Daily Reflection
of Creighton University's Online Ministries
August 19th, 2009

Tom Shanahan, S.J.

University Relations and Theology Department
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Judges 9:6-15
Psalm 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Matthew 20:1-16

The gospel for today is one of those parables whose meaning puzzles and eludes us.  It is the well-known story of the landowner who goes to the appointed place to hire people to work in his fields.  He goes out early in the morning and formally contracts with some workers for a day's wage.  They agree and come to work in the man's fields.

He repeats the action of finding workers at several points along the day and finally at the "eleventh hour" he hires even more.  The only (but very significant) difference in his interaction with the workers in getting them to his fields is that he says NOTHING about wages to these later employees, even the ones who would only work for an hour.

The whole parable points to and culminates with the dramatic statement of Jesus, "the last shall be first and the first shall be last."  This pronouncement of Jesus and the content of the story boggles our minds; what's it all about?  It sure seems as though the story is not about violations of social justice -- the landowner contracts with the workers for their day's wages and they are paid that amount at the end of the day; so all seems to be on the square.  But what about those hired later and especially the "eleventh hour" workers: they get the exact amount for their labor that the ones who bore the brunt of the day got!  This may not seem fair to us but how can we gainsay the generous heart of the landowner?

Often the parable is applied to the Jews as the early workers laboring all day and the latter day employes as Christians.  But that doesn't seem to line up well with how Jesus wants to point the story. 

The key to understanding the story is the audience to whom the story is proclaimed in Matthew's gospel, "Jesus told HIS DISCIPLES this parable:"

That easily missed clause makes the whole difference, I believe.  He's saying to his close friends, the ones he called into service with him, those who left everything to follow him: be careful; don't take things for granted; watch out that you put too much emphasis on yourselves and miss the most important part: the graciousness of God. 

In other words it's not up to the amount of work that is done or how much "heat of the day" is endured, or even how well the work is done.  It all depends on God's call and invitation.  That's where you (disciples) need to focus yourselves, and not on grumbling against those you think don't deserve the wages for which you contracted.  

Again, the parable is not about social justice or about labor relations.  It's point is God's genreosity in giving freely to ones who don't deserve what they are graciously given (not by EARNING God's love). and as always the response to such libewrality is GRATITUDE.  And who does that apply to?

That applies to you and me, latter day disciples laboring alongside of Jesus in His Kingdom.  WE are the "eleventh hour" people who receive the benefits of God' graciousness.  We are the ones who are constantly being confounded by God's wondrous generosity.  We are the ones called into gratitude for His Goodness.

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