24 September 2017: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
God's generous mercy
Readings: Is 55: 6-9; Ps 145;
Phil 1: 20-24. 27;
Mt 20: 1-16
Mt 20: 1-16
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire labourers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around,
and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the labourers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
9When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
[Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
On the surface, the parable of the workers in the vineyard appears to be an offense to common sense. Those who work a longer day ought to be paid more than those who work just an hour or two. When viewed in this way, the landowner seems unfair. That is because we are reading into the parable our own preconceived notions of how fairness and equality should be quantified.
A close read shows us that the landowner paid on the terms that were negotiated. The landowner, it seems, has acted completely justly. The parable goes beyond that, however, and we come to see that the landowner is not simply just, he is exceptionally just. He is radically just. He has given those who laboured in the field for a full day their due pay. But he has also given a full-day's wage to those who worked only a single hour. No one is cheated, but a few receive abundantly from the landowner just as we receive from God more than what is merely justifiable or due. God, like the landowner, is radically just and abundantly generous. The workers who complain are made to look foolish as they lament the fact that landowner has made all workers equal. Indeed, what more could one ask for than to be treated as an equal at work or anywhere else?
The parable reminds us that although God owes us nothing, he offers abundantly and equally. We are occasionally tempted to think that our own actions deserve more reward, more of God's abundant mercy, than the actions of others. But God's generosity cannot be quantified or partitioned into different amounts for different people. When we think that way, we are trying to relate to God on our terms rather than to accept God's radically different ways.