Today’s gospel parable on the Laborers in the Vineyard, unique to Matthew, continues the theme of the last will be first. With high unemployment across the world, and the parable’s emphasis on what is just compensation for work done, there could be great interest in hearing this gospel. We are just as prone today to think the owner of the vineyard is unfair as was true for the people of Jesus’ day. We would expect the workers to be compensated equally for the hours worked. We feel those who worked longer should be paid more, that they have a right to a bigger paycheck. Here again gospel values confound our human wisdom into foolishness.
So many of us have been taught to work hard to get ahead in the world, and things take on great value when we have had to sweat for them. We claim ownership of what we have worked for with a certain pride. But such is not the case with God’s graciousness; there is nothing we do to earn His love, and we cannot lay claim to grace as a right, or that we do anything to deserve it. God’s love and grace is given to us freely. This is humbling to accept, and some may choose to walk away, grumbling, when faced with God’s generosity. Jesus made His point clearly by having the landowner pay the workers beginning with the last and ending with the first, so that the first would see what the last were paid.
The gospel is a challenge to our values. I think of all the parents who pray for their adult children who have fallen away from the Church; I think of the years a wife may have prayed for her husband who has stopped going to Sunday Mass. Wouldn’t it be an answer to their prayers if their children or their spouse were among those who were hired to work in the vineyard at the eleventh hour? When we put the face of a loved one on those who were hired last and received a full day’s pay we come to rejoice at God’s generosity! We would be so thankful that God heard our prayers. If a brother or sister were saved at the last hour, wouldn’t we celebrate heaven’s joy over the return of one who was lost? Remember the good thief who repented at the eleventh hour; that thief was someone’s son or brother, a husband or father.
In his chapter on Peter, Fr. James Martin, S.J. reminds us of our difficulty believing God could love us so generously:
A danger here for the good person who is first to be hired, and has worked faithfully his/her whole life, is to begin to resent those eleventh hour Christians who receive equal pay, as did the elder brother of the prodigal son, who stood outside the door, unable to enter the banquet. He resented his younger brother, and his father’s forgiveness. This resentment is enough to make the alcoholic return to the bottle; it places the blame for one’s miseries outside one’s self onto another.
On this feast of the Queenship of Mary, we can reflect on where Jesus got this insight into human nature, how Mary and Joseph taught their young son in Nazareth about God’s love being lavished on a sinful people who rejected God’s covenant time and time again, yet were still loveable in God’s sight and deemed worthy of redemption. Mary is that mother who taught the King how to love, how to bear all wrongs graciously, and how to forgive. She taught the King to put Himself last and the sinner first. This is our lesson on how to love others as Jesus loved us. Imagine our embarrassment upon getting to heaven and hearing the Queen telling us to move to the end of the line.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook