last moment are treated equal. However we ought to understand that this passage is not the explanation of good labour relations or successful business practices or of obtaining academic excellence. It is an invitation to broaden our vision about Jesus and the way God looks at things. Hence Matthew says that the Kingdom of God is as explained in the parable. Jesus wants to tell the disciples also of the contradictions that exist between the Kingdom of God and the ways of the world. Here we meet a God who is just and at the same time a God who is universally generous. He does not give us what we deserve but what Love chooses to give. We fall in love with this extraordinary God and we become partners in the building up of God’s kingdom here on earth. We are prepared and renewed in the Eucharist not because we deserve it, but because God is more than generous than we can imagine.
One major theme that runs through the whole of the Old and New Testaments is that of ‘justice’. God is wholly just and we are called, both individually and corporately, to lives of justice. The question is what we mean by justice and what the Scripture tells us about justice. In this context the First Reading from Isaiah calls us to make some adjustment in our normal ways of thinking. The thoughts of God are not the thoughts of man. The ways of God are not the ways of man. As the heavens are higher than the earth, the ways of God are higher than the ways of man and the thoughts of God are higher than the thoughts of man. The way of God is spiritual; the ways of man generally are worldly minded. He is uncertain, like the doubter. “ At the same time we have we heard of the Divine calling. Let the wicked forsake their way. Let the unrighteous forsake their thoughts. Return to the Lord! Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. In the Second Reading, St. Paul spoke of the righteousness of man. It is an invitation to live and die for Christ. True righteousness is persevering in the profession of faith that one proclaimed during the Sacrament of Baptism. It is living with Christ, in Christ and through Christ, until one’s last breath.
Today’s Gospel gives the parable of the workers hired in the vineyard. The parable is linked with the passage immediately preceding, namely the refusal of rich young man to follow Jesus, explanation of Jesus that the riches as an obstacle, and the reward for those who accept to follow him, that is the kingdom. He concludes by saying that “many that are first will be last and the last first”. Hence we have the parable: The parable describes a vineyard owner going out several times during a day to get workers for his vineyard. He makes an agreement with each one of them for a wage of one denarius, a normal daily wage for a worker in Jesus’ time. The vineyard owner went out at 6 o’clock in the morning and again at 9, at noon and at 3 and 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Each time the vineyard owner assures the workers he will give them a “just wage”. He goes again when just an hour is left and hires them for the just wage. We see in the Parable the stress on the importance of work and not to be idle.
At the end of the day when wages are paid he starts from the last giving them the wage he promised. They secure a full days wage and so do the first ones and they are not very happy with it and complain about it. If we listen to the owner’s reply, it is clear to us of the divine prerogative. He says that he has been fair to each one. But at the same time he says: “I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” In other words the righteousness of the Lord is not the righteousness of man. The Lord God gives to those that He pleases in the amount that He chooses. His love is gratuitous and he gives his gifts to those of his choice and one cannot be envious of this.
There is an important lesson here about God’s justice. We cannot be calculative regarding the justice of God. We even think that if we do more for God, he will somehow love us more and reward us more. There is no room for envy in the Christian context. Secondly, when we something more for God it does not mean that God will love us more. God does not look at the quantum of good we do. He looks at our needs; looks at our heart and sincerity. The hiring of servants reminds us of the Old Testament who were the first to respond. Yet those who accepted Jesus were the recipients of his greater generosity. Finally we should remember the way God works in the lives of people. His disciples, the “last”, who have given up everything to be with him, will be the first recipients of the same love and the same rewards. In fact, they may receive more in the sense that, unlike unbelieving Jews, they fully opened themselves to the love of God in following Jesus.
In our life we ought to be very grateful that we have a God whose justice is so patently unjust. He loves every one equally. God loves us where we are now. He does not keep an account book with accumulated credits and debts. This means that no matter how many times I fail, no matter how many times I do wrong, no matter how late in life I come to find Jesus, I am assured of the welcome of love.
Anecdote: Teacher Debbie Moon’s first graders were discussing a picture of a family. One little boy in the picture had a different hair color than the other members. One of her students suggested that he was adopted. A little girl said, ‘I know all about adoption, I was adopted.’ ‘What does it mean to be adopted?’, asked another child. ‘It means’, said the girl, ‘that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy!’